ST. CATHARINES -- Raptors training camp opened with a bang yesterday, as general manager Rob Babcock pulled the trigger on a major trade in shipping the volatile Rafer Alston to Houston.
Alston, who was Toronto's starting point guard last season, has tremendous talent, but also has been known to suffer the occasional emotional meltdown, as when he threatened to quit last year after an early season loss in Boston.
However, Babcock insisted yesterday the trade to the Houston Rockets for guard Mike James was orchestrated not out of concern over Alston's volatility, but to add some defence to a squad that finished sixth from the bottom in points-against per game last season (101.4).
Alston, reached by Rogers Sportsnet, took the trade in stride, but was sad about leaving Toronto.
"I love being in Toronto," he said.
"Fabulous fans, fabulous city. It reminds me of New York. (But) now I'm a Rocket and I have to be prepared for that test and that battle (down) there.
"I had no clue (when asked about the trade). I got up early (yesterday), excited, at 6:30. Practice didn't start until 9. I was in the gym by 8. Out of nowhere this came about."
James also gives Babcock more flexibility in terms of salary cap.
Alston is entering the second year of a six-year deal which will pay him $23 million US during the next five seasons.
James only has two years left on a contract that will pay him $3.4 million this season and $3.7 million next.
"Rafer's attitude has been terrific," said Babcock, who informed Alston of the trade just prior to the start of practice yesterday. "We feel this is a basketball trade that addresses our needs for the future and our plan of moving forward."
Babcock also is sending out the message he expects European point guards Jose Calderon, new to the Raptors this season, and 2005 second-round draft pick Roko Ukic, who will play for Tau Ceramica in the Spanish Elite league this year, to be the team's top point guards for the 2007-08 season after James' contract expires.
"We have a lot of faith in them," Babcock said.
"We're building for the future of this team and we think it's a very bright future."
As for James, the 30-year-old will get a chance to become a starting point guard in the NBA for the first time in his career.
The 6-foot-2, 188-pound veteran owns NBA career averages of 9.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 23.8 minutes in 248 games, splitting time with Miami, Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee and Houston.
During the 2004-05 campaign, he averaged 11.8 points and 3.6 assists. He also shot 37% from three-point range.
The Raps lost two of its best three-point shooters in Donyell Marshall and Lamond Murray this season.
Alston played 80 games for Toronto last season, averaging 14.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.48 steals.