Raptors general manager Rob Babcock vows a full-court press to keep rookie forward Matt Bonner from leaving the team after this season.
And for his part, Bonner wants to remain in Toronto, a city he has grown to love.
"Growing up, I always thought that Boston would be the team I'd want to play for," the Concord, N.H., native said yesterday. "But after this year it definitely has changed. The unbelievable fan support of the people in this city is awesome."
Bonner has been a very pleasant surprise for the Raptors and has become a fan favorite at the Air Canada Centre because of his work ethic, his ability to shoot and his red hair, earning him the nickname The Red Rocket. The forward, who played pro ball in Italy last season, leads all NBA freshmen in field-goal percentage (55%) and is averaging close to eight points per game off the bench.
But there could be dark clouds on the horizon for the Raptors. Because Bonner has had such a good season, other NBA teams may go after him this summer, with the Celtics being the most obvious. Bonner's hometown is not far from Boston and when the Raptors travelled there for a game on Dec.3, more than four busloads of fans journeyed to the FleetCenter from Concord to watch him play.
As a restricted free agent, the Raptors cannot offer Bonner a contract until July 1, and have the right to match any offer up to the mid-level exception, which is about $5 million US this season. And though a team under the cap can offer the player more money, Babcock said yesterday that he is still optimistic Bonner will remain with the Raps.
One NBA insider suggested that Bonner should make between $2-3 million next season. As a second-round draft choice, he makes $385,000 this season.
"He's the type of player we want for the future and we'll do everything we can to keep him," Babcock added.
That's what Bonner wants to hear, but he also realizes that pro basketball is a business and if another team is in the position to offer much more money, he could depart -- which would be a huge disappointment for him and his Toronto fans.
"But if all the contract offers are (about the) same, I'd come back," Bonner said, adding that the various controversies surrounding the Raptors this year have not left a bad taste in his mouth.
"Rob and coach (Sam) Mitchell are doing things the right way and I think in the long run, this organization is heading up and I want to be part of that," he said.
Bonner's work ethic has been noticed. He regularly takes 200-300 shots a day during the season, apart from regular practice, and up to 500 a day during the summer.
"I've left here at 10 at night and have gone down to the locker room to pick things up and he's just getting out from a shooting workout," Babcock said. "He'll often workout on his own between 8-10:30 p.m."