James crucial part of Raptors' gang

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

SACRAMENTO -- Raptors general manager Rob Babcock was widely applauded for trading the volatile Rafer Alston Oct. 4 for Mike James, as it was thought to be a shrewd move from a money point of view.

Alston, who suffered a couple of emotional meltdowns with the Raptors last season, has five more years on a contract that will pay him $23 million US, while fellow guard James only has two season left on a similar deal, meaning Babcock will have much more flexibility after next season.

But, as it turned out, the trade has been a major bonanza for Toronto in terms of what James has brought to the court.

PLAYED WELL

Since coming to Toronto, James, who has started regularly just once in his four seasons in the NBA, has played exceptionally well for the Raptors, despite the club's 1-12 record after last night's 106-104 loss to Sacramento.

The Amityville, N.Y., native is averaging 17.5 points per game - eight points better than his career average - as well as five assists and is shooting 48% from the field.

Alston, meanwhile, was averaging 7.1 points, 4.1 assists and was shooting a horrible 32% from the field (as well as 28% from three-point range) before going down with a hairline fracture to his right leg last week.

There have also been reports Alston has had at least one run-in with Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy and was booted out of a practice.

James isn't exactly a choir boy -- following Tuesday's loss to the L.A. Clippers he reportedly let go a very loud and angry rant outside the Raptors' locker room - but head coach Sam Mitchell has found him to be a consummate professional on the court and everywhere else.

"He has been great in the locker room, but we knew that when we got him," Mitchell said.

Mitchell is giving James the opportunity to start, as well as major minutes, while trying to convert the former Duquesne University star into more of a point guard, although he is often put on the floor alongside rookie point Jose Calderon.

POINT GUARD

"Mike is more of a scorer, so I have to get him to think more as a point guard," the coach said.

"But he's doing a good job."


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