Judgment day

Toronto Raptors GM Rob Babcock. (SUN/David Lucas)

Toronto Raptors GM Rob Babcock. (SUN/David Lucas)

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Say what you want about Rob Babcock, but the Raptors general manager does know a thing or two about his basketball team.

Babcock raised more than a few eyebrows prior to the 2005-06 season when he told The Toronto Sun's Steve Buffery that he thought the team probably would win fewer games this season than it did in 2004-05 (33).

Sure enough, the Raptors are on pace to do just that. The Raptors reach the halfway point after a game tonight in Los Angeles against the Lakers at 14-26, behind the pace of last season when they were 17-24 at the midway mark.

While all Raptors fans can discuss whether this is a good or thing -- seeing as the worse they do, the better their draft chances become -- at least the season has not been a complete joke. The negatives have outweighed the positives, but the team won 11 of 20 games in the second quarter of the season after going 3-17 to open the campaign.

Here is a look at the first half of 2005-06:

THE GOOD

- Chris Bosh is a legitimate all-star.

- Babcock's Mike James for Rafer Alston deal. It doesn't quite make up for the Rafael Araujo pick or the Vince Carter trade, but it was a real good move.

- Jalen Rose, an underachiever most of the season, seems to be coming out of his funk. He's back in an all-non rookie starting lineup -- a rarity -- featuring Bosh, James, Matt Bonner and Morris Peterson.

THE BAD

- The Raptors, for the umpteenth time, have no centre. Injured starter Araujo, a first-round bust from 2004, remains a foul machine/ineffective player. Where is Jerome Moiso, anyway?

- The Raptors' record on the West Coast. They broke a 13-game losing streak out west (two or more time zones away) Friday in Seattle.

- The defence, which is ranked 28th in the 30-team league.

THE UGLY

- The team's handling of the Pape Sow situation. Mitchell has said repeatedly there is no playing time for Sow. Then, Babcock calls the second-year forward up from Arkansas and doesn't send the obvious candidate, Rafael Araujo, down. Just another disagreement between coach and GM.

- The Vince Carter trade looks worse and worse. Eric Williams wants out (the rumours about a deal to the Philadelphia 76ers remain out there), Aaron Williams is a bit piece, Joey Graham has struggled and Alonzo Mourning leads the lead in blocks. Nice.

THE ROOKIES

- Graham, Jose Calderon and Charlie Villanueva might be regressing. But maybe it's just the rookie wall.

Whatever the case, these guys are not sure-fire stars or duds. The biggest question mark is Graham. He talked about being a defensive standout, but has not lived up to his words and looks lost at times. Villanueva has loads of natural talent, but his defence isn't good and he just doesn't bring it every night. And Calderon, who started off so well, was slowed by a right heel injury recently and has cooled down.

THE HEARTBREAKER

- Carter's buzzer-beating three-pointer at the ACC gave the New Jersey Nets a one-point win in the best game played in Toronto in years. With that, the Raptors' season-high five-game win streak came to an abrupt end.

THE AMUSING

- When Mitchell barked at the Spanish-speaking Calderon to foul a player with Matt Bonner playing with a stomach virus in the pre-season. With Calderon clearly not understanding, Mitchell made a furious hand signal and the point guard finally committed a foul. Bonner raced to the dressing room, getting there just in time.

THE ANNOYING

- In lifeless Philips Arena in Atlanta, the public address announcer bellowed "Thunderstix" every time the Raptors were about to shoot a free throw. It is worse than the noise meters shown on video boards to pump up fans.

THE REASON FOR OPTIMISM

- Everybody's favourite team -- Carter's Nets -- was 15-26 at the halfway point last season and made the playoffs.

The reason for pessimism

- The Raptors aren't nearly as good as the 2004-05 Nets.

THE QUESTIONS

- Will Bosh sign a long-term deal in the off-season?

- What does the team do with free-agent-to-be James at the trade deadline? The Raptors can't afford to lose him for nothing, like Donyell Marshall last season.

- Will the team find any takers for the highly-paid Rose or Eric Williams in the next month?

- Will the Raptors grant Mitchell, whose contract runs out after next season, one year before Babcock's, an extension?

- Will Alvin Williams, trying to battle back from several knee injuries, play another game?

THE QUOTE

"Halfway through the year," Rose said, "we're still a team that's probably trying to find an identity as far as young versus old (and) as far as winning now versus winning in the future."


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