2002 NBA Preview

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Conference ranking: 4
Overall ranking: 8

Toronto Raptors
Team Page | 2001-2002 Schedule | Roster

Surrounded by a young and deep supporting cast, Hakeem can dream about another title shot

By Pete McEntegart


Wherever Carter goes, defenders are sure to follow, especially since he's added a lethal jumper to his act.  Manny Millan
Enemy Lines
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Raptors
"A lot of people think the Raptors will make the Finals, but I think they took a step back. ... They're going to miss Charles Oakley . He was probably the best help defender in the league, he rebounded, he'd set a screen, dive on the floor, take a charge, and in the locker room he motivated the players and inspired a little fear. As laid-back as Lenny Wilkens is, he needs that kind of leadership. ... Even without Oakley, though, opposing teams are still going to have to work hard to keep the Raptors from getting second shots. Because defenses have got to help on Carter so much, his teammates have freedom to hit the offensive boards. ... Antonio Davis is as good as any power forward in the East, and Alvin Williams is a great point guard. He scored close to 40% of his points in the fourth quarter, so you can really rely on him down the stretch. ... Hakeem Olajuwon is used to being the focus of the offense, and I don't know how they're going to incorporate him. ... They play too loose, and I put a lot of that on Vince Carter 's leadership. Carter is a poor defender. You try to screen Carter because he doesn't stay in plays, he dives on picks and he seldom helps. You wouldn't say that about Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady. You can't be one-dimensional and lead your team to the Finals. ... If they had held on to McGrady and let Carter go, they would have had the kind of leader who ties up the loose ends, worries about defense and has them focused on winning a championship."

Sports Illustrated Seated in a folding chair a half hour after his fifth practice as a Raptor, center Hakeem Olajuwon spied a trainer walking by with bags of ice. After flagging him down as eagerly as a five-year-old would the Good Humor Man, Olajuwon applied the frozen booty to his aching 38-year-old knees. "My first few years in the league I'd see guys using ice and think, Wow, that guy is finished," he says. "Or if I saw a guy going to the trainer's room, I'd think, What's this? Now I've learned these treatments make it easier for you to perform."

Another explanation for Olajuwon's new fondness for ice is that older men feel sore more than younger men. If the Raptors were counting on Olajuwon to carry them to a title, as he did the Rockets in 1994 and '95, his age would be a major concern. But they're not, and on this deep team that boasts a superstar (Vince Carter) and an All-Star at center (Antonio Davis), his age is not an issue. General manager Glen Grunwald surprised the league by re-signing free agent Davis, as well as guard Alvin Williams and forward Jerome Williams, then agreeing with Carter on a six-year contract extension worth as much as $94 million.

That means Lenny Wilkens welcomes back almost intact the team that lost to the 76ers in seven games in the conference semifinals. To it he adds a rejuvenated Olajuwon, the only player in the top 10 alltime in points, rebounds, blocks and steals; though he battled a cyst in his right knee and later a blood condition, he averaged 16.0 points and 10.6 rebounds during his healthiest stretch last season, a 13-game span in February and March. "I was always curious about playing somewhere else at the end of my career, but I thought it would be Vancouver," the Dream says. "I've spent a few summers there, and it's beautiful. At least this is still Canada."

With Olajuwon's arrival Davis will move to his natural position at power forward, while the feisty Jerome Williams, shot-blocker Keon Clark and Brian Skinner (acquired in the deal that sent Charles Oakley to the Bulls) give Wilkens a wealth of options in the paint. Then, of course, there is Carter, whose evolution from a high-flying dunker into a complete player is the biggest reason for Toronto's optimism. Even against the new zone defenses his explosiveness will allow him to get to the basket, and his sharpened three-point shooting (40.8% last season) should prove more important this year. He might have helped the Raptors even more as a recruiter this off-season, phoning the team's three free agents as well as Olajuwon before signing on himself. "If I'm going to cast my lot with the Raptors," says Carter, 24, "I'm going to try to make them as good as possible any way I can."

How good that will be depends on the continued development of Mo Peterson and Alvin Williams. Peterson had an up-and-down rookie campaign at small forward, but he seemed to find his way near the end. Williams ranked second in the league to the Clippers' Jeff McInnis in assists-to-turnovers ratio (3.95) and increased his regular-season scoring average by 4.0 points in the playoffs, to 13.8. "Alvin knows now he can compete with any guard in this league," Wilkens says.

"This team is definitely going somewhere good," says Olajuwon. "Everybody can hold his own." Which means that Olajuwon can reasonably dream about ice of another type: the kind that sparkles in a championship ring.

Issue date: October 29, 2001

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