Babcock stays course

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

Rob Babcock clearly sees the world through rose-coloured glasses.

Upbeat and optimistic a day after a tumultuous, non-playoff season came to an end, the Raptors rookie general manager insisted his team is heading in the right direction.

"It has been a learning season, a trying season, but I'm very encouraged, especially about our players and coaches never giving up," Babcock said yesterday as his players cleaned out their lockers at the Air Canada Centre. "I'm very encouraged about the future."

Yes, Babcock actually thinks his roster -- which includes five players over 30, first-round bust Rafael Araujo and combustible point guard Rafer Alston -- can do some damage after a little bit of tweaking.

"The No. 1 way to improve your team is to improve from within and to have each player come back a better player," Babcock said. "I really like the core group of our players and I anticipate the vast majority of these guys to be back."

That is heartwarming news for Raptors fans, who have seen their team miss the NBA playoffs the past three years.

But in Babcock's eyes, this season wasn't all that bad.

"Despite all the issues and challenges we've had, to me it has been an enjoyable season," Babcock said. "Every season I've ever had in basketball, as a player, coach, scout, director of player personnel up to here, I've enjoyed it because it's basketball and it's what we do."

Bad basketball is what the Raptors did this season.

On the court, the Raptors were outrebounded 45.3-40.1 (average per game) by opponents. The 6-foot-11 Araujo had eight blocks all season, five fewer than point guard Milt Palacio.

Then there was all the off-court drama -- the long-term signing of Alston, Vince Carter's trade demand, the subsequent trade of Carter to the New Jersey Nets for underwhelming veterans Eric Williams and Aaron Williams, two first-round picks and no-show Alonzo Mourning, Alston and Jalen Rose's war of words, Alston threatening to quit the NBA and, later in the season, walking out of practice.

As for the fans, though, Babcock feels they must have enjoyed rookie coach Sam Mitchell's up-tempo style.

"You'd have to ask (the fans), but based on just my presence at games and their responses, I think they enjoyed the game," Babcock said.

"I think they see we have the potential to grow and develop into an exciting team."

Mitchell, however, tells a bit of a different story.

"We need more talent," Mitchell said. "It's obvious. We didn't make the playoffs. You'd all be laughing if I stood here and said no. Do our players need to get better? Yes. But how much better are they going to get over the summer? People think you go from averaging six points a game to 18. It doesn't happen that way."

For a capped-out team that wants to re-sign restricted free agents Matt Bonner and Pape Sow, attracting more talent will be difficult. The team has to make the most of its two first-round picks.

Babcock, who didn't make the most of his inaugural first-round pick last year, said he has "no regrets.

"We thought out everything we did," Babcock said, "and I think we made the right decisions with what we had."


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