Babcock's tenure tenuous at best

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

You almost want to throw Raptors general manager Rob Babcock a safety line when you see the man.

Because he really is walking on thin ice.

A source close to the Raptors said the other day that Babcock is months, possibly weeks, away from being fired -- even if the hierarchy at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment says otherwise.

It comes down to this: If his two 2005 first-round draft picks, Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham, demonstrate that they have real potential to become solid NBAers -- standouts if you will -- then Babcock will survive another season in Toronto. And if Spanish free-agent Jose Calderon turns out to be the real deal, Babcock may even get invited into the Directors Lounge at the ACC.

And not just to bus tables.

However, if the two rookies begin to flatline in their development this season, Babcock is gone.

That may be harsh but the thing is, whether the Raptors finally are heading in the right direction or not (and that's debatable), Babcock already began digging his own grave with the drafting of Rafael Araujo, the Vince Carter trade and the signing of Rafer Alston to a long-term deal. The man is on a short leash. Sort of like a troublemaker in a prisoner of war camp. When the commandant decides to make an example of someone, he's going after the guy who already has caused problems. And buying out Babcock's contract won't be a big deal for an organization that spent $10 million US to not have carpetbagger Alonzo Mourning play.

Babcock needs for his rookies to play well and he needs his team to ride their fountain of youth to the playoffs. An even better-case scenario would be for the Raptors to lose a lot of close, exciting games like the 99-96 loss in the season opener against Washington on Wednesday, and in doing so create a buzz as their young players show promise every night. The team would finish well back in the pack and, consequently, be "rewarded" with a high draft lottery pick.

What probably will happen is that the Raptors will lose a lot of games, the rookies will begin to lose confidence, the veterans will stop caring, head coach Sam Mitchell will do or say something crazy, the team's one legitimate star, third-year forward Chris Bosh, will decide that he wants out of this madhouse, and the fans will start staying away in droves.

Remember, a few years after winning two World Series, the Blue Jays were begging for fans.

That easily could happen in basketball. The ACC has been the "in place" for hoity-toity Torontonians to be seen and heard but losing has a tendency to change that. Only the Maple Leafs are immune in this town.

Still, there are those who see the glass as half full.

"It's funny you should ask that, because yesterday after the game Jalen (Rose) and I were talking and we feel like we can be a playoff team," veteran forward Morris Peterson said. He believes the Raps have turned the corner and are heading into that great unknown of respectability.

"I feel a lot more confident about this team than I did last year," he said. "We have a great group of guys, guys who work and play hard. And we genuinely care about each other, not only on the court, but off the court. We're good friends. That's how you build a team."

Nice words from Mo Pete. But that whole friendship thing can be overrated. Remember when Frankenstein's monster made friends with that old, blind violinist? That didn't work out too well.


Videos

Photos