All-star push on for Jose

Jose Calderon has made a case for inclusion into the 2008 NBA all-star game in New Orleans. SUN...

Jose Calderon has made a case for inclusion into the 2008 NBA all-star game in New Orleans. SUN MEDIA FILE/Craig Robertson

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell has officially jumped on the Jose Calderon bandwagon.

Although Calderon is not on the NBA all-star ballot, there has been increasing talk that the third-year Raptor, who has started the past 13 games at point guard with the absence of injured T.J. Ford, deserves to play in the annual classic, which will be staged in New Orleans on Feb. 17.

Because he is not on the ballot, there is no chance Calderon will be voted to play in the game by the fans. But he can be selected by the Eastern Conference coaches to play in the game.

"I think it would help his cause if our record (18-17) was better, but I think he definitely deserves consideration," Mitchell said yesterday following the Raptors practice. "Jose is proof that if you work on your game, you can get better, and none of us thought Jose could be this type of player. We all knew he had talent, but a lot of guys have talent that don't get it done."

Ford, who has a history of spinal related injuries, went down with an arm stinger on Dec. 11 in Atlanta and hasn't played since. In his absence, Calderon has stepped up. The Spanish national team star is averaging 8.3 assists, sixth best in the NBA, and 14.1 points per game, second best on the team. Even more impressive, his assist-to-turnover ratio is 6.15, way above the league's other top point guards, including Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets (4.05), Chauncey Billups of the Detroit Pistons (3.59) and Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns (3.31).

Chris Bosh, the Raptors' two-time all-star, also believes that those are all-star worthy numbers.

"He is playing as well as any point guard in the league right now," Bosh said. "He just doesn't get a lot of credit and a lot of the attention other guys get.

"I think when it's time, when the coaches decide, he'll get a few votes because he deserves it," Bosh added. "But that's the last thing on his mind right now. He's not worried about that stuff. He's just trying to play well and win basketball games and that's what makes him such a great guy."

Mitchell said Calderon is an example of a player who gets the most out of his talent.

"You have to give credit to Jose, because it didn't come easy," the coach said. "I didn't give Jose anything. The reason I have so much respect for Jose, I was probably as hard on Jose and Chris (Bosh) than any two players that have ever been here.

"You guys can say anything you want about me, but if my result (as a coach) is Chris Bosh becoming the player that he has become, and Jose has become the type of player he has become, then, frankly my dear, I don't give a damn what you guys think about me."

FLATTERED

For his part, Calderon said he is flattered with the all-star talk, but it's not something he is getting too worked up about. What does have him pumped is the return of Ford, who was given clearance yesterday to begin workouts. Ford will leave for Houston this week to begin conditioning with former NBAer John Lucas, although there is no firm timetable for his return.

Again, Calderon said he has absolutely no problem becoming the backup point guard again once Ford returns -- even if he has proven himself to be a top-level starting point guard in the NBA.

"That's really good news, the best news we could have," said Calderon of Ford's return to training. "Like I say always, he's one of our best players and we need him. Sometimes we lose some games because we miss the way he plays and the way he is in the locker room.

"I know my role, I know what I'm doing, I give 200% every time. That doesn't matter (going back to the bench)," Calderon continued. "He's back and that's really good news about everything. I'm here to win games, not to be the best player in the league."


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