Working on rebounding problems

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

The Raptors have been a winning basketball team for over a year now, but there never is a shortage of angst down at the Air Canada Centre.

Over the past few months, the big worry in Raptorland has been if and when starting point guard T.J. Ford would return from that nasty arm stinger he suffered on Dec. 11 in Atlanta.

But with Jose Calderon playing the point like an all-star and Ford's return now a matter of when, and not if, (GM Bryan Colangelo said last night that it's "just a matter of time") the point guard situation is no longer something that is causing coach Sam Mitchell's stomach to churn. He always will have the media for that.

Which is good, because the Raptors have lost the Damon Stoudamire sweepstakes, though not through any fault of their own.

The writing was on the wall on Tuesday night when San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich shut down his starting point guard Tony Parker. That signalled Stoudamire would not be returning to the Raptors, the club that selected him seventh overall in the 1995 draft.

Stoudamire, who had asked the Memphis Grizzlies for his release earlier this season and cleared waivers last night, had an easy choice to make as far as where he wanted to finish playing out this season.

Four teams were said to be interested in the veteran point guard's services, although the Boston Celtics reportedly dropped out a day or two ago. That left the Phoenix Suns, the Raptors and Spurs.

It wouldn't have made any sense for Stoudamire to go to Phoenix. The 13-year NBA veteran wants minutes and with the Suns, he'd be third on the point guard depth chart.

Toronto was a sentimental favourite, the place where he spent three productive seasons and won the rookie of the year award in 1996. However, even if Ford wasn't close to returning to the lineup -- and all reports are that he is getting closer -- Stoudamire wouldn't have been truly happy north of the border.

With Calderon playing exceptionally well, Mitchell wouldn't cut his minutes drastically, which would leave Stoudamire cheering more than playing.

Sentimentality is great, but only in small doses.

Which left the Spurs as the only logical choice (although as of last night, Stoudamire's signing with San Antonio was still unofficial).

Popovich decided on Tuesday, when he shut Parker down, that his star point guard's bone spurs were not getting any better and he is going to sit Parker until he is healthy. That could be in a matter of weeks, or even months. All of which means that Stoudamire, who has played well in limited time with the Grizzlies this season (averaging 7.3 points and 3.9 assists in 21.5 minutes), would step in and play major minutes until Parker returns. And even when Parker does return, it's likely that Stoudamire will be the first point guard off the bench, and not the current backup, Jacque Vaughn.

On top of everything else, despite the fact they are struggling this season, the defending NBA champion Spurs are still title contenders, whereas the Raptors are a club with a decent chance of advancing past the first round this season, but not real contenders.

So, now that the Stoudamire picture is all but settled, Mitchell can forget about the point guard situation and start worrying about his club's rebounding troubles.

In Tuesday night's 108-104 loss to the Washington Wizards, the Raptors were out-rebounded 57-44, a brutal 19-12 on the offensive boards. There's not much one can do about injuries, but getting the players to box out properly is the new Job 1.

Mitchell showed his players tape of Tuesday's loss before last night's 122-83 victory over the same Wizards, and the Raptors responded by playing strong on the boards, pulling in 38 rebounds to 36 by the bigger Wizards.

"It was self explanatory," Mitchell said. "There wasn't no yelling, there wasn't screaming. There wasn't anything to say.

"I told them before and told them again, defensively we're pretty good at making initial stops. And I understand there's nights we give up athleticism, we give up bulk, we give up height, we give up size. We have to understand that if a guy's bigger, stronger and little quicker, we've got to box him further out. Because if it comes to jumping balls, we're going to lose that. So we have to be smarter about boxing out, we're going to have to take some chances, we're going to have to be aggressive."

He went on.

"We may have to take some fouls, holding and grabbing when boxing out," Mitchell added. "You don't like to do that, but in our case, there are nights when we may have to do that."


Videos

Photos