From turmoil to tranquility

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell and Jalen Rose discuss a play during pre-season action at the Air Canada...

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell and Jalen Rose discuss a play during pre-season action at the Air Canada Centre last October. (Toronto Sun File/Dave Abel)

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

The Raptors sure didn't look like a team in turmoil yesterday.

The mood was not dour. Practice was fairly casual.

The players were laughing and joking toward the end of the session as they took turns trying to hit half-court shots, and the trainers and equipment men joined in, too.

And when a couple of reporters approached centre Loren Woods to ask him about his dislocated left ring finger, teammate Morris Peterson employed his best mocking tone and hooted: "Ooooh, Loren hurt his finger, oooh, oooh, poor baby."

Ah, to be young, 7-12 and in New Jersey. These truly are the best of times.

Of course, had Vince Carter been there to vomit on everyone, things might have been more tense. Carter was at the team hotel, still recouperating from a case of food poisoning that caused him to miss the Raptors' loss at Cleveland on Saturday.

NO STRANGLING

Nonetheless, no Raptor was seen strangling another Raptor, and no coach was observed pummeling one of the players. In Raptorland these days, that's progress.

"We've pretty much had everything that could possibly happen to us happen in the first 20 games -- injuries, people being sick, all the trade talk, the coach being upset with us, the players being upset with each other," Woods said. "All that stuff has happened in the first 20 games, so if we get that taken care of, we still have 60-some games left and we can start to get rolling."

A media member who has covered the Raptors for a decade assured Woods that things can get worse -- much worse.

"Yeah, I guess it can get worse," Woods agreed with a laugh. "We could lose 60-some games in a row. But a lot of things have happened, and it's just good that it's all getting out early. We can start getting back on the right track now."

You wouldn't have known from the general atmosphere at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., yesterday, that it had been a tumultuous week for the Raptors, who will take on the New Jersey Nets tonight.

After the Raptors upset the Miami Heat last Tuesday, they were humiliated by the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, came unglued emotionally against the Boston Celtics on Friday and spotted the Cavaliers a 21-point lead in the first quarter en route to another loss on Saturday.

After the Boston game, Alston was so distraught, he threatened to retire. But when that was brought up to Mitchell yesterday, the coach didn't want to dignify it by discussing it.

"Come on, guys, you know better than that," Mitchell said. "For me to even address that, when a guy was emotional ... you know they're not going to quit. If they were going to quit, they wouldn't have gone out and played the way they played (in Cleveland). Rafer played his butt off.

"Come on. There are certain things that aren't even worth talking about."

But isn't it kind of weird for a 28-year-old to broach the subject of retirement?

"I'm going to be weird and not answer, because, to me, it's not going to happen," Mitchell said.

Well, even if Alston's retirement threat was empty, is it indicative of a wider problem in the Raptors' locker room?

"No, it's not," Mitchell insisted. "You're asking me questions about 14 individual people. Go ask them if they're ready to quit. Ask them if they're not going to play hard. Ask them if they feel like it's hopeless. I don't believe that, because I'm around these guys every day. If they were like that, I would feel it and I would be worried. I'm not."

We're betting Mitchell is not completely worry-free. When your star player (Carter) wants out, and your general manager (Rob Babcock) aggressively is trying to jettision not only that star player, but another high-salaried veteran as well in Jalen Rose, that's not a sign of things being completely rosy.

But it was a beautiful day in New Jersey yesterday -- no, that's not an oxymoron -- and the Raptors managed to ward off implosion for another 24 hours.


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