Chemistry is a powerful word in sports parlance. It's this mysterious thing that all teams need.
But in terms of actual impact on wins and losses, it sometimes is overrated, too.
The Raptors' chemistry class has resulted in a few broken test tubes. The latest ingredient came courtesy of veteran swingman Jalen Rose, whose verbal attack on unspecified teammates after a bad loss to the Magic on Wednesday lit on fire the walls of the visitors' locker room at the TD Waterhouse Centre in Orlando.
If the Raptors were 13 games above .500 instead of 13 below, personality clashes would seem far less important. But the Raptors are playing out the string of another playoff-free season, and it's a tad surprising there haven't been more of these outbursts since the trade deadline passed -- uneventfully, from the Raptors' perspective -- in mid-February.
"I think team chemistry is very important in building a team," Raptors general manager Rob Babcock said yesterday. "It is not only the personalities, but player positions, player types and player styles. There are teams that have all great guys, but lousy team chemistry. How important is it? I think it is huge.
"We have good guys on this team, but there have been many well-documented issues. In reality, there have been not many more issues than the average team, save the Vince Carter situation. We are not there yet, but I am pleased with our progress."
It obviously is important to know that Rose did not play at all in the fourth quarter on Wednesday. Rose said he was not mad at the coaches, but at certain teammates.
We don't want to put words into Rose's mouth, but it is our strong belief his main target was starting point guard Rafer Alston. Whether Alston is a good chunk of what ails the Raptors or merely a convenient target depends upon your point of view.
Rose made a revealing statement with regard to his own frame of mind when he said: "I think it probably started at halftime in Seattle and it probably ended at halftime in Cleveland. From that, there has been a lot of individual play, and that shows by our record."
Both situations to which Rose was referring involved Alston.
The Cleveland game on Feb. 8 was the night Alston and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell had a confrontation at halftime, and Alston stayed in the locker room with Babcock during the second half. And according to NBA sources who were contacted yesterday, there also was a heated exchange between Morris Peterson and Alston at halftime of the Seattle game way back on Nov. 12.
Rose seemed to be implying that in both those cases, the Raptors organization -- in the form of Mitchell in Seattle, and in the form of Babcock in Cleveland -- essentially took Alston's side. Of course, there have been occasions this season when the organization clearly did not take Alston's side, such as the time he was suspended for walking out of practice.
As we said, Alston is an easy target, because of his volatility and his role as, supposedly, the main ball-distributor. When things aren't going well, the point guard usually is the first person who gets blamed. Sometimes it's not fair, sometimes it is.
"If you ask me about Rafer, he has made huge progress and though he still has many areas to work on, he has always given 100% effort, competes to win and is sincerely working on his weaknesses," Babcock said.
Rose is a proud man who despises losing. We would expect nothing less from him. But again, if the Raptors were a better team from top to bottom, winning would provide a cure for some, if not most, of these issues.
As Babcock looks to improve the Raptors this summer, he admitted chemistry will be a concern.
"In making personnel moves -- draft, trades, free-agent acquisitions -- character is a major factor in our decisions," Babcock said. "How someone's character and abilities fit into the chemistry of our team is certainly a factor that will be considered."
The 10-year experiment continues.