Signs point to Ford deal

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

The Raptors appear to be close to signing what they see as one of their key cogs.

A source close to negotiations between T.J. Ford's agent, Arn Tellem, and the Raptors on a contract extension said Ford is "very close" to finalizing a long-term deal. All that needed to be worked out was the legal language, the source said.

The Raptors face a deadline of midnight tonight to sign Ford or the 6-foot point guard, acquired by the team from the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Villanueva in July, will become a restricted free agent this summer.

"You'll know when I know," Ford said yesterday at Raptors practice. "My job is to come out, practice hard and win games. That's talk between Bryan (Colangelo, Raptors president and general manager) and my agent. I do feel confident something will happen. It's a work in progress and we'll see where it goes."

Still, Ford, 23, said yesterday he sees himself settling down here. His young career has been hampered by injuries and there was talk the team might hold off on a longer deal until Ford could show them he could stay healthy.

"My biggest motivation is to exceed everybody's expectations," Ford said yesterday. "I know what I'm capable of doing."

The Raptors, as per their policy, wouldn't comment on contract negotiations. Colangelo said Ford's history of injuries -- including neck surgery that kept him out of the Bucks lineup for the entire 2004-05 season -- was "irrelevant."

"We addressed the neck situation when we made the trade," Colangelo said. "Injuries are a concern with all players."

However, no one will argue Ford's importance when it comes to the new direction on which Colangelo has set the team.

"He knows how to play," coach Sam Mitchell said. "He breaks down defences. We feel that at 23, he's still developing."

Another Raptor, Kris Humphries, also had to know by today whether the team was picking up the $2.52-million US fourth-year option of his contract for next season.

"I haven't heard anything," Humphries said yesterday. "In life there's no need to worry about things that aren't up to you. You control what you can control, as my dad used to tell me."

Said Colangelo, "Humphries has done a great job in camp. He has provided toughness and muscle."

Humphries, a 6-foot-9 forward, came to the Raptors in the trade that sent Rafael Araujo to the Utah Jazz in June. Mitchell has praised Humphries in large part for his on-court hustle during the pre-season.

For long-time Raptor Morris Peterson, entering the final year on his deal, his contract status is a non-issue. Peterson will become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

"It's not even a factor," he said. "That's the one thing I learned in this league, whatever is going to happen will happen."

Peterson is entering his seventh season with the team.

"I love Toronto," the Michigan native said. "This is the only thing I know."


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