LOS ANGELES -- After a rookie season which saw a city adopt him as a favourite son, the Red Rocket came crashing down to Earth this year.
Matt Bonner has dealt with the double whammy of playing on a team that started the regular season 0-9, while his own numbers were well below his averages from last year.
Fortunately, Bonner finally seems to be crawling out of an early-season slump. The Raptors also seem to be on a bit of a rebound, although they lost a 90-82 decision to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night in a contest they could have won.
Despite picking up five fouls in the game, Bonner went 4-for-9 from the field against the Suns, scoring 12 points off the bench with six rebounds in 23 minutes - despite being "serenaded" by an obnoxiously loud fan through most of the game who pronounced his name with one N.
Bonner is shooting 40% from the field after 11 games this season (21-for-52), averaging more than five points and 15.2 minutes per game. Last year, the popular rookie forward averaged 18.9 minutes and 7.2 points, shooting 53% from the field.
There have been plenty of times this year, including Tuesday's contest in Phoenix, when Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell angrily screamed at Bonner to shoot, after he had passed on an open shot. Speculation was that the Concord, N.H., native was hesitant to launch anything after shooting abysmally at the start of the season.
Mitchell has also complained about Bonner's defensive play, although the coach's views on that have improved lately.
To Bonner's credit, he had been moved from his traditional spot at power forward to small forward at times this year, guarding quicker players. All in all, though, Bonner's game seems to be on the comeback. In his past five games, he has shot 12-for-25 from the field. In his first seven, he shot 9-for 27 (33%).
"There's peaks and valleys," he said. "But the main thing is to maintain 100% effort and everything will even out. And that's what I've done."
The Raptors' start hurt Bonner as much as anyone in the lockeroom, to the point when he had trouble sleeping. And that didn't help his game either.
"It was definitely getting more and more frustrating with each loss," Bonner said. "You try to lead two separate lives, one as a basketball player and one as a human being. But when you start out 0-9, for me, it was starting to blend into one.
"Everyone you see off the court, what do they talk to you about? Being 0-9," he said. "When are you going to win? It was definitely a huge relief to get that first one."
There was also speculation that Bonner, the product of a middle-class upbringing, was pressing too hard to improve as a player this year after signing a contract that increased his pay from the $300,000 US range to about $2 million. The Red Rocket denied that.