Raps ready for takeoff

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Vince Carter should take the floor tonight for the Raptors regular season opener with a chip on his shoulder and a grudge in his heart.

Which is what the team always wanted, although not at the expense of his financial standing.

A federal jury yesterday ordered the Raptors star to pay his imprisoned former agent, William (Tank) Black, nearly $4.7 million US in lost commissions and damages. That likely will weigh on Carter's mind tonight as the Raptors open up against the Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Centre.

MISSED PRACTICES

Carter has missed the past couple of practices and a pair of pre-season games last week because of the court proceedings in Columbia, S.C., and the lawsuit has left both Carter and his coach, Sam Mitchell, frustrated and anxious.

"What do you want me to do? Set a half court and cry?" Mitchell said, when asked about Carter's absence from practice yesterday. "We would like to have him, but he wasn't here so there's nothing we can do. He has personal business he has to take care of. I can't worry about that, I can only worry about the guys that are here."

Having failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons, Mitchell has changed the way the Raptors will play this year, moving away from the half-court defensive style to an uptempo, running game.

There are still a lot of question marks though, namely if Carter wants to remain in Toronto and whether point guard Alvin Williams will be healthy enough to play at all this season. The Raptors did demonstrate during the pre-season that they can at least play with most teams in the NBA.

Mitchell said success will come down, in a large part, to the overall health of the squad. Indeed, injuries had much to do with the Raptors mediocrity over the past two seasons.

"A lot of things happen over 82 games," Mitchell said. "I don't care how good you are, injuries are going to dictate who's there at the end."

Many sports publications, such as Sports Illustrated, have picked the Raptors to finish well back of the pack in the East, but starting forward Jalen Rose looks at that as an advantage.

"Hopefully that could be some added motivation for us to go out and play well," Rose said. "It's a good thing being an underdog because nobody believes in you and nobody expects anything out of you and everybody is ready to pile on you and kick you when you're down."

The other major question mark surrounding this team is whether journeymen veterans Loren Woods and Jerome Moiso and rookie Rafael Araujo can step up and play quality minutes at centre, thereby allowing sophomore star Chris Bosh to play forward.


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