A healthy Garbajosa gives Toronto toughness and grit on defense.
Garrett Ellwood/AFP/Getty ImagesI
The Raptors had the best bench production in the East last season with a franchise-high 36.3 points per game. That output, second in the NBA behind the Spurs' reserves, was an increase of seven points per game from '05-06.
Record: 47-35 (4th in East) Points scored: 99.5 (11th in NBA) Points allowed: 98.5 (16th) Coach: Sam Mitchell (fourth season with Raptors)
If the Euro vet has a good leg to stand on, playoff hopes will be just as strong
Raptors forward Jorge Garbajosa is a man of few words, at least when it comes
to his healing left leg. When asked how his wheel, which he broke in a gruesome
fall while trying to defend a breakaway dunk against Boston last March, felt
going into training camp, Garbajosa responded, "Pain-free." And at last month's
European Championships, at which he helped Spain to a second-place finish?
"Pain-free," he said. And as for why he decided against having surgery, an
option Toronto encouraged him to take in August? "Because I'm pain-free,"
insisted Garbajosa. "I feel completely healthy."
The Raptors certainly hope so. Before his injury the 29-year-old former
Euroleague standout was a Rookie of the Year candidate, averaging
8.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists at small forward. More
important, Toronto -- the surprise winner of the Atlantic Division -- missed his
toughness and interior muscle in the postseason, when the Raptors were bounced
in the first round by the Nets. "We had worked for a long time to do well," says
Garbajosa. "It was tough to watch because I knew we were good enough to go to
the next round."
Although Garbajosa is showing no ill effects from the injury -- he averaged 7.8
points in 21 minutes per game at the European Championships -- Toronto will
remain cautious. The team has an insurance policy through November that covers
the remaining $8.5 million on Garbajosa's contract, and coach Sam Mitchell
declared an open competition at starting small forward between Garbajosa, Joey
Graham and Jason Kapono, a free agent who signed a four-year, $24 million
contract with the Raptors in the off-season.
Starter or not, Garbajosa is happy he can get back on the floor. "I'm not
worried about starting," he says, "and I never think about minutes. I just want
to be useful." -- Chris Mannix