Wilkens likes Raptors' look

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

Lenny Wilkens gave a telling response when asked if he believes Vince Carter needs a change of scenery.

"That's not for me to judge," said Wilkens, the former Raptors coach who now coaches the New York Knicks. "I wasn't (in Toronto) that long. I was here three years.

Then Wilkens added, pointedly, "and (Carter) was hurt two of the three."

Wilkens is too polite to say it, but he obviously still feels as if he took the fall for an organization and a superstar in disrepair when he was axed by the Raptors in 2003. And it's noteworthy that many of the issues facing the Raptors today are similar to the ones that were around during Wilkens' tenure.

That said, Wilkens and current Raptors coach Sam Mitchell don't have anything close to a similar approach, philosophically or verbally. For example, we don't recall Wilkens ever uttering the term "Washington Generals" when referencing his own team, as Mitchell did after an ugly loss on Tuesday.

UGLY LOSS

It was Wilkens' Knicks who were slapped with an ugly loss last night, falling 114-91 to the Raptors as an energetic Carter scored 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting.

A cynic might say something like, "Huh, just another bad defeat for Lenny in Toronto -- we've seen that before." But the gentlemanly Wilkens has enough problems trying to survive in the organizational labyrinth created by Knicks general manager Isiah Thomas, so there's no need for us to pile on.

Objectively, though, the Knicks were pretty dreadful last night. Both clubs were on the tail ends of back-to-back games, but the Knicks were unflatteringly flat.

"I'm surprised we came out as flat as we did," Wilkens said.

Generally speaking, Wilkens was complimentary of the direction in which the Raptors are heading.

"They have a nice young player in Chris Bosh," Wilkens said. "This is his second year and he plays with a lot of poise. Lamond Murray is healthy. Vince is healthy. Rafer (Alston) is kind of on a roll. I think they have more people (than Carter) who can deliver, and when that happens you don't have to focus on one guy all the time."

That last bit may have been another veiled reference to Wilkens' rise and fall in Toronto, which saw the Raptors achieve their loftiest heights but also tumble to some of their lowest points. Wilkens has little first-hand knowledge of what is going on here now, but he still offered an interesting opinion when asked if it's possible to effectively coach a player, such as Carter, who is only months removed from a trade demand.

"It depends upon how he reacts on the floor," Wilkens said. "Sometimes a guy may want out, but if he's still being productive, you utilize it, to where it pays off for you. As long as it doesn't become a distraction."

Speaking of distractions, two years ago it would have been unimaginable to think Wilkens ever would get a slightly warmer reception from an Air Canada Centre crowd than Carter. The jeers for Carter were louder than the jeers for Wilkens when the two were introduced last night, but Carter got the patrons back on side with a 14-point first quarter, then brought the house down with a great dunk in the second half.

"I haven't been here, so I can't judge (the booing of Carter)," Wilkens said. "But I think it's a surprise any time."

A reporter from New York, who apparently was unaware of the love-hate relationship that has developed between Carter and Raptors fans, wondered if pro basketball in Toronto is strong enough to survive the trading of its marquee player.

"They have a good fan base here and I think it's a great city," Wilkens said. "I think (the Raptors would be fine), as long as, if they do something, they get something good in return.

That's always the challenge, right? Because if there's one thing the well-travelled Wilkens knows, it's that it's easier to change coaches than it is to change superstars.


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