A tale of two similar teams

In the wake of Sam Mitchell's firing and Jermaine O'Neal's trade, the Raptors are trying to play a...

In the wake of Sam Mitchell's firing and Jermaine O'Neal's trade, the Raptors are trying to play a style similar to the Suns. (Sun Media/Jack Boland)

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

The clock ticks as the plot thickens for two teams that rank among the season's biggest flops in the NBA.

The Raptors and Suns will meet tonight in the Arizona desert, mirror images whose immediate and long-term future is shrouded in intrigue.

In a season of transition, the Suns have reverted to their full-court game after dumping first-year head coach Terry Porter and promoting assistant Alvin Gentry.

The Raptors began the year with Jermaine O'Neal and visions of playing a half-court game that demanded rebounding and defence.

In the wake of Sam Mitchell's firing and O'Neal's trade, the Raptors are trying to play a style similar to the Suns.

Neither team is in the playoffs, even though each entered the season under a backdrop of considerable expectations.

Impatience and front office arrogance have combined to stunt the development of each team.

There was no reason why the Suns had to change their identity so swiftly and so callously.

There was no reason why the Raptors had to wait this long to finally figure out a way to play a style of basketball with pieces that actually fit.

It is almost fitting that Toronto and Phoenix should play at a time when so many questions continue to hover over each franchise.

Amare Stoudemire came close to being traded until the Suns decided to bite the financial bullet and fire Porter all at the same time.

As soon as the Suns went back to their run and gun days, word leaked that Stoudemire would be lost for the season because of a partially detached retina. Shaquille O'Neal hears his name mentioned in trade speculation and suddenly morphs into the Big Sulk, ticked off that the Suns had the audacity to put Shaq Daddy on the trade block.

For someone who never has met a microphone he never liked, O'Neal has been surprisingly curt or silent when approached by the media.

Shaq's days appear numbered in Phoenix and depending on what the Suns are able to accomplish for the balance of the season, Stoudemire's time with the Suns may soon expire as well.

Steve Nash has next year left on his deal with no definitive direction regarding his future.

As the Suns prepared to play the host L.A. Lakers last night, Nash's status was listed as a game-time decision because of an ankle sprain.

The Raptors, of course, have their own issues.

Shawn Marion's presence has infused life into a once-listless team and helped shape somewhat of an identity.

But time is running out on the Raptors.

Marion is in the final year of his contract with no assurances of what the future might hold.

When the Raptors practised yesterday in Phoenix, it was only the second time the Matrix stepped foot inside the Suns' facility since his trade to Miami last season.

Chris Bosh can opt out of his deal next summer, but this summer figures to be the day of reckoning when Toronto's brass sits down with its franchise player to gauge interest in a long-term commitment.

Jose Calderon is best suited to run a half-court team at a time when the Raptors want to play a full-court game. Anthony Parker is an unrestricted free agent this summer, while Joey Graham, who has finally found his niche, is a restricted free agent.

Graham, who injured his hamstring in Tuesday's win over Minnesota, was able to practise yesterday, but the team will wait until today to determine whether Graham will suit up tonight.

Jay Triano continues to wear the interim tag, but at least he and GM Bryan Colangelo are on the same philosophical page.

Both the Raptors and Suns have undergone change, both in terms of personnel and philosophy, but more change is on the horizon because more change is required.

The teams are so different, yet they are so much alike.

Somewhere in the anonymous world of today's internet, no doubt someone is conjuring a summer blockbuster that sees Nash and Stoudemire heading to Hogtown in a package that sends Bosh and Calderon to the desert.

With so much uncertainty, one thing is certain: The Suns and Raptors will meet tonight.


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