Raps at least try

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

The Raptors don't deserve to make the playoffs.

They aren't good enough.

This should not be as much of a shock to people as it apparently is.

But there has been much hand-wringing over the Raptors' just-completed 1-3 trip, during which they coughed up two supposedly "winnable" games against undermanned opponents in Memphis and Dallas.

The Raptors are comprised of an emerging but still-green star in Chris Bosh, a reliably dangerous veteran scorer in Jalen Rose, and a collection of mediocre specialists whose commitment to the club ranges from total to non-existent.

The point is, this group is not necessarily underachieving. It is what it is.

Now, if there's one thing that makes a Toronto sports fan's blood boil it's the notion that players aren't giving it their all. A lack of effort is the one thing this city will not forgive.

But we'll take this very rare opportunity to defend the Raptors a little bit on this front.

The Raptors teams of the Vince Carter and Lenny Wilkens era used to mail it in far, far, far more often that this edition of the club does. In fact, we can count on one hand the number of times this season the Raptors simply have not shown up for games.

That said, the Raptors do go through stretches in virtually every game they play where it might appear they're loafing. And yes, on occasion they are loafing. It's human nature.

But more often than not, when the Raptors look bad, it's mostly because they aren't talented enough, or athletic enough, or mentally tough enough, or deep enough to deal with the situations in which they are being placed.

This is a difficult thing for Toronto sports fans to accept, but effort does not make up for everything.

Effort makes a team more lovable. But very rarely does effort alone transform a bad team into a good team.

The ball now squarely is in Raptors general manager Rob Babcock's court. In a way, the playoffs already have begun for him as he and his scouts watch crucial college games and gauge the talent for the June draft.

They have to do better than "discovering" another Rafael Araujo.

It was interesting to hear Babcock defend Raptors coach Sam Mitchell this week in the wake of a cryptic but detail-free sentence in a Chicago newspaper that suggested Mitchell's job might be on the line. The fact is, there's a strong chance Mitchell will stick with the Raptors far longer than Babcock does, unless the latter starts to show fairly quickly that he's up to the job rather than being in over his head.

It will not be easy for Babcock this summer. He must remake this awkward roster into something more palatable. And any improvements that are made must be visible to the naked eye, or at least to Bosh's naked eye as he begins to ponder his long-term future.

The Raptors are size-challenged. They are athletically challenged. They are all at once too young and too old.

True, Babcock inherited many of these problems from his predecessor, Glen Grunwald. But Babcock did not help his own cause with the disastrous (at least to this point) Carter deal and an arguably too-patient approach at the trade deadline last month.

As for the present, the Raptors may very well beat the Orlando Magic tonight, and the woeful Atlanta Hawks on Friday, and then the most optimistic fans will start measuring post-season possibilities again.

But if the stars ever did align, if rivers stopped running, if the sun stopped shining, if hell froze over and these Raptors did somehow secure a playoff spot, it would be akin to rewarding ineptitude.

The Raptors, as an organization, do not deserve to make the playoffs.

They have not done it the old-fashioned way. They have not earned it.


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