GM 'happy' with Raps

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Another trade deadline has passed for the Raptors and the good news is no one died.

The Raptors retain Donyell Marshall and Jalen Rose for another 28 games and when you have a team this good, the temptation to stand pat is almost overwhelming. After all, look how far the Los Angeles Lakers fell when they decided to rebuild.

"I'm really happy with the players we have," general manager Rob Babcock said, and there is surprising unanimity in this. The other 14 GMs in the East are really happy with the team the Raptors have as well.

Any deal for Marshall, a serviceable big man whose chances of returning to Canada next fall are right up there with Mary Pickford's, needed to be structured for the future and there is some sense in that. Burned by the fallout from the Vince Carter deal (most often heard complaint: "What, no bag of pucks?"), Babcock wasn't looking to make a killing, just to avoid being killed.

"There was a lot of interest," Babcock said. "We listened to everything but it had to be a case of us getting players we felt strong about for the future of the franchise, not a short-term fix."

This fixation on the future makes sense when you consider that the present is iffy and the recent past downright disastrous. For the record, the nickname Rob(bed) Babcock is in poor taste and won't be repeated in this space unless the rookie GM trades another disaffected franchise player for a disaffected second-liner, a disaffected benchwarmer, a guy who cost $10 million to fire and two first-rounders who will be old enough to shave really, really soon.

But I digress.

Yesterday, the Indiana Pacers sat eighth in the conference with a 27-26 mark. Assuming that .500 is the standard that lands the final post-season spot in the East, the Raptors would need to go 19-9 the rest of the way.

Now, that could happen, but truth is, the NBA schedule is pretty widely circulated. The chances of a string of opponents not showing up because they thought the all-star break was still on is, you know, remote.

Qualifying as the Atlantic Conference champ looks like a longer shot than that. The Raps are 4 1/2 games out of first. Conference-mate Philadelphia added Chris Webber while Boston returned Antoine Walker. Say good night, Dick.

The first thing the Raptors are aiming at is to win as much as they lose. So while the pace of change in the NBA is frenetic, the implementation of a plan has to nonetheless be plodding. First, get to be not so bad. Then think about getting good.

Babcock said the Raptors have the components to make a run. They just need consistency. I have all the same body parts as Tom Cruise. That doesn't mean I can look like him.

Babcock was faced with a nasty scenario. Any infusion of measurable improvement, Baron Davis, Webber, or Gary Payton for example, would have brought either a fractious personality or a millstone contract and there have been quite enough of those kind of moves already, thank you very much, especially now that Babcock wasn't able to placate the downhearted Eric Williams.

There is no truth to the other rumour, by the way, that rival GMs are deluging Babcock with crank calls: "Do you have Mr. Clean in a bottle? Well, let him out, he's tougher than Araujo," but you get the feeling that after the Carter trade, the offers reaching Babcock's desk weren't exactly stellar.

The Raps shouldn't make the playoffs and won't. This season is about stopping the hemorrhaging of the franchise, adding the veneer of another year's experience to Bosh, Rafer Alston, Sam Mitchell and yes, Babcock.

Nothing bad happened yesterday. For the Raptors, that's progress enough.


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