Trading Ford was a mistake

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

T.J. Ford returns to the Air Canada Centre tonight as basketball's spotlight shifts squarely on to the backcourt.

In one of those intriguing matchups that features so many layers, Ford will go mano a mano against Jose Calderon.

It won't quite match the hype that surrounded Tracy McGrady's return to Hogtown when T-Mac went toe to toe with distant cousin Vince Carter in a high-wire act, but tonight's pointed confrontation is one worth noting and debating.

Ford, in essence, was shown the door in the off-season when the Raptors felt Calderon was best suited to lead the team as the undisputed starter at point guard.

For years, the Raptors were searching for that elusive floor general, a leader who could run an offence, establish tempo and forge a style of play with the ball in his hands.

For once in their history, the Raptors had two legitimate players with two contrasting yet equally effective styles, but one just knew something had to give.

The moment of truth arrived when management felt Ford had to go, and he was traded to the Indiana Pacers in a multi-player package that fetched Jermaine O'Neal.

O'Neal will face his former team for the first time following years of being the face of the Pacers franchise.

For Ford and Calderon, it is a rare opportunity to go head to head in a real game, a personal game within the game itself.

If one thinks there is no ill will between the two, one should think again, despite what both players will say publicly.

The way Ford and Calderon conduct themselves is as different as their style on the floor.

Ford pulled no punches when he stated last season that he wanted to be the starter.

When Calderon assumed the starter's role in the wake of Ford's horrific fall in Atlanta a year ago last week, Ford never could accept his new-found place as backup because it wasn't his nature.

It made for some awkward moments, dividing the locker room and leading fans to hate Ford's me-first attitude.

We said it then and we will repeat it again that the Raptors made the wrong choice in moving forward with their starter at point guard.

This is by no means a knock against Calderon, but Ford's ability to create his own shot, attack defences and his willingness to take over games in late-game situations are precisely what the Raptors need.

Coaches prefer Calderon's half-court style to Ford's turnover-prone ways because they can better manage and control the likes of a Calderon.

Ford has an edge and exudes a confidence that borders on cockiness, the very definition of today's NBA player.

With the Raptors now wanting to play an uptempo game, Ford would seem to be the perfect fit in an imperfect lineup.

Calderon's stock was at its highest last year as he entered free agency, while an argument could be made that Ford was at his lowest given the personal and medical baggage.

It wasn't until Calderon returned to his native Spain that he told the world, through his personal website, he wanted to be a starter.

And so tonight starts the beginning of a point guard rivalry that is sure to divide even the most rabid of Raptor fans.

Is it Jose or T.J.?

Ford and Calderon are both good, but they are so different.

No doubt fans will boo Ford when he is introduced and likely each time he touches the ball because that is the way Toronto reacts.

The problem with basketball remains the lack of understanding when it comes to the game's culture.

Every team needs a Ford-like player.

O'Neal brings an edge, but he can't bring the ball up the floor.

As currently constituted, the Raptors need Ford more than they need Calderon.

If anything, what the Raptors have shown the past year is a lack of patience amid growing concerns about their future fortunes.

Impatience led to the decision to ship out Ford, who at one point was viewed as the cornerstone piece alongside fellow Texan Chris Bosh.

Impatience led to Sam Mitchell's dismissal.

The Raptors are in transition and who better to deal with it than Ford.


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