Raps are what they are

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Actor Karl Malden used to do TV commercials for travellers cheques. The ads were designed to scare you into action. "You're far from home and you've lost all your cash and credit cards," the pug-nosed, menacing Malden would say. "What will you do? What WILL you do?"

The Raptors were asked similar questions yesterday.

"You've just lost to the worst team in the NBA on your home court. What will you do? What WILL you do?"

The response from the Raptors: Well, what can we do? Got any bright ideas, brainiac?

While still digesting freaky Friday's 116-112 overtime loss to the woeful Atlanta Hawks (who previously had lost 23 road games in a row), the Raptors practised yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. Afterward, you almost could sense that if Raptors coach Sam Mitchell and some of his players were completely free to say what was on their minds, it would have gone something like this:

Get over it

"We suck, all right? Why is that so incredibly hard for people to understand? Why are there reporters here? Report that we suck and get out of our faces. I know you're bored with no hockey, but quit asking us about the playoffs. We're not making the damn playoffs, okay? We're not good enough. Get over it."

Of course, neither Mitchell nor his players went quite that far as they prepared to play host to Allen Iverson, Chris Webber and the rest of the Philadelphia 76ers this evening. But just as Mitchell had done on Friday, he kept repeating his club's record, over and over again, as an explanation for everything.

"We're 26-36, right?" Mitchell said yesterday. "That's our record. So obviously we're a 26-36 team. And if you're 26-36, in my mind, it tells me you can get beat by anybody."

Fine. We have established that the Raptors can be beaten by anybody. Good to know. But is there a specific explanation as to why the Raptors were beaten by the horrid Hawks?

"Like all coaches, we have a game plan," Mitchell said. "We didn't execute, for whatever reason. We're not the first team that ever has happened to.

"You know, (Dallas Cowboys coach) Bill Parcells used to tell (quarterback) Vinny Testaverde: 'Throw it to the guy with the star on his helmet, not to the guy with the 'G' on his helmet. Throw it to the guy with the same jersey, don't throw it to the other team.'

"So we tell our guys: 'Pass it to the guy with the same kind of jersey.' But somewhere along the way, (18) times we threw it to the other team. I don't think we ever told them to do that, and I don't think they're trying to do that. But for whatever reason, on certain nights, it happens."

Mitchell's exasperation is approaching the point of emotional exhaustion.

He still cares. But reading between the lines, increasingly he appears to be telling the media: "Look guys, there's nothing I can do about this and you all know it."

The Raptors need to be overhauled this summer. Mitchell and the players are waiting for it. Unfortunately, the man who is in charge of the overhaul -- general manager Rob Babcock -- is the same man who brought you Rafael Araujo and transformed Vince Carter into three guys who don't play for the Raptors but get paid by the Raptors.

Babcock currently is on a scouting trip. Before you get too excited, he's scouting college players, not scouting for a new job.

In the meantime, his Raptors are left to play out the string and answer questions about why they merely are playing out the string.

The blunt analysis? Looking at the Raptors' roster, being 10 games below .500 is about right.

We'll leave it to you to decide how optimistic you should be about the Raptors' future. Which leads to a final Karl Malden-style question:

When it comes to buying Raptors tickets next season and beyond, what will you do? What WILL you do?


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