Feeling optimistic

Rafer Alston says the Toronto Raptors are headed in the right direction if they are to make the...

Rafer Alston says the Toronto Raptors are headed in the right direction if they are to make the playoffs in the future. (Toronto Sun File/Greg Henkenhaf)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Rafer Alston compares the Raptors this year to the starship Enterprise.

Toronto's starting point guard believes the team will boldly go where no Raptors team has gone before (Or, at least for the past three years).

To the playoffs.

"That's the mindset we're coming in with," Alston said yesterday. "We won 33 games last year and I think we can squeak out eight or nine more.

"There's no place to go but up."

Most NBA pundits have picked the rebuilding Raptors to finish last in the Atlantic Division.

Alston said he was "highly confused" by comments, made by general manager Rob Babcock to The Toronto Sun earlier this month, that the club would be hard-pressed to match the 33 victories from last year. But since talking to Babcock, Alston understands that the GM was just being honest, that the club likely will struggle, given the number of youngsters on the roster.

He agrees also with Babcock that the Raptors are heading in the right direction and admitted that, in order for his playoff prediction to come true, he has to be more of a leader on the court and in the locker room and less of a distraction.

Alston had a career-year offensively for the Raptors last season, averaging 14.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. But there were moments when his volatile personality caused problems with the team. He threatened to quit early in the season after being benched during a game in Boston and had various other run-ins with head coach Sam Mitchell.

But the normally good-natured Alston, who is under contract with the team for the next five years ($22.75 million US) plans to take on more of a leadership role this season.

"I'll play hard and compete every night, like I always do," he said, "and try to be a solid and more mature point guard. I really want to help the young guys."

Alston, 29, said he was thrilled with the Raptors' selection of fellow New Yorker Charlie Villanueva in this year's NBA draft.

"We did lose a guy in (forward) Donyell Marshall, who was an integral part of this team, but we have a talented rookie in Villanueva, who I believe can step in and help fill that gap," he said.

Babcock is hard at work searching for another point guard to complement Alston and Spanish international Jose Calderon. He has offered Jay Williams a contract and has expressed interest in former Raptor Jermaine Jackson.


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