Raptors eye Monta

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

It has been a good 24 years since Toronto sports fans had an Ellis to cheer for.

That could possibly change next fall. And no, former Maple Leaf Ron Ellis is not contemplating a comeback.

According to published reports, Mississippi high school sensation Monta Ellis has attracted interest from a number of NBA teams, including the Raptors. The 6-foot-3 guard has yet to announce whether he'll forgo attending Mississippi State next season and enter the NBA draft on June 28, but he is scheduled to play at the McDonald's all-American Game tomorrow (The Score, 8 p.m.) in South Bend, Ind., the top high school event in the country. Raptors general manager Rob Babcock will be there, although the GM can't comment on whether he is interested in Ellis, who scored 41 points a game at Lanier High, or any particular player. If the 19-year-old does declare himself eligible for the draft, he would likely go in the middle of the first round.

One player the Raptors won't be considering at this year's draft is former Toronto high school phenom Denham Brown.

Brown just finished his third year at the University of Connecticut where he averaged 10.4 points a game and managed zero points in 18 minutes in UConn's second-round loss in the NCAA championship to N.C. State.

It was thought when he first went to UConn, that the former West Hill Collegiate star would some day be a first-round pick in the NBA. That's looking less and less likely, as Brown's development at the NCAA level has been more slow and steady than spectacular.

With no chance of him being a first-round pick this year, Brown will likely return to UConn. Incidentally, three current teammates with the Huskies, Josh Boone, Rudy Gay and Charlie Villanueva may go in the first round either this year or next.

HOW THE WEST WAS WON

The big talk in the Western Conference is how the conference is wide open now that San Antonio star Tim Duncan may miss the playoffs because of a sprained right ankle. The Spurs were the favourites to make it into the NBA final, but without Duncan -- who may not be totally healthy until next season -- Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Seattle are very much contenders to qualify for the NBA final out of the West. The last team to win the Western Conference title other than San Antonio or the L.A. Lakers, was Utah in 1998. Since then, the Spurs and Lakers have won five of the past six NBA championships.

"The Spurs are one of the few exceptions in that if they have Duncan, it doesn't matter if they have the home-court advantage," Boston coach Doc Rivers said recently. "They've got veterans, they've been together and they've won. But without Duncan, you might see a team like Houston go to the finals. They've got two stars -- Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, one inside and one outside -- and a ton of veterans who can shoot. I wouldn't be shocked to see them go far. Because without Duncan, the West now is actually a small conference and a speed conference."

GEE WIZ

The Washington Wizards, who are holding on to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, are no longer serious contenders in the East. The Wizards have been decimated by key injuries -- forwards Antawn Jamison (right knee tendinitis) and Jarvis Hayes (fractured right patella) and guards Juan Dixon (sprained right ankle) and Anthony Peeler (sore right knee) -- and now star centre Brendan Haywood is the latest victim to join the bandage brigade. Haywood, who had been averaging career highs in almost every category (9.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots), fractured the tip of his left thumb in a 98-94 loss on Friday to the Los Angeles Clippers, capping what had been a miserable game for the Wizards. Prior to his getting hurt in the fourth quarter, Haywood got into a shouting match with teammate Kwame Brown following a blown defensive assignment. At one point, according to the Washington Post, Haywood got out of his seat and had to be restrained by teammate Laron Profit. Brown, meanwhile, was calmed by Jamison and assistant coach Phil Hubbard. Later in the game, head coach Eddie Jordan brought in non-playing 7-foot-3 rookie Peter John Ramos from the second row to sit between the two combatants.

RAPPING THE CAVS

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers was bitter about the firing of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Paul Silas.

"It's a raw deal," Rivers said. "When a team struggles, it's always easy to blame the coach, and I'm no longer buying any Usher albums." Hip hop artist Usher is a minority owner of the Cavaliers.

FREE AGENCY HURTS

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lacy J. Banks made a good point on Sunday, suggesting that NBA owners will be somewhat frightened signing big-money free agents in the off-season given the fact that the players who signed the biggest deals last summer -- Kobe Bryant ($136 million US), Pau Gasol ($86 million), Richard Jefferson ($76 million), Andrei Kirilenko ($86 million), Zach Randolph ($85 million), Kenyon Martin ($91 million), Jason Richardson ($70 million) and Carlos Boozer ($70 million) -- all suffered serious injuries this season.

OH BROTHER, NOT AGAIN

Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy has reportedly had it with those feel-good stories about he and his brother Stan, who coaches the Miami Heat. Said Jeff Van Gundy recently: "If I see one more story about us I'm going to puke ... Who cares? Really, I'm so sick of it. You guys (reporters) won't let it go. I mean, gosh. It's not a novelty anymore. It's painful to read those stories."


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