Raps need major tuneup

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

It's a sign of the troublesome times in Raptorland when Shawn Marion is spotted signing his sneakers on the bench during Monday's meltdown in Charlotte.

In the grand scheme of things, Marion's gesture is of little consequence in a season that mercifully is grinding to an end.

What it did reveal, though, was a brief glimpse into one of the many ails that continue to plague this collection of over-paid and over-hyped hoopsters.

In the most basic of terms, the Raptors lack focus, which filters into every area of their game.

Since he joined the Raptors last month from Miami, Marion has been accommodating to the media and has played, on most nights, with an energy that rubs off on his new teammates.

He's not the same player he was in Phoenix because Marion doesn't have Steve Nash running an offence.

Marion has become a frustrated player who is destined to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row.

A free agent this summer, no one in their right mind believes Marion will re-sign with the Raptors.

The Raptors are a mess and a player of Marion's experience wants to be playing in a winning atmosphere.

But you applaud the guy because he's honest.

When asked his opinion in the wake of Toronto's 112-86 loss to the Bobcats, Marion didn't sugar-coat anything.

"We basically fell apart," Marion said.

Marion by no means is the problem, but he also is not part of the solution, at least from a playing perspective.

Certainly, the money the Raptors will have, perhaps as much as $10 million US, once Marion bolts will be used to lure a free agent.

PAY TOO MUCH

If history is any indication, expect the team to over pay and give a player too much term on his deal.

That's just the way it is for an NBA team not based in the United States.

For now, Marion is trying his best, even when his best isn't good enough to help the Raptors win.

"We just need to take one game at a time," he said. "It is what it is.

"I think we need to go out and pull together so we can try to make a run for it. That's all you can do."

There can be no run for the Raptors because the team lacks toughness and a talent base that has been completely misjudged.

The only run is for the exit doors once the season ends as players scurry out of town to their respective off-season homes.

But for now, the Raptors owe it to their fans to play as if they care, which can be achieved only by playing hard and by competing at both ends, regardless of the score.

The team's looming five-game home stand, the longest of the season, begins on Friday against the same Bobcats team that embarrassed the Raptors.

The Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls will then pay visits to the Air Canada Centre, each presenting winnable games, assuming the Raptors summon whatever pride they have left.

The Raptors played with no purpose in Charlotte, shot a miserable 38% from the field and committed 24 turnovers, including 19 from Toronto's starting five.

When the Raptors played the Bobcats twice in November, they emerged victorious.

When Charlotte played host to Toronto on Monday, eight players were in uniform who weren't even with the Bobcats earlier in the season.

Charlotte recognized that change was an absolute necessity, something the Raptors should copy this off-season, not just a tweak here or a tweak there, but meaningful change.

A player of Boris Diaw's ilk certainly would help, a point forward who has a high basketball IQ and who will defend.

"He can play any position," Bobcats head coach Larry Brown said of Diaw, who played with Marion in Phoenix.

"He thinks pass first. He sees things you can't teach and I think the fact that he gives it up makes everybody around him want to do the same thing.

"He's a remarkable player, a great guy and a very under-rated defender."

In reality, the Raptors could use a few Boris Diaws.


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