How low can they go?

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

We heard a crazy trade rumour the other day.

And we mean crazy as in, "That probably never will happen," as opposed to, "That's an impossibility."

According to an NBA source, the subject of a blockbuster deal involving Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace has been broached between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Detroit Pistons.

The T-Wolves supposedly would send Garnett to the Pistons for the two Wallaces and two first-round picks.

Sounds goofy, huh?

There certainly is a chance a rumour like that got started merely because long-time Minnesota coach Flip Saunders now has taken over as coach of the Pistons.

And while at face value it seems like way too much for the Pistons to give up, those two picks surely would come very late in the first round. So essentially it would boil down to a two-for-one deal, notwithstanding the chance of other players being thrown in to match salaries.

Anyway, the purpose here is not to debate the merits of such a far-fetched transaction. But when we heard the rumour, it got us thinking:

The Pistons, who a month and a half ago came within one game of winning their second championship in as many years, already have made some big changes this off-season (Saunders replacing Larry Brown), and at least are rumoured to be pondering some others. In fact, just about everyone in the Eastern Conference has made significant moves, and a good number of the teams are demonstrably better.

Just about every team, arguably, except the Raptors.

Now, the Raptors take enough gut punches from fans and media, so this is not meant to be another one. True, Raptors general manager Rob Babcock is dealing with some financial and roster incongruities that were of his own making, but he also inherited a grotesquely unattractive situation when he took over the reins less than a year and a half ago.

So this isn't a blind-side swipe. It merely is a cold calculation of the prospects for a club that is coming off back-to-back 33-win seasons.

So far this summer, the Raptors have lost Donyell Marshall, they surely are going to lose Milt Palacio, and they may be in the process of losing Matt Bonner.

They have added two first-round picks in Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham, and an undrafted Spanish point guard in Jose Calderon. Second-round pick Roko Ukic signed with a European team, and Babcock said the other day that his other second-round pick, Uros Slokar, almost certainly will play in Europe next season, too.

All things considered, that doesn't stack up particularly well when you ponder the rest of the East.

From top to bottom, the teams that made the playoffs in the East last season were the Miami Heat, the Pistons, the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls, the Washington Wizards, the Indiana Pacers, the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Nets. Some of those clubs may take a step back, but we don't feel we're going out on much of a limb by saying this: All eight of them still will be better than the Raptors next season.

And what of the other non-playoff squads?

The Cleveland Cavaliers, with LeBron James (not to mention Marshall and Larry Hughes), are sure to be better.

The New York Knicks, with coach Brown on the job and a few more athletes in tow, likely will garner a few more wins.

The Milwaukee Bucks, with No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut, should improve.

The Orlando Magic, with an emerging Dwight Howard, won't be a pushover.

And even the bottom-of-the-barrell teams -- the Atlanta Hawks and the Charlotte Bobcats -- really aren't that bad if you look at their noticeably athletic rosters.

It's no great mystery where this leaves the Raptors.

This isn't an alarmist tirade. And we understand the concept of taking a step back before taking a step forward.

But unless Minnesota decides to trade Garnett to Toronto for nothing, how many games can the Raptors be expected to win next season?


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