James lookin' for love

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

CHICAGO -- George Bell once told Blue Jays fans that they could kiss his purple butt.

Mike James isn't ready to go quite that far, but he does have a message for those who believe that the Raptors would be better off bringing in a new point guard next season.

"They're not seeing what is underneath their noses," James said yesterday, after touching down in Chicago for the final game of the regular season tonight against the Bulls. "That's what hurts the most, that people are always searching for something better when the answer is right there."

In a free-wheeling interview with the Sun, James lashed out at the critics who believe that his age (30) and his tendency to shoot first and pass second has made him the type of player a rebuilding team like the Raptors should not sign to a long-term deal.

"You're idiots when you say that," James said. "You're just not paying attention."

James has a had a career year with the Raptors, averaging 20 points and 5.8 assists per game, and he believes that his numbers only will improve. In fact, the Amityville, N.Y., native boldly predicted that he will be an all-star for the next five years running.

"Yes, I believe that in my heart," he said.

"You give me the team, you give me the players, and I will outplay, or play as well as, any other point guard in the NBA."

Bravado, no doubt. Indeed, one of the knocks against James is that he is too full of it. But remember, this is the guy who is willing to pass on a long-term deal this summer and accept a contract for only two years, with a player option for the third, because he is so sure his best years are ahead. The Raptors could do a lot worse than that. Even if the organization believes that Jose Calderon is their point guard of the future, or they select a guard in this year's draft, they'll need a solid veteran to run the offence the next couple of years. James wants to be that man.

In terms of what team he will sign with this summer, James talks about wanting love from an organization. Of course, much of that love would come in the form of cold, hard cash.

WANTED, APPRECIATED

But he also wants to be wanted and appreciated, which is something he feels isn't happening (to his satisfaction) in Toronto, especially with the media.

"Look at my stats," he said. "They've gone up every year of my career. I'm not a one-hit wonder. I'm not all of a sudden going to turn into Milli Vanilli. I write my own songs."

The Raptors have some cap room this summer and probably would need to double, at least, the $3.4 million James earned this season to keep him around. For many, that's too much. But the reality is this: Veteran guards who have put up numbers similar to James' -- Tony Parker, Mike Bibby and Sam Cassell, for instance -- are under contract to make $6 million to $13 million next season.

James made one other point in his defence. The Raptors locker room is one of the tightest he ever has seen. To tinker with that too much, he said, would be a big mistake. James loves to talk, and brag, but he's not a high-maintenance guy and his teammates admit a certain fondness for his antics. Ask James about anyone on the team, and invariably his answer is, "He's my man." Once, when told that Pape Sow likely would play for Senegal at the world championship this summer, James announced that he was moving to Africa with the young forward and would wear a band of bees around his crotch. He then proceeded to dance and hum while his bemused teammates looked on.

To James, that's bringing on the love. And now he wants some back.


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