Putting his pride aside

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

It's a pre-draft accusation Rob Babcock insists is unfair.

In certain NBA circles, not only among fans but among employees of other teams, you can hear the following whispers:

"There is no way the Raptors will draft a point guard or a big man in the first round, because that will be like admitting Rafer Alston and Rafael Araujo are failures."

Babcock, the Raptors' general manager, disagrees in the strongest possible terms that personal pride will impact his judgment.

"I would not be against taking a point guard or centre at all," said Babcock, whose club has two picks in the first round, No. 7 and No. 16. "I don't think it makes a statement that Rafer and Rafael are failures. We will take the best players we can. If they beat out our returning players, so be it."

Two of Babcock's major moves last summer were the drafting of Araujo at No. 8 and the signing of Alston to a multi-year contract. Araujo barely contributed in his rookie campaign, while Alston balanced a reasonable statistical output with volatile personal behaviour and public battles with coach Sam Mitchell.

Babcock is not ready to give up on either Araujo or Alston, but the GM said those two guys have to earn whatever court time they receive, just like anyone else.

"If a player that I sign, trade for or draft does not work out, then I will admit that and move on," Babcock said.

"If you look at everyone's picks in the draft over the years, you will find that everyone misses on picks on a regular basis. Judging the heart and the mind are very difficult. We will make mistakes. But I believe in giving players ample time to develop before calling them a mistake. Otherwise, there are a lot of mistakes who are starting for NBA teams right now."

Babcock and the Raptors have been working out prospects all week. While a number of players the Raptors have seen are long shots even to be among the 60 players chosen, one very highly rated point guard is scheduled to be at the Air Canada Centre today.

Ray Felton of North Carolina is one of five guards who will work out this morning. Tomorrow the foursome on hand was to include Deron Williams of Illinois, but last night the Raptors received word he is cancelling his visit.

Both Felton and Williams are considered to be top-10 selections. While most mock drafts predict Williams will be gone by the time the Raptors are on the clock at No. 7, Felton could be a distinct possibility to wear the purple and red.

Interestingly, Babcock said that even though gathering players for private workouts can tell you a lot about their character, seeing them in actual games remains the top evaluator of all.

"I learn the most about a player from the times I have seen him play in real games," Babcock said. "The Chicago camp (an annual cattle call that takes place next week) would come next. And finally, individual workouts.

"They all are helpful, but nothing beats evaluating a player that is playing for a real team with a real coach. The individual workouts help us find out more about a player's strengths and weaknesses and gives us a much better handle on his personality. We spend a great deal of time with the player off the court, with meals, interviews, and so on. But we use every tool we can."

Certainly the Raptors have not been shy about inviting anyone and everyone to town for a look-see. Hey, it's a far better strategy than the one Denver Nuggets coach George Karl employed. The NBA announced yesterday it has suspended Karl for three regular-season games and fined the Nuggets $200,000 US because in mid-May Karl attended several workouts involving an unidentified draft-ineligible player at Marquette University.

"The more players you work out, the better comparisons you get," Babcock said. "However, they need to be players who are in the same basic group in terms of talent and experience."

Felton and Williams are in the same basic group in more ways than one. They were born on the same day: June 26, 1984.

Now Felton will be here and Williams won't. Regardless, the date the Raptors care most about is June 28, 2005. Draft night.

For the record, Babcock promises ego won't enter into it.


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