Calderon takes a point

Jose Calderon poses for photographers as he is introduced to the media by the Toronto Raptors...

Jose Calderon poses for photographers as he is introduced to the media by the Toronto Raptors yesterday at the ACC. The Spanish point guard will backup Rafer Alston. (Toronto Sun/Mark O'Neill)

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:05 AM ET

Rob Babcock was asked if Jose Calderon will be able to contribute anything to the Raptors next season.

"He'd better," Babcock said.

The comment from the club's general manager was made light-heartedly. But really, Babcock wasn't kidding.

In case you hadn't noticed, the Raptors aren't deep at the point.

As of yesterday, they have Rafer Alston and Calderon, a 23-year-old, 6-foot-3 Spaniard who has played in the Spanish pro league, for the Spanish national team and in the Olympics, but never has set foot on an NBA court.

"Some (other) teams asked, but for me, I don't hear it," Calderon said during a media conference. "When I talked to Rob and when I visited the city, I liked it. For me and my wife, we can live well here. I only saw Toronto."

Obviously, he hasn't been here on one of our really smoggy days.

Regardless, Babcock described Calderon as a "classic" point guard, despite the fact he averaged only 3.0 assists last season.

"The first time I went to Europe to scout a point guard, I charted him as having nine assists in the game," Babcock said. "I got the stats afterward and he had three. To get an assist in Europe, basically the player has to shoot a layup. John Stockton would have averaged three assists in Europe."

So does that mean the Raptors are prepared to head into next season with Calderon as their primary backup point man?

"He's going to have to earn that, but that's what we signed him to be," Babcock said.

Still, Babcock admitted he would like to add a veteran point guard to complement Alston and Calderon. Alvin Williams still is on the roster, but his battle- and surgery-scarred legs remain a huge question mark. And second-round pick Roko Ukic decided to stay in Europe for now, although Babcock said Calderon presently is far more ready for the NBA than the 21-year-old Ukic.

"We have prepared as if Alvin is not going to play, and that's the way we have to look at it to protect ourselves," Babcock said. "If he is able to play, that's a bonus.

"Generally, in most years you need to have three point guards, or three guys who can play the point. Right now, we don't have that backup 2-1 guy (someone to fill in at both shooting guard and point guard). That's an area we still will be looking at."

The thing is, the Raptors don't have much monetary wiggle room as they divvy up their $5-million US mid-level salary-cap exception. They've signed Calderon and will re-sign forward Pape Sow any day now. They claim they still want to keep forward Matt Bonner, but their stance remains solid with regard to salary.

After speaking to two sources, it was reported here yesterday that Bonner's original contract request was for something close to $3.5 million US per year, over five years. For the record, that was disputed yesterday by Bonner's agent, Kenny Grant, who claimed the original contract request was for $2.5 million over five years.

Either way, the Raptors and Bonner aren't on the same page.

"It's unfortunate, because Matt is a fan favourite in Toronto," Grant said. "But if it doesn't work out there, Matt will just have to be a fan favourite some place else."

Whatever happens with Bonner, it's going to be a challenge for the Raptors to add a veteran point man who truly can help them.

"It probably will be minimum-salary guys who we're looking at, because once we use up that (mid-level) exception, we're pretty much done," Babcock said.

PURSUING TRADES

"That is, unless a trade occurs, and we still are pursuing some trades. But after this first wave of trades and signings takes place around the league, teams re-evaluate and that helps trades to get further pushed.

"So, we'll see what happens. I don't anticipate anything major right away. At this point, with the amount of money we have left, we're looking at the second and third waves."

Will adding a crop of rookies, re-signing some backups and mining the NBA's "second and third waves" provide enough depth for the Raptors to compete next season in a noticeably improving Eastern Conference?

To paraphrase Rob Babcock, it had better.


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