Raps basically a three-man team

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

NEWARK, N.J. -- Chris Bosh is the kind of guy who could take a nap during a tornado.

The same could be said for T.J. Ford and Andrea Bargnani.

Which is good, because if the three lads had any idea how much pressure they are under, there likely would be a run on phychologists in Toronto.

It can't be stated enough that the Raptors fortunes in the next few years rest squarely on the shoulders of the talented trio.

Everyone else on the team, when looking at the big picture, basically is a spare part.

Bosh has proven to be an all-star calibre forward, but unless Ford establishes himself as a premier NBA point guard who can stay healthy, and Bargnani gets stronger, learns to play defence and rebounds, the Raptors will not ascend to the NBA elite and general manager Bryan Colangelo will have to blow this team up again, as he did this past off-season.

Bosh likely will be an all-star for the next 10 years, but Ford is the key as to whether the Raps eventually challenge for an NBA title or continue to wallow in mediocrity.

Arguably, the point guard is the most important position on an NBA club and Ford has yet to show he can carry a team for 82 games a year.

Sure, he has demonstrated the immense talent and speed that made him the eighth pick overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2003 draft, but at 6-feet, he could be mistaken for a ball boy.

And he's not just small, he's fragile.

Ford suffers a rare congenital condition called spinal stenosis, a narrowing of his spine that pressures the spinal cord and leaves him susceptible to serious injury, which happened Feb. 24, 2004, when he was fouled in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Ford suffered a bruised spine and underwent surgery and missed the entire 2004-05 campaign. The doctors have given him the green light to carry on his NBA career, but you know every time he hits the floor hard, the entire Toronto organization will be holding its collective breath.

Still, any GM worth his salt is part riverboat gambler and Colangelo rolled the dice big-time when he traded all-rookie forward Charlie Villanueva to the Bucks during the off-season for Ford, and then signing him to a three-year extension this past week.

An even bigger gamble was drafting the 7-foot Bargnani.

The kid has an incredibly sweet shot for a big man and moves up and down the court surprisingly well. But European players have a tendency to hit the wall in the NBA and the jury will be out on Bargnani for years to come.

If his skill level translates well in the NBA, the sky's the limit for the Raptors. If that doesn't happen, well, not only will the team be in trouble, you could make the argument -- and it wouldn't be the first time -- the franchise will be as well.

It has been speculated for years that basketball is set to catch fire in these parts. That hasn't happened yet, and part of the reason is the Raptors have continue to lay an egg, season after season.

The Maple Leafs are the only automatic sellout in this city. The Raptors haven't made the playoffs for four straight years and attendance has dropped.

Though hiring Colangelo has sparked renewed interest, TV numbers continue to be low -- most of the Raptors pre-season games weren't available on the tube -- and media interest has dipped.

Years ago, if the Raptors had drafted a good-looking Italian with the first-pick overall, it could be argued at least one media outlet in Toronto would have sent a crew or at least a reporter to Rome to put together a human interest story on the kid.

Could you imagine if the Leafs had the first overall pick? There would be three books out by now and a 84-part series on his life and times in the local papers.

Unlike hockey, football and baseball, three players can make all the difference on a basketball team.

That's why there is so much pressure on the Raptors' big three to produce.


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