NBA 'in-crowd' doesn't include Raptors

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:12 PM ET

TORONTO - When and if DeMar DeRozan ever gets married, will a fellow NBA player get up and publicly toast him the way Chris Paul toasted Carmelo Anthony last summer, talking about stars coming together to play in the same NBA city?

Will anything like that ever happen for the seemingly irrelevant Raptors?

If you look at the NBA standings you will see Toronto as the 14th team listed in a 15-team Eastern Division. You know weíre in the league because itís right there in the small print. But as time goes on, and the league becomes more about stars choosing where they want to play and with whom they want to play, and the league becomes more about agents playing kingmaker, the significance of basketball in a market forever fragile becomes more distant and more isolated.

Canada has never seemed so far away from the centre of the NBA as it does today. Itís like thereís something going on but weíre not really part of it. At least not part of what matters. This isnít just a foreign country anymore. Itís become an outpost.

Never mind that the NBA runs a WWE-like fixed slam dunk competition. Blake Griffin is a Los Angeles star. He matters. DeRozan, a Toronto star in the making, assuming he gets there, is an afterthought in the big picture. And if there is a big picture, we tend to get photo-shopped out of it.

The latest evidence being that Carmelo Anthony, from the draft class of LeBron James, Chris Wade and Dwayne Wade, has parlayed his off-court power game into his own late season choice of basketball location. He became a member of the New York Knicks late Monday or early Tuesday ó taking his talents to Manhattan ó to join Amare Stoudemire and now the guessing game begins. Who will be next to join them?

Maybe Paul? Maybe Deron Williams? A minute or so ago, the Knicks were a laughing stock of dysfunction but one Stoudemire signing later, and they have become a destination again because itís New York and destinations matter. The rest of the league, not so much.

This is like high school cliques at their worst. Thatís what this new NBA is about. Youíre in or youíre out. Youíre cool or youíre not. There isnít much place for in between, although San Antonio and Oklahoma City matter, but there is this playground mentality enveloping the current state of professional basketball. You pick your friends and form the best team you can. And in this case, Phil Kessel isnít picked last, his city is.

And until thereís a labour stoppage or a re-writing of the collective bargaining rules or maybe the coming of franchise player tags, the divisions will remain apparent and maddening. There are places to play and places not to play. You go to Miami, but not Toronto. You go to New York and Los Angeles and Chicago but not to Minnesota or Sacramento or Cleveland. You conspire with your buddies and your agents and your posse ó for those who still have a posse ó and you decide whatís cool, whoís in, whoís out and what was yesterdayís news.

Maybe one day DeRozan will be an NBA star. Thatís something to be hopeful about here. Heís about the only Raptor with a chance to be somebody and even then there are those who wonder if he has a big enough body to play the kind of athletic game he needs to be successful. Maybe heíll be that genre of player one day with a big decision to make: Do I stay or do I go?

The question has never been more apparent or more troubling, not just for Toronto, but for so many of the 30 professional basketball markets that have been rendered unimportant by star gatherings. We know very well the Raptors play in the NBA. They are in no danger of moving or folding or being sold. Just in danger of being permanently insignificant.

In a way, they seem as disposable a drapes in a fully decorated home. They donít make the house. They donít make a difference. They just play a small and barely functional role and at any time are easily replaced.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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