Surreal calm surrounding Raptors

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

The reality in pro sports is that, when you're 15 games into the season and 14 of them are losses, a massive upheaval is inevitable.

Coaches get fired.

GMs get fired.

Players fight with coaches and with each other.

Players get traded.

Players get retired.

Fact is, chaos follows losing as night follows day.

That's what makes the relative calm in the Raptors inner sanctum seem so surreal.

Nobody is pointing a finger. Nobody is seriously grousing. Nobody seems in danger of losing his job.

Even when a veteran like Jalen Rose loses his starting role, there is no ego-driven tirade.

"My ego's not involved," Rose said yesterday, less than 24 hours after coach Sam Mitchell kept him out of the starting lineup against the Dallas Mavericks.

"We're 1-and-14. It's about getting young guys experience. We're trying to get Jose (Calderon) starting at point guard, moving Mike James to the 2 so he can get shots. We're trying to allow Chris Bosh to flourish as a go-to-guy, a 20-point scorer, and I don't necessarily fit in with that group."

A year ago, when Mitchell first removed him briefly from the starting lineup, Rose didn't hide his bitterness. While he's not exactly doing backflips in celebration, he is accepting his bench role like a pro.

"There's no comparison to last year," he said. "Last year, we weren't 1-14. The biggest misconception is that I don't do what I'm asked to do. I understand what we're trying to do here."

What they're trying to do is, essentially, impossible.

They're trying to win in the NBA with a lineup composed of rookies and young players.

"I see progress," Mitchell said. "We've had a chance to win six of the last seven games. I see our guys doing a lot of good things.

"I have to remind people: We're playing three rookies, three second-year guys and Chris (Bosh) is in his third year. And we're relying heavily on those guys within our nine-man rotation. Six of those guys are two years or less in the NBA."

Rookies Calderon, Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham routinely are playing big minutes. Matt Bonner and Rafael Araujo, both second-year men, are not far behind, and Bosh is now the go-to guy.

"There are some teams out there with more experienced talent than us not playing as well as we are right now," Mitchell said.

"Now ask those coaches if they're looking over their shoulders."

That was in response to a question about Mitchell's own job security, or lack thereof.

"We're not going to talk about that," he said. "If I'm not worried about that, why should you be?"

Then, with a sly smile, he added: "I appreciate your concern, but I'm okay."

The Raptors have been right there at the end of a half-dozen of their losses but, in each of those cases, found a way to lose in the dying moments.

"We're 15 games into these guys' careers," Mitchell said.

"I look around the league and there are a lot (of first-round picks) that are not getting to play. Not only are we asking these guys to play, we're asking them to win basketball games. We've got them in the game down the stretch trying to win.

"We're asking a lot of these guys. We're putting them in tough situations. (Tonight), Calderon is up against Damon Stoudamire, who has been in the league seven or eight years and knows how to play. Jose has maybe seen him play on TV a couple of times.

"We're gonna show (Calderon) some film, stick a piece of paper in front of him and say 'Go guard him.'

"That piece of paper is not gonna tell him how quick he really is. It's gonna tell him he's quick, but until you experience it ... "

Whether or not they can be totally objective, the Raptors tall thinkers expect this feet-to-the-fire experience to pay off in victories. And sooner than you might think.

"We're a whole lot better over the last seven games than we were over the first seven games," general manager Rob Babcock said.

"We're 1-14 in our first 15 games. What I want to look at with this team is the next 15 games. What's our record in the next 15 games? We are getting better.

"We're not that far off."

He had better be right for his own sake, and Mitchell's too.

The Raps are on pace for a single-digit win total this year.

It's the rare coach/GM tandem that can survive such a debacle, no matter how much the kids learn.


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