Zo long to Raptor who never was

KEN FIDLIN, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

This is how goofy things are down in Raptorville. Yesterday, they cut a cheque for $9 million US or thereabouts, payable to a guy who never played for them, never set foot in their locker room, never even came to town while he was in their employ. What's more, they're pleased about it.

PLAYED SPORADICALLY

And that's not the most outrageous thing that happened to them this week. Good lord, it might not even be in the top three.

Alonzo Mourning was never going to be a Raptor. Once a huge star in the NBA, he has played only sporadically the past few years as a result of a rare kidney ailment that led to a transplant last year. He became Toronto property, along with Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two first-round draft picks in the trade that sent Vince Carter to the New Jersey Nets.

With a contract that would pay him $17 million over the next two years, the Raptors negotiated a buyout for a little more than half that amount. The Raptors have waived him, so he can go down the street to Miami and play out the string there.

This was an expected corollary to the Carter trade. The Raps knew Mourning was never going to be part of their team. He didn't want them and they didn't want him. His inclusion in the deal was strictly as salary cap ballast.

"Working the buyout situation was very good for our basketball team. It allows us flexibility in the future," Toronto general manager Rob Babcock said. "Philosophically, our basketball staff is against the concept of giving a player a buyout but this was a unique situation, because of Alonzo's health and because it gave us some cap relief."

That was a practical decision. Optically, though, it's another eyesore. This is especially so just now when Carter, who sleepwalked his way through the first two months of the season here, is lighting it up (as we all knew he would) in his new environment; when Eric Williams, the most serviceable player Toronto received in return is asking for a trade; when the starting point guard and the head coach are feuding; and when unrest seems to be spreading like wildfire among the other players in the Raptor room.

As a rookie GM, Babcock had a lot of inherited problems to overcome. But the honeymoon period for NBA general managers is not as long as it once was. So far Babcock can't claim any major successes that would keep his feet far from the fire.

Aside from the fact that it got Carter out of town (and that's a good thing), the trade isn't looking so hot right now but Babcock bought himself some time with the two draft picks in that one. That potential is offset by the fear that Babcock won't do any better with those picks than he did with the one he used on Rafael Araujo last summer.

The long-term contract he arranged for mercurial guard Rafer Alston has the look and feel of a relationship that will last six months, not six years.

On the plus side, the feeling here is that Sam Mitchell, another Babcock pick, will one day be a winner as a coach but only after he figures out he's coaching in the NBA, not the WWE. You've got to love his insistence that players must be held accountable though maybe he shouldn't threaten to smack them around quite so much, poor babies.

"We certainly have our issues and we knew that coming in," Babcock said. "We've had a few more than I would hope for but we're dealing with those issues. I think the perception from the outside is a whole lot worse than what it really is."

And, while Babcock will be looking to make some meaningful deals in the next few weeks leading up to the trade deadline, none of the discontented members of the Raptors should expect to be moved just for the sake of a move.

LOOKING LONG TERM

"We're not going to try to make everybody happy just for the season," Babcock said. "It has got to be something that's good for the future. we're trying to establish a foundation. We don't want just a quick fix. We've got to look long term."

Ten years into their existence, the long term is all that the Raptors have. How can it be any other way, given the three-ring circus that is their present?


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