When Rafer Alston was introduced before the game at the Air Canada Centre last night, a few people booed.
For the record, Raptors coach Sam Mitchell was not among them. But you can understand why Alston is beginning to feel as if he has been made the scapegoat for everything that ails the Raptors.
It was just a handful of fans who voiced their displeasure. But when a crowd of only 14,269 shows up, you don't have to boo very loudly to get noticed.
Good acoustics or not, the mild jeering and the modest crowd were indications of the impact the Raptors have been making on the Toronto marketplace lately. And none of it is good, despite the rehearsed protestations of Raptors management that all is well.
So what are those fires raging behind you, general manager Rob Babcock?
"What fires? Things are improving, really."
Players battling coaches. Players like Eric Williams in despair over their lack of minutes. The Vince Carter trade looking worse and worse. Losses piling up, including a 110-107 defeat at the hands of the visiting Milwaukee Bucks last night.
We all thought the goofy demons who have stalked the Raptors for years would be exorcized once Carter was traded. But one thing we did not count on was the Alston-Mitchell battle of wills, with the winner presumably being the one who grows up first.
Alston, the Raptors' starting point guard, and Mitchell had another confrontation at halftime in Cleveland on Tuesday. Alston did not return for the second half and he was in tears as he was ushered out of the arena under tight security before the game was over.
But Alston, who had 16 points (all in the first half) and had 12 assists last night, was not suspended by the Raptors. Alston had been suspended for two games by the club when he walked out of a practice a couple of weeks ago. The spirit of forgiveness this time could be explained in one of three ways:
1) Mitchell was more to blame for this latest incident than Alston, and Babcock knows it.
2) Mitchell and Alston equally were to blame, and referee Babcock ruled incidental contact, so to speak.
3) Alston misbehaved enough to get himself suspended in normal circumstances, but Babcock was wary of bringing down the hammer again, for fear of making the situation worse.
While Mitchell continued to insist yesterday his argument with Alston did not turn physical, a still-irate Alston believes he is owed an apology.
"When I walked out of practice the other day, I was man enough to apologize, man enough to say I made a mistake," Alston said last night. "Somebody better be man enough to say they made a mistake."
When Mitchell was told of Alston's comments, the coach claimed ignorance, saying, "I don't know who that is directed to."
Could it be you, Sam? "Rafer and I have talked."
Maybe Mitchell apologized to Alston privately, but Alston wants a public apology. Alston shouldn't hold his breath.
Perhaps the biggest thing Babcock has to worry about is how the other Toronto players are reacting to the soap-opera atmosphere.
"Our players are fine," said Mitchell, trying hard to be charming. "As a matter of fact, they were in there laughing."
True, when the Raptors players trotted back onto the court for the second half in Cleveland on Tuesday -- minus Alston -- they were laughing. But not in a 'yuk, yuk' way. It clearly was in a 'Can you believe this crazy crap?' way.
Band-Aids are applied to open wounds when the Raptors win, but this team is at risk of implosion every time it loses. Is that progress?
The Raptors hierarchy says yes. We're not so sure.