Kapono cops starting role

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Jason Kapono will be Sam Mitchell's starting small forward tonight when the Raps tip off the NBA season with Philadelphia, but the man whom he beat out is no longer a mystery to his head coach.

Carlos Delfino came into his first Raptors training camp fresh off a gruelling FIBA Americas tournament in which he, plus Luis Scola and Pablo Prigioni, basically carried Argentina to a berth in next summer's Olympics in Beijing.

Playing a minimum of 30 minutes a night for the 10 games Argentina played over 12 days took it's toll on the former Detroit Piston.

"I was exhausted," Delfino said. "I needed to rest."

So instead of spending the weeks leading up to the Raptors training camp getting ready, Delfino was dialling things down. When he showed up he was basically starting over from a conditioning standpoint and that led to some harsh words from his new head coach who couldn't understand how Delfino could be his energy guy when he looked hard-pressed to make it up and down the court.

By nature, Delfino is a laid-back person.

Combined with a lacklustre first couple of weeks of training camp, Mitchell was starting to wonder what exactly he could expect from him.

Delfino's only response at the time was he still wasn't in shape and was working toward that goal.

True to his word, Delfino turned things around and in the final two pre-season games against Cleveland and Washington was much more visible. Against Cleveland, he had 10 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. The following night against Washington, he had 18 points, nine boards and three assists. This was the Delfino GM Bryan Colangelo thought he dealt for in the off-season and the one he saw in person in Las Vegas when Delfino was leading a thin Argentina club to an Olympic berth.

Mitchell now believes he has a handle on one of his newer Raptors although his explanation for what changed his mind is sketchy at best.

"I needed something from him," Mitchell said. "What that something is, I don't know, but when you see it you know it."

Mitchell said he saw it about two weeks ago and has been happy with Delfino since.

Confused? Join the crowd.

Suffice to say, Delfino is no longer in Mitchell's doghouse and while he won't be in the starting lineup, he has worked himself into a role with this team and for now that's good enough for Delfino.

"I just want to win," Delfino said. "What I know is it's always best for the player when he knows his role. It allows you to prepare. I know when I go in I have to defend and bring energy to the court. Each day I learn more about what they want from me. I just want to be as helpful as I can."

As for his conditioning, Delfino says he's feeling like himself again.

"I've got my rhythm again and I feel good," he said.

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STARTING OVER

Fast starts and the Raptors are not exactly synonymous. In fact, the Raptors record in the first month of the season in franchise history is easily their worst overall month. They own a .373 winning percentage in regular-season games played in Oct. and Nov. They own a winning record in just three of 11 opening months. Here is a look at the Raps' record in that first month since the teams inception in 1995.

Year Oct/Nov

2006-2007 5-10

2005-2006 1-15

2004-2005 7-9

2003-2004 8-8

2002-2003 5-10

2001-2002 10-6

2000-2001 8-7

1999-2000 9-6

1998-1999 -Lockout-shortened season

1997-1998 1-15

1996-1997 4-10

1995-1996 5-10


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