Raps' timing off

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

Timing never has been a Raptors strong suit.

Despite their wretched record in their first 11 seasons, they've never been able to nail a franchise centre.

Bryan Colangelo, the president and general manager, was somewhat cautious the other day in talking to the media about this year's NBA draft. Right now, if all the ping-pong balls fall as expected, the Raptors will pick fifth.

They do have an 8.8% chance of moving up as far as No. 1 but even that doesn't take them to the promised land. Now, if this was next year, it would be a different story.

Next year, one of those once-in-a-generation centres is poised to step into the NBA scene.

Recent Indianapolis high school graduate Greg Oden, a 7-foot-1, 250-pound shot-blocking behemoth with speed and a velvet touch around the basket, is said in one scouting report to be "the best centre prospect since Shaquille O'Neal."

Normally, Oden would have been eligible for this year's draft, but new NBA rules are in place preventing American-born players from entering the draft until a year after their high school class graduates. He's heading to Ohio State next fall but don't expect him to spend more than a year there. Alas, the Raptors don't expect to be bad enough to be in the running for his services. It's all in the timing.

NORTHERN LIGHTS

Best description of the trials and tribulations of the Edmonton Oilers, riding high for the first time since their glory days, was delivered in one paragraph by Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register.

"The northernmost major city in North America had become a debtor nation," Whicker wrote this week. "The Oilers were forced to trade an entire wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame to stay solvent."

HOLY MACKINAW!

Over the next few months, you can expect fresh Italian soccer scandal revelations on a daily basis.

Yesterday, the host of Italy's most popular television football show, Aldo Biscardi, resigned after allegations he collaborated with disgraced Juventus GM Luciani Moggi to boost the public image of Juventus. Hmmmm.

Does Joe Bowen know about this?

WIN SOME, LOSE SOME

Much has been made of John Daly's monster $60 million US gambling losses of the past 15 years. Daly himself says it's not $60 million. "It's $90 million," Daly said on Fox Radio. "I had $90 million of losses and $30 million of winning."

THE OLD COLLEGE TRY

Nobody could blame Auburn University alumnus Charles Barkley of pussy-footing around issues. He told his TNT television audience that he knew right away when he saw 18-year-old Dirk Nowitzki playing for a club team in Germany, he was witnessing a future NBA great.

"I told (Nowitzki) I would pay him any amount of money he wanted if he would come to Auburn," Barkley said.

When his TV colleague, Kenny Smith, asked, "Is that legal?", Barkley responded, "We are talking about the SEC, baby. If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin.' "

BROKE-BAT MOUNTAIN

It's bad enough that one of sport's great records is being joylessly pursued by a pariah, worse that a good man like Felipe Alou, the San Francisco Giants manager, has to pick up after Barry Bonds, answering countless mind-numbing Barry questions every day because the player will not.

Now, even Alou, who has the patience of Job, is tiring of his awkward, daily burden as Bonds flails away in his attempt to catch Babe Ruth for second on the career home run list.

"I'm not here to be a spokesperson for Barry," said Alou, who turned 71 a week ago and doesn't need this.

"I would never speak for him. It gets tedious. It gets tiring. I have 25 players here."

MARKETING 101

While Bonds stumbles on, a shell of his former robust self (and what causes that, we wonder?), Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals is hammering home runs at a record pace, leading the majors with 19 going into last night. But the stories are all about Bonds.

Writes Greg Cote of the Miami Herald: "Team publicists are so concerned over this stunning lack of attention, they are considering planting a steroid rumour."


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