Point of contention

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

The trouble with T.J. Ford will not go away quietly.

It won't go away just because the Raptors happened to win a gimme game last night at the Air Canada Centre to halt a losing streak.

It won't go away just because Chris Bosh returned, if only for limited minutes.

It won't go away because no matter what Ford does, no matter how he plays, he himself can't allow it go away.

"He's 24-years-old," said coach Sam Mitchell, who hates discussing the subject in public. "And he has never been a backup in his life."

In his mind, Ford is a starter and nothing else. That's supposed to be a good quality for a professional athlete. You want your athletes to be ambitious. You want your stars to be a little bit selfish. It's what makes them different.

Only right now, we don't know who or what T. J. Ford is.

Maybe he doesn't even know.

On this Raptors team, at this moment in time, he is the backup point guard. The old unwritten rule of professional sport was broken in this situation. You're not supposed to lose your starting job because of injury. That's the old and silly story.

Ford lost his job after crashing hard to the court in Atlanta in December. He lost his job when Jose Calderon played the point at a higher and more conventional level. He lost his job when there were doubts that Ford would ever be able to play at a reasonable level again.

Now he fights to find his game, to retain his starting spot, to be what he believes himself to be: A game-changing NBA star.

On the recent trip, Ford often played as though he was out of control. He played without composure. He shot when he should have passed, passed when he should have shot. Made all the wrong decisions at all the wrong times.

Last night, he came home and almost played as though he was on Ritalin. He slept-walked the ball up the court. He was composed. He was pass first, shoot second. He wasn't himself. His game was calm, deliberate, understated, everything he doesn't tend to be.

And for reasons almost unexplained, he seemed so very alone. Alone on the court. Alone on the bench.

"I think he's putting too much pressure on himself," Mitchell said. "I talked to him yesterday. He's trying to be great on every play. He's trying to make the perfect pass.

"I said to him 'Don't worry about minutes, worry about how you play, how your teammates play.' I don't know about (him being a victim of his own personality)."

There is a potentially divisive issue as Ford fights to find his game. He doesn't run the second unit the way it needs to be run. And starter Calderon hasn't played anywhere near the all-star calibre some were calling him for since Ford has returned.

Some Raptors benefit from Calderon's style; Some benefit from the way Ford plays when at his best. So this becomes the equivalent of a quarterbacking controversy, only you can make the argument there is a Condredge Holloway-Joe Barnes element to it all, minus the maturity issues.

Holloway was at his best starting for the Argos at quarterback. Barnes was at his best backing him up. One complemented the other, each making the team stronger. Maybe the Raptors are better off, long term, with Ford starting and Calderon playing the part of expensive backup. Maybe that's the only way to get Ford to play the way he's capable.

"He has been through a lot of things as a player I can't understand," Mitchell said. "As a human being, I can't understand them. I've never had those type of things occur to me.

"You know, we talk about his growth all the time. He's still learning the game. He's still understanding how to play the position in the NBA. You have to know when to change gears, not to go fast all the time.

"You have to be patient with him, talk to him, watch film with him."

And for now, not everything is patient. The fans have anointed him the lightning rod for Raptors' controversy.

"It's easy to blame things on one guy," Mitchell said. "Forget what perception is. Forget what people say on TV. Forget all of that. Go look at the stats sheet ... Go look at productivity."

Then wonder. The way a lot of us now wonder about T.J. Ford.\


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