Raps go from spectacle to respectable

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Someone has got to get Sam Mitchell a BlackBerry.

Poor guy hadn't even heard Vince Carter was named the NBA's Eastern Conference player of the week.

"I didn't know it," the Raptors coach said yesterday at practice, leaving all sincerity aside. "Congratulations."

Great. The week their ex-superstar gets his game back, the return freight, talked up so nicely when the deal was made in December, doesn't amount to a bag of pucks.

The Raptors got Eric Williams, called out by Mitchell for defensive indifference, a rumour named Aaron Williams who has contributed 1.5 points per game and Alonzo Mourning who is still getting paid as he waits out a trade in Florida.

Tonight, the seemingly fractured Raptors face the Pacers in Indiana.

They are, of course, without the flawed point guard Rafer Alston, who threatened to quit the team after being benched for a foolish technical foul in Boston in December then packed it in during practice, Saturday. He just needs one more early retirement for the hat trick.

I can't get too worked up about Rafer Alston missing two games, even if it means watching Milt Palacio.

For one thing, you've got to admit, if you want a guy who won't shoot, Milt Palacio is your man.

For another, the Raptors are doing the right thing.

They did the right thing when they rid themselves of Carter. They did the right thing when they tied the can to Alston for a couple of days.

For as long as they haven't been extinct, the Raptors have operated with a built-in inferiority complex. The club's mission statement could be summed up in the old Supremes hit: I'm Going To Make You Love Me.

Maybe it was because attracting players north was a tough sell. Maybe it was because a history rich with every conceivable result but success made everyone desperate.

And so the same Lenny Wilkens sandbagged and fired by Isiah Thomas in one year, lasted four agonizing seasons here.

A policy of appeasement has long been the dominant tenet of Raptors management. Naismith didn't write the book on Canadian basketball. Neville Chamberlain did.

Long after Carter stopped scoring whenever he wanted, he still played as much as he liked.

Snap your fingers and your trade request was granted, whether you were Damon Stoudamire, Charles Oakley or Antonio Davis.

That was then. Ask Rafer Alston. This is now.

The Raptors are now in the business of demanding respect and results. And if they can have only one of the two, they take the respect.

After all the noise Jalen Rose made about being moved to the bench -- dressing in black from head to toe was his finest moment -- Rose responded like a pro and earned his spot back in the starting five. Respect.

Carter coasted in the early season. He hit the bench, even if it cost the team the chance to showcase him. Respect.

Alston, the best point guard who would play here, has a habit temporarily losing his mind. He goes off in practice and gets two games to think it over. Respect.

The Raptors have lost three in a row and a glance at the standings and at the press notes would paint these as some of the darkest days in Raptorland.

Nope. It is, in a funny way, one of the franchise's finest moments.

In a league spectacularly bereft of standards and integrity, GM Rob Babcock and Mitchell are insisting on both. It is a stand, particularly welcome in these parts. It is vital to any future success.

At 18-27, the Raptors seem unlikely to make the playoffs for the third straight year.

Finally, though, it looks like the losing will not be in vain.


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