Whose future is brighter, Raps or Leafs?

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:36 PM ET

So, which Toronto team, the Leafs or the Raptors, has the best chance to become really good before their fans finally decide to march on the Air Canada Centre with pitch forks and lighted torches?

Any long-suffering Toronto sports fan probably would say neither. Both are mired in mediocrity though the Raptors won their third straight last night against the Philadelphia 76ers and neither are jammed with young talent.

However, my money would be on the Raptors becoming real contenders long before the lowly Leafs.

Firstly, you have to go with the premise that its easier to rebuild in basketball. One or two key players can make a bigger impact in hoops.

It also comes down to which franchise is willing to blow up their roster now and rebuild.

In the Leafs case, thats not going to happen. GM Brian Burke has said that he will not rebuild from the ground up and wants to make the playoffs as soon as possible.

Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo, on the other hand, has already taken steps to dramatically rebuild, which was evident with his trade this week, which saw him dump three players not in the clubs future plans Jarrett Jack, Marcus Banks and David Andersen for a young talent and a guy they can trade for another pick or prospect later this season.

Drafting, of course, is a huge component.

And Colangelo is way ahead of the game there, looking forward to two first-round picks in 2011, including one that likely will be a lottery pick.

The Leafs, as a result of the Phil Kessel deal, will be on the outside looking in at the 2011 draft, unless Burke can pull off a miracle and acquire a high first-rounder.

Right there, the fact that the Raptors have a high first-round pick and a $12.5 million US trade exemption thanks the Chris Bosh sign and trade gives them a much better chance of securing a star young player.

Free agents and draft picks are great, but the most important component looking ahead is which team has the most flexibility and which has the most young talent.

Frankly, thats a toss-up.

The best young player on either team is Phil Kessel.

After that, its pretty even, though, again, you need more players in hockey than in hoops to rebuild.

For my money, the Leafs have five young players who are, or will become, above average NHLers forwards Kessel and Nazem Kadri, defenceman Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

Not bad. But after that, its a turkey shoot. Tyler Bozak, Keith Aulie, Carl Gunnarsson and Nikolai Kulemin, as well as Christian Hanson with the Marlies, might develop into great players. But nobody knows for sure.

The Raptors, on the other hand, have no bonafide future stars, though DeMar DeRozan might develop into one.

But they also have quite a few promising youngsters, including Jerryd Bayless, Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems, all under 25. And then there is rookie forward Ed Davis, who has been injured all season. Again, nobody knows for sure whether hell be a great everyday NBAer, but Davis, a former UNC star, was considered a steal at 13th when Colangelo selected him.

Whether the Raptors develop into bonafide contenders also rests largely on the shoulders of their first overall pick from 2006, Andrea Bargnani. Despite all the haters out there, the Italian is improving every year.

Its apparent that hell never become a superstar, but hes certainly a valuable commodity at 25, a 7-footer who can score from long range and is quick for a big man. Yes, hes never going to carry a team and hes probably never going to rebound.

Both the Leafs and Raptors will have some manoeuvrability next year in terms of cap room and the ability to sign free agents. But building great teams comes down to drafting and developing young players.

And the Raptors are ahead in that game.


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