Speak up, Raptors

FRANK ZICARELLI, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:02 PM ET

The alarm bells were sounded in Charlotte by Bobcats captain Gerald Wallace, who vented following a recent blowout loss to Boston.

Wallace had seen his team play inspired basketball earlier in the season, performing at a high level that had many believing of a promising spring run. They were sharing the basketball, shouldering the burden and being accountable on defence.

Then came an unexpected slip, when details began to be overlooked, when team play was being replaced by too much individualism. Their season in jeopardy of going completely down the toilet, Wallace felt compelled to call out his teammates.

“That was a team,” Wallace began, recalling how Charlotte used to play in unison. “This one is just guys out on their own as individuals, not talking, not communicating on defence.”

Pressed to discuss the consequences of doing nothing to right their ship, Wallace didn’t mince his words.

“Very worried,” he said of the chances of seeing the franchise appear in its first post-season. “Even if we manage to figure this out and some other team slips up, I don’t know what kind of game we’d play. I’m worried if we do (qualify for the post-season), we’ll get swept.”

The Charlotte Observer discovered that Wallace confronted his teammates in a private setting before he went public.

Coincidence or not, but the Bobcats have won four in a row since Wallace set the record straight. That’s what leaders do when teams require a wakeup call, when a season that looks so promising threatens to inch closer to the brink.

The Raptors are that point. Their body language is terrible, the way they play down to their opposition smacks of arrogance and their sense of urgency seems all but lost.

So much was gained prior to the all-star break because they played together, showed resiliency and had each other’s back.

In roughly three weeks, however, they’ve destroyed much of what they built, including separation from the bottom teams competing for the playoffs. The post-season, which once appeared a formality, is no longer a given. In fact, it is more in peril than it is probable.

Joakim Noah’s foot injury might be only thing that helps the Raptors get into the playoffs because the Bulls aren’t as good without their defence-first big.

Chicago’s recent play, which has been almost as bad as the Raptors, reinforces Noah’s absence. The Bulls may well join the list of have-nots such as Philadelphia, allowing the Raptors to secure that eighth and final playoff spot by default.

Toronto’s reward, then, would be a likely four-game sweep to Cleveland.

There is time, of course, for the Raptors to rediscover their game and their identity, but time will quickly run out.

More than anything, it’s time for Chris Bosh to pull a Gerald Wallace and challenge his teammates.

When the Raps got off to their slow start to the season, Antoine Wright was the only player to publicly question how they defended. Following Sunday’s alarming home loss to Philadelphia, Wright again raised questions about the team’s focus and mindset.

It made for good copy on a team not known for colourful commentary. But Wright was right in his assessments, though the words would have carried more weight had one of the team’s core players spoken up.

Bosh has been asked to do a lot in Toronto and he has handled every responsibility with grace, maturity and humility.

He is not able to play at a dominant level because of his inactivity, but it will come. Chances are pretty good it will arrive on Saturday against the up-tempo Golden State Warriors, who have no one capable of stopping Bosh.

It’s not in his character to rip his team, but Bosh must now go out of character. His voice is the only one that matters inside the Raptors locker room.

Of all the hype that surrounded Reggie Evans’ arrival last off-season, he has been injured too long to have his words mean anything.

Wright means well, but his credibility isn’t as strong as this is his first season in Toronto, and likely his last.

Jose Calderon isn’t going to call out anyone. You know Andrea Bargnani isn’t and neither will Hedo Turkoglu.

Jarrett Jack might, but he’s too nice.

That leaves Bosh because the Raptors are left with no other choice.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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