Babcock's stock on the rise

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

ST. CATHARINES -- What a difference a day makes. On Monday, Raptors general manager Rob Babcock still was considered the NBA's Inspector Clouseau.

But now, all of a sudden, he's a guy who seems to know what he's doing.

And all because he was able to pull the trigger on a deal that sent spacey point guard Rafer Alston, and his $23-million US contract, to the Houston Rockets for solid guard/citizen Mike James.

Babcock has been Toronto's favourite whipping boy pretty well from the moment he signed on with the club on June 7, 2004.

Selecting centre Rafael Araujo eighth overall in the 2004 draft was, and still is, considered an unmitigated disaster, while trading Vince Carter to the New Jersey Nets for Eric and Aaron Williams, Alonzo Mourning and two first-round draft picks was also considered a bad deal.

A rough start for a first-year GM, surely. But remember, Carter was not going to play hard for the Raptors no matter what and Babcock really had a gun to his head when dealing Vinsanity.

Since then, Babcock's made some pretty decent moves. Was drafting Charlie Villanueva with the seventh pick overall this summer as bad as many in the media first suggested? Only time will tell, but, for whatever reason, Villanueva's stock now seems to be on the rise.

Drafting Joey Graham with the 16th pick (one of the picks received in the Carter trade) is considered a coup, while grabbing Croatian point guard Roko Ukic with a second-round pick also was considered a savvy selection, even though Ukic probably will play in Europe for two more years.

Babcock then waived team malcontent Lamond Murray, cut his losses on Alonzo Mourning and trade the volatile Alston and his long-term deal for a player who should give the Raptors two good seasons before Ukic arrives from Europe. Babcock also signed Jose Calderon as a backup point guard this summer. Calderon received generally rave reviews from the European Cup this summer.

The Raptors' overall payroll should be down about $5 million after the 2005/06 season. And in two years, when the team's most cumbersome contracts expire, including the $33 million owed to Jalen Rose, Babcock actually might be in the position to sign a high profile free agent.

And is there a higher profile free agent, at least to Toronto fans, than home-grown NBA star Jamaal Magloire? The New Orleans Hornets centre will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2006/07 season and has made noise about wanting to finish his career in his hometown.

And just like Eric Lindros, Jason Allison and Jeff O'Neill, Magloire would probably accept less than maximum money to play in his hometown.

Babcock can't comment on players under contract to other teams, but if Magloire was to come to Toronto and play along side Chris Bosh, imagine the Raptors' frontcourt. On top of that, Villanueva, Calderon and Graham would all have two NBA seasons under their belts.

By then, the Raptors will actually be a good team, possibly a great team.

This may seem sacrileges, but perhaps Babcock is not such a bumbler after all.


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