Colangelo rolls dice

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo -- or "Beko" as he is known by close friends in certain radio circles (hack, hack) -- may be one of the brightest minds in basketball, but he is taking a huge gamble with the team he has put together.

The Raptors will announce today the signing of veteran swingman Anthony Parker, which pretty well rounds out the starting five for the 2006-07 season.

You've got Rasho Nesterovic at centre, which is a huge improvement over Rafael Araujo (a large scarecrow is an upgrade over Hoffa). There is Chris Bosh at power forward, Morris Peterson at small forward, Parker at shooting guard and T.J. Ford at the point.

BUT, WHAT IF ...

Not a bad starting lineup, but a gamble nonetheless. What happens if Parker, who long has been considered the best player outside the NBA, has trouble re-adjusting to the NBA game? That wouldn't be a first, by any means.

The Naperville, Ill., native was a first-round draft pick by New Jersey in 1997, but played only 39 games for the Nets before being traded to the Orlando Magic, where he played 16 more. Injuries contributed to his problems in the NBA, but the bottom line is the 31-year-old has been out of the world's top loop for the past six seasons.

Maurizio Gherardini, the Raptors' assistant GM, firmly believes, however, that Parker, a two-time Euroleague MVP for Maccabi Tel Aviv, is more than ready to make an impact in the NBA.

"Everyone who has played with him knows him as a special person," Gherardini said yesterday from Las Vegas, where he is keeping an eye on Toronto's Summer League squad. "He is the perfect combination of talent, athleticism and personality.

"I think he is going to be one of those glue players, with talent," Gherardini added. "He is a guy who understands the importance of that extra pass, the team effort, and when to take the shot at the right time.

"Put it this way, he also spent one season in Rome (2002-03) and I know how hard the Rome (Virtus) organization tried to convince him not to accept the Maccabi offer. They all fell in love with the guy."

Dana Dar of the Israeli Sports Channel Five said Maccabi fans are disappointed that Parker has decided to buy his way out of his final year in Israel. But she added that Parker is so respected, that the fans do not harbour any bitterness.

"People understand because he is going to the NBA. He's not just going to another European team," she said.

The best thing about Parker, Gherardini added, is that he finally has a chance to show he can play in the NBA, meaning he'll bring his A game each and every night.

"He wants to prove that he has the maturity to play in the NBA," Gherardini said.

Strong words in support of Parker. But ask anyone associated with the NBA and they'll tell you the Euroleague is one thing, the NBA quite another.

Drafting Andrea Bargnani is another gamble, although you can say any draft pick is. However, like Parker, Bargnani has made a name for himself playing in Europe. And more often than not, European stars don't become stars in the NBA, although that appears to be changing somewhat.

There is no doubt that Bargnani has the offensive tools to be a major threat some day. But he has to learn how to play defence -- and want to play defence -- and also to go to the basket hard and pay the price to pull in rebounds.

And then there is Ford. Colangelo and his people will tell you the lightning-quick guard has been given a clean bill of health. But there are whispers around the league that one hard spill to the hardwood could seriously hurt Ford, given the fact he has had surgery on his spine.

Colangelo is rolling the dice this season and Raptors fans can only hope he rolls a seven -- and not snake eyes.


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