Raptors soft to the core

The more the Raptors show little ability to compete against high-level teams, the more it seems...

The more the Raptors show little ability to compete against high-level teams, the more it seems likely that Chris Bosh won't be back. (QMI Agency/Stan Behal)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

TORONTO -- There's no point in beating around the bush, mincing any words or going through the futile exercise of sugar-coating.

The Raptors are too soft and until this culture changes, nothing of any substance will be achieved.

The fear is not whether the Raptors can win a playoff series, assuming they even qualify for the post-season, but whether Chris Bosh has seen enough of this team that is prone to being soft.

At the heart of this issue is the team's core group.

Bryan Colangelo remade the roster last off-season, but he kept his three key pieces in Bosh, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.

Hedo Turkoglu was acquired at considerable cost, adding a fourth piece that has yet to play up to its billing.

Bosh can simply walk away from it all, but until he decides on his future the Raptors have to find a way to summon more out of their core.

How one transforms soft into tough is like trying to get Bargnani to rebound the ball more or attack the basket rather than settle for jumpers.

A culture doesn't change overnight and nor does it get altered when Reggie Evans and Antoine Wright are acquired in trades.

Evans has moments as does Wright, but neither has been around long enough to fully impose their will.

Wright gives it his all, but there are times when he goes beyond what he's capable of.

Like Wednesday night against Utah, when he went through a stretch where he took more attempts from the field than Bosh.

Evans will retrieve the occasional miss, but at times thinks he's an offensive threat and gets careless with the ball.

The Jazz came to town as a team that prides itself on execution, defence and team play.

Above everything else, Utah is tough and has created a culture of toughness because Jerry Sloan has been able to call the shots and has the backing of management.

For most of the night, Utah simply carved the Raptors.

Unlike last Friday's boo-fest that erupted at the ACC when Oklahoma City routed the Raptors with its athleticism and talent, Utah was able to create the hostility by executing virtually any set it wanted.

There's a high end point guard in Deron Williams, a double-double machine in Carlos Boozer and pieces that aren't the greatest but they fit and they are able flourish.

Williams set the tone early by outplaying Calderon in as one-sided a matchup as one will ever see.

Calderon's night was summed up on his first heave, which did the dreaded victory lap around the rim before landing in Boozer's hands.

Calderon missed his first five shots from the field, open looks that weren't dropping.

So much of what off-season work awaits Colangelo will depend on Bosh.

Bosh can walk, agree to re-up or help the team arrange a sign-and-trade scenario.

The more the Raptors show little ability to compete against high-level teams, the more it seems likely that Bosh won't be back.

Turkoglu's night against the Jazz amounted to one half.

When the third quarter began, word began to filter that Turkoglu wouldn't be back after he developed an upset stomach.

In his 19 minutes on the floor, Turkoglu created at times, but his presence was hard to notice.

Calderon failed to contain Williams and couldn't make shots.

Bargnani was hardly inspiring, while Bosh was taken out of the game mainly by his teammates, who somehow overlooked him.

With Wednesday's 113-87 loss, the Raptors are at 35-35 with the Denver Nuggets coming to town followed by a difficult back-to-back set on the road against Miami and Charlotte.

Suddenly, all that good vibe produced by the Raptors heading into the all-star break has completely vanished.

Nothing can be taken for granted, even at a time when the only team challenging Toronto for the final playoff spot is a broken-down Chicago team.

But under no circumstance can the Raptors win a playoff series, which, as of today, would involve the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Post-season play is about being tough.

The Raptors aren't and long-term, Colangelo has to address it by looking at his core and realizing that change is required.

FRANK.ZICARELLI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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