Raps nose-to -nose? Who knows?

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell fired back with guns blazing last night in response to a report that he had a physical confrontation with the team's former superstar, Vince Carter. A story surfaced prior to last night's 106-91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre that Carter, in answer to a physical challenge by Mitchell a few months ago, supposedly slammed the coach on to a massage table.

The story originated on the sportsnet.ca website, quoting Carter's always-outspoken mother, Michelle.

Before the media was able to ask him about the alleged incident, Mitchell, who has been dealing with rumours that he physically challenged the team's point guard Rafer Alston last Tuesday in Cleveland, explained his version of the story.

'CRACKING JOKES'

"Vince was lying on the training table," he said. "Me, leaving the locker room, cracking jokes like I've done for 18 years, about them getting old, breaking down and having to get massages, I kind of smacked both of them (Carter and Alvin Williams) on the rear end, joking.

"And when I lay down on the table -- my back was hurting because I really am getting old -- Vince lay on my back. And Alvin was laughing, saying: 'Oh, WWF.' Just joking. That's all it was."

"Just joking," Williams said. "Light-hearted. I'm not sure what she told you guys. All I know is, it was far from a fight."

Carter, when asked about the alleged incident last night following the Nets' loss the to San Antonio Spurs, danced around the issue in bizarre fashion.

"So? What's the big deal? You make an altercation sound like a fight," Carter said when a questioner used that term. The reporter who asked the question explained that an altercation could be a fight, to which Carter replied: "Exactly." He had no further comment.

Still, the story was the last thing the Raptors needed, as the organization has been reeling from the Alston controversy and Eric Williams' request for a trade.

Alston insisted again last night that he did nothing wrong in Cleveland. On Wednesday he said that someone on the team owes him an apology, adding that as of last night he still hadn't received one.

"But I'm going to take the high road, it's not about me," he said. "I'm going to be a man, a teammate and a professional and continue to work hard."

The Sportsnet report also quoted "sources" as saying four players -- Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Lamond Murray and Donyell Marshall -- have asked to be traded from Toronto. Eric Williams, who is angry over not playing many minutes of late, admitted that he has asked to be traded, although he met with general manager Rob Babcock yesterday to try to iron out the problems. Babcock said he has no intention of trading Williams.

In an ESPN article this week, two agents representing Raptor players were quoted as saying that Mitchell was losing control of his team. Mitchell yesterday scoffed at that report.

"Oh, now we believe everything the agents say?" he said. "Not to be rude, but I'm definitely not going to comment on what an agent has to say because I had my share of run-ins with agents."

Ironically, Babcock predicted before last night that he expected more problems to surface before the organization reached the point where it was not longer considered a joke around the NBA.

"I think the perception from the outside is a whole lot worse than what it really is," Babcock said.


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