Ship is sinking

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

Mired in a quicksand of their own creation, the Raptors move nowhere, with little chance of getting better, little chance of getting worse.

They are not terrible enough to be assured of a lottery pick in this year's draft.

They are not good enough to make the playoffs.

They are just there, the NBA's version of the existential, not heading in any conceivable direction; trapped on the road to mediocrity.

The trouble is, before the Raptors can even pretend to get better they're going to have to get a whole lot worse. That is the dreadful flaw of this season. Unable to determine whether they were building for the future or shooting for a playoff spot, the Raptors managed neither.

For that, they will pay a rather large price.

If the season ended today and the ping pong balls didn't fall their way, which they never do, they would draft eighth and 15th in the first round, the second pick becoming the first tangible piece of the Vince Carter trade -- which is beginning to make the Native's deal for Manhattan appear equitable.

As of today, it is Carter for nothing.

By the summer, it could end up as Carter for a No. 15 who well could turn out to be nothing.

That isn't my opinion but the opinion of Sam Mitchell, who happens to coach this team. Mitchell was talking about the young Chicago Bulls yesterday and how they rebuilt their franchise into playoff form.

All it took was a major collapse. They lost and lost and lost some more until they were picking first and second and third and fourth in the draft -- and they did that over a six-year period.

This doesn't happen, hasn't happened, in Toronto. In 10 drafts, the Raptors have never picked first, never picked third, and have only chosen second once. Of the players they have selected after No. 7 in the first round -- the unofficial number Mitchell cut off for finding stars -- they have drafted one gem, Tracy McGrady, who hated curling on television and therefore couldn't live here anymore.

The other players, with Morris Peterson actually being the best, are mostly forgettable.

So, this is what faces the Raptors. Unless they get really, really lucky, they won't get an early pick this year or next year. They will get two middle-range picks in a draft that loses its cachet after about four players.

Next year, they have their own choice, which may have to be relinquished to Charlotte via Cleveland and Denver's pick (from the Carter deal), which isn't a whole lot of reprieve.

Denver is almost certain to be a playoff team in 2006, which means the end result of the Carter deal is that the Raptors get rid of a meddling mother and a son who quit in exchange for two guys named "If" who may not be ready to contribute -- if they are ever ready -- by the year 2008.

This isn't, for the record, encouraging.

Not when you have an unathletic lineup in an athletic league and you won't be choosing high enough to find a star in the making.

Not when your best bench player, Donyell Marshall, is almost certain to being playing somewhere else next season.

Not when you don't even have the salary cap room to take advantage of free agency and fill the necessary holes.

Not when you have a team that plays the most sporadic defence seen in these parts since Jim Benning and Fred Boimistruck were rookies.

Which leaves what? A team that can win two games and lose three out of every five played. Not enough to believe in them and not enough to completely dismiss them.

And you get the impression even management understands. Why else did they send out the cheerleaders last night all dressed up as nurses?

This wasn't the kind of medical attention the Raptors seem desperately in need of.


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