The Last Word

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:02 AM ET

Wayne Embry isn't used to this: Having his name associated with an apparent laughing stock.

Experience -- and he has lots of it -- doesn't tell him that he is part of Clippers North, a basketball organization forever spinning its wheels. The majority of the world may think little of the Raptors, even on the ever-optimistic first day of training camp, just not Embry.

He has seen enough in almost 50 years around the NBA to view the current edition of the Raptors with a perspective not shared by many.

"Even last year when I came in here, I thought expectations were perhaps misjudged," said Embry, the Hall of Fame general manager whose position with the Raptors is not entirely defined. "And that was with Vince (Carter). I took a more realistic view from the beginning.

"We looked at this team and where we were and knew it was time to rebuild. We were the sixth oldest team in the league. We needed youth, enthusiasm and potential ... I've been involved with teams like this a few times. We did it in Milwaukee. We did it in Cleveland. We can do it here."

He was in charge in Milwaukee. He was in charge in Cleveland.

Embry is not in charge here. He is a voice, a shoulder, an opinion, a league encyclopedia. He is quick to point out that he "doesn't have the authority to make decisions" but is happy to contribute. Exactly what his role is -- reporting to Richard Peddie, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd. -- has never been completely explained.

"Sometimes you don't know where winning comes from," Embry, 68, said. "One year in Cleveland, we drafted Brevin Knight and Derek Anderson and I'll be damned if we didn't win 47 games. When you get young, enthusiastic energetic players, you can do some things."

This year in Toronto, the Raptors have drafted Charlie Villanueuva and Joey Graham and no one knows what that means. No one can yet.

"I look at this as similar to that situation," Embry said. "There's hope here. I feel hope. Chris Bosh is a future superstar. The kids drafted should blend in with him. That's something to build around, build together."

Embry empathizes with Rob Babcock's rocky introduction to the NBA. His first job was in Milwaukee as the first African-American general manager in professional sports. He had a knock on his office door one day and there was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asking to be traded.

Not to compare Vince Carter to Abdul-Jabbar in any meaningful way but in Embry's words, "both meant a lot to their franchises."

"I turned down an offer of Willis Reed and Walt Frazier for Kareem, because both those guys were in their 30s." He got four players for Jabbar -- Junior Bridgman, David Meyers, Elmore Smith and Brian Winters, who averaged 14, 16, 13 and 11 points respectively in almost 1,600 games playing for the Bucks.

To date, the Raptors can boast they turned Carter into the rookie Graham, Eric Williams and Aaron Williams. In other words, to date it's Graham for Carter.

"I like Joey Graham," Embry said. "I don't want to put pressure on any player, but I'm a big fan of his. He's going to be an effective player. He plays defence, he rebounds, he hustles. Red Auerbach told me years ago, 'Get the right people, and the right players, and don't try to be something you're not.' "

Wayne Embry never has tried to be that. All you have to do is follow his personal success to understand. He was a captain of his college team and had his jersey number retired. He was an all-star who captained two teams in the NBA, a pioneer executive, and since 1999 a elected member of the Hall of Fame.

And having seen what he has seen, been where he has been, he not only has hope for this Raptors team, but even hope for Rafael Araujo, the stumbling centre.

"I was cut in my rookie year," Embry said. "A lot of guys have rough starts to their careers. In the end, it's still up the player. This is a player's game, a player's league.

"A player has to commit to it. A player has to want to do it. You can't just rely on your athletic ability. You have to grow, you have to learn. You have to have a zeal to succeed."

This is Year 11 for the Raptors in Toronto. Zeal isn't something we're used to around here.


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