Low expectations

Toronto Raptors GM Rob Babcock talks to the media after making the Raptors first round draft pick...

Toronto Raptors GM Rob Babcock talks to the media after making the Raptors first round draft pick Thursday, June 24, 2004. (SUN/David Lucas)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:17 AM ET

Basketball insiders from two major U.S. sports publications are picking the Raptors to finish dead-last in the Atlantic Division this year.

Chad Ford, a respected NBA columnist with ESPN, has predicted the Raptors, which tied for last in the Division (33-49) last year and missed the playoffs for the third straight season, will finish on the bottom in the Atlantic and will place 13th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.

"The team still has major holes at centre and the point, which is never good news," Ford wrote. "If (Charlie) Villanueva (the club's first-round draft choice this summer) doesn't pan out, it's hard to imagine (Rob) Babcock lasting the year in Toronto."

Meanwhile, Kelly Dwyer of Sports Illustrated's website (SI.com) also predicted that the Raptors will finish last in the Atlantic.

"It's hard to imagine any other Eastern Conference team with a bleaker future than Toronto's," Dwyer wrote.

Raptors general manager Rob Babcock caused a major stir this week when he told The Toronto Sun he believes the team will probably not win as many games as last year.

Babcock acknowledged that losing veteran forward Donyell Marshall to free agency and replacing him with a pair of rookies (Villanueva and Joey Graham) means the Raptors will go through some growing pains this season, resulting in another losing season.

Both Ford and Dwyer believe the New Jersey Nets, a team that placed third in the Atlantic last season, will win the Division.

The Nets, of course, acquired former Raptors star Vince Carter last season for Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Alonzo Mourning and two-first round draft picks.

Thus far, the trade has heavily favoured the Nets.

Tyler Sherkin, of RealGM.com, believes that Babcock has the franchise moving in the right direction.

"The long-term outlet is that the Raptors will be a perennial playoff team with a nice mix of youth and veteran leadership in a year or two," he said. "Sam Mitchell and Babcock are creating a team that will soon be fundamentally sound, hard-working on both ends of the flour and able to make some noise in the playoffs."

Babcock said he is talking to at least four teams about a possible trade, and may go the free agency route to secure a third-string point guard.

Veteran Jalen Rose has been the centre of a number of trade rumours, including a possible move to the Minnesota Timberwolves, although Babcock shot down that one.


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