Reality check

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

How can a team with a winning record seven games into a season be on the verge of implosion?

The Raptors are wound so tightly, they barely can breathe.

The star, Vince Carter, has been benched for long periods.

The coach, Sam Mitchell, hardly can contain his rage at his players, especially Carter and, until Saturday, Jalen Rose.

And yet, we're talking about a Toronto club that is 4-3, after having gone 33-49 last season. Does this make any sense?

It should be recognized this lunacy is a form of progress, in that the standards have been raised. In the past, if the Raptors had erased a 14-point deficit in Seattle and lost by one, then erased a 20-point deficit in Portland and lost by three, it would be time to map out a parade route.

This year's Raptors aren't happy with mediocrity, and that's good. But there should not be this much tension less than two weeks into a campaign. What is this, New York?

It was a rough weekend for both Carter and Mitchell.

On Friday, Carter had a horrible final minute in Seattle, throwing up an air-ball and making a wild baseline drive for a failed reverse-layup attempt at the buzzer, although there was ample photographic evidence he was fouled more than once.

Mitchell blasted his starters and threatened to make changes.

On Saturday, Carter scored only four points in 22 minutes and was benched for the entire fourth quarter. Mitchell was asked if Carter just didn't have it.

"Ask him," Mitchell said. "(Bleep), I want to know."

Carter threw the question back at Mitchell.

"You have to ask the coach that, man," Carter said. "I'm behind the team 100% in their decisions. If that's what they choose to do, that's what I have to deal with. Whatever."

Mitchell has every right to bench Carter if he isn't playing well. And Carter was truly brutal on Saturday, playing perhaps the worst game of his career. But no matter who's to blame, if Mitchell and Carter are drifting apart mere weeks into their co-existence, this could turn really ugly, really fast.

Rafer Alston said Mitchell should have zero patience.

"I just wish (Mitchell) would address it, and address it now," said Alston, the starting point guard. "Don't prolong it. I don't want to wait till we're a 5-15 team."

Again, these guys have a winning record, seven games into a season. Why is everyone close to a nervous breakdown?

Mitchell is only three seasons removed from being an active player and it remains to be seen if Mitchell has the emotional maturity to handle the agony of defeats. For example, after the game in Portland, the first question Mitchell was asked by the media was, did he think Lamond Murray's potential game-tying shot at the buzzer, which eventually was waved off, was good?

RETARDED?

Mitchell was so irate at his own players, and so determined to take it out on someone with his sarcasm, he actually said, "No, I was just jumping up and down because I'm retarded."

We'll give Mitchell the benefit of the doubt and assume he's a good guy. We're even told he does charitable work with the physically and mentally handicapped. But when someone as smart as Mitchell uses a word like "retarded" in such an inappropriate context, it's a sign of someone who is not in control of his emotions.

And there is no reason for anyone, or anything, connected to the Raptors to be out of control right now.

Everyone should take a deep breath. There are 75 games left.


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