Posted: Friday September 16, 2005 4:27PM; Updated: Friday September 16, 2005 6:26PM
Though a dynamic scorer, Jalen Rose's lack of a defined role has seen him float to four different teams in his career.
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The 2004-05 Toronto Raptors were like a week's worth of a bad soap opera. In-house bickering began with head coach Sam Mitchell and ended with combustible point guard Rafer Alston, Toronto's $28-million free-agent signee who was brought in to stabilize the Raptors backcourt, but did anything but.
With a season of discontent now behind them and a playground's worth of baby big men added to their stable over the summer, Toronto turns its attention expectantly to a new campaign. A time for optimism, no? Not in the eyes of the Raptors general manager.
During an interview with The Toronto Sun last week, Toronto boss Rob Babcock said that given the youthful nature of the Raptors roster, Toronto would be hard pressed to duplicate last season's 33 wins, an underwhelming finish that kept Toronto out of the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Was Babcock throwing in the towel? Probably not. Did it help that the Sun ran his quotes under the headline "We've got no chance: GM" I would think not. Should he have said it? Absolutely not.
It's one thing for a coach or a general manager to criticize his players in an effort to keep them humble or to give them something to read other than their own laudatory press clippings. But Toronto doesn't need any more humility. This is a team that couldn't escape the Atlantic division basement despite averaging almost 100 points per game -- because their porous defense gave up 101.5 (ranking them in the bottom third in the league). This is a team that couldn't get 30 cents on the dollar when it traded Vince Carter to New Jersey. This is a team that drafted a player (Connecticut forward Charlie Villanueva) who plays the same position as the club's only potential All-Star (Chris Bosh). And don't get me started on Rafael Araujo.
Instead of making dire predictions, Babcock should focus his attention on shaking things up, starting with Alston. The flamboyant Skip-to-my-Lou is statistically one of the league's better point guards, a player who averaged 14.2 points per game last season while producing one of the NBA's better assist-to-turnover ratios (3.02). But he doesn't fit. In addition to Alston's public spats with Mitchell, word out of Toronto was the former playground star had a difficult time getting along with his teammates, particularly some of the veterans who grew increasingly tired of Alston's antics as the losses continued to pile up. Alston's contract this year ($3.8 million) is manageable, and with the dearth of pure point men in the NBA, there would certainly be a demand for his services.
Babcock's next move should be to find a suitor for Jalen Rose, a less than enviable task for the second year GM. Rose is due more than $32 million over the next two seasons, an exorbitant price for a player who has struggled to find a natural role in 11 NBA seasons. Is he a point guard? He can't guard any. Is he a small forward? Not with that career 3.6 rebounding average. Rose is a scorer, capable of dropping 20 points on any given night, but also capable of surrendering 30 on the same floor. The market for Rose is barren, but not bare. Perhaps the Knicks, with the expiring contracts of Tim Thomas and Penny Hardaway to dangle, would be interested in taking a flyer.
Assuming the departure of Rose, leadership should be the next topic on the agenda and Babcock and Mitchell need look no further than Eric Williams. The former Celtic was the glue that held Boston's locker room together during the early part of the decade and no one in the league takes losses to heart more than Williams. At 33, Williams isn't the slashing scorer he once was, but he can still be productive in the right situation. More important, as captain Williams would demand more and be a positive role model for a young team that is banking its future on youthful big men such as Bosh, Villanueva, Araujo and Joey Graham.
Toronto is in a tough spot and Babcock is probably correct in his prediction, but throwing in the towel -- or even insinuating it -- is always a last resort. It certainly doesn't help locker room morale. Said JRose last week in a television interview, "Even bad teams have optimism. The Bad News Bears' coach wouldn't even tell his team that."