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No. 7 TORONTO RAPTORS
William F. Reed
November 10, 1997
By signing Doug Christie to a seven -year, $22 million contract extension, the Raptors got more than just a shooting guard who was one of only four NBA players to rack up 400 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 steals and 100 three-pointers last season. (The others were Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Mookie Blaylock.) They got more than just a 6'6" board-crasher who was fourth among NBA guards in rebounds (5.3 per game). They also got the rarest commodity in the league: a defender who can actually make things difficult for Jordan.
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November 10, 1997

No. 7 Toronto Raptors

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BY THE NUMBERS

1996-97 TEAM STATISTICS
Record: 30-52 (eighth in Central)

SEASON AVERAGES

Points per game (rank)

FG pct. (rank)

Rebounds per game (rank)

Turnovers per game (rank)

Raptors

95.5 (18)

.437 (27)

41.3 (12)

16.4 (23)

Opponents

98.6 (20)

.465 (21)

41.3 (17)

16.3 (6)

By signing Doug Christie to a seven -year, $22 million contract extension, the Raptors got more than just a shooting guard who was one of only four NBA players to rack up 400 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 steals and 100 three-pointers last season. (The others were Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Mookie Blaylock.) They got more than just a 6'6" board-crasher who was fourth among NBA guards in rebounds (5.3 per game). They also got the rarest commodity in the league: a defender who can actually make things difficult for Jordan.

Last Dec. 8, Christie held Jordan to 13 points as the Raptors shocked the Bulls 97-89 in the Skydome. That was probably the high point of the season for a second-year franchise that won 30 games, nine more than it had the season before. When the Bulls returned to Toronto on March 27, it was assumed that His Airness, who has no small taste for vengeance, would have his way with Christie. Well, the Bulls won this time, 96-83, but Christie held Jordan to 12 points in 41 minutes.

O.K., two games don't make the 27-year-old Christie a dragon slayer. But his work against Jordan was instrumental in his finishing second to Heat center Isaac Austin in the Most Improved Player balloting. It's also one reason that Isiah Thomas, Toronto's executive vice president, basketball, has committed to Christie through the 2004-05 season.

The franchise's other cornerstone is point guard Damon Stoudamire. "Damon's our man," Thomas says. "We will go as far as he takes us." Christie and Stoudamire not only form a reliable backcourt, but they also set high standards for practicing hard. Their work ethic is so strong that Thomas asked them to take 18-year-old Tracy McGrady, a 6'8" rookie who came to the NBA straight out of Mount Zion Academy in Durham, N.C., under their wing during the summer. "[Christie and Stoudamire] remind me of Joe [Dumars] and myself," Thomas says. "All they do is work and work and work."

The Raptors are also well fortified at small forward, with 6'8" Walt Williams, who re-signed over the summer for $20 million over five years, and with 6'9" John Wallace, obtained from the Knicks. Wallace, the 18th pick in the '96 draft and an explosive scorer who played just 11.6 minutes a game as a rookie, is likely to see a lot more action backing up Williams, who fouled out 11 times last season, tying Shawn Kemp (then of the SuperSonics) for the league lead in disqualifications. At power forward Marcus Camby showed flashes of brilliance after the All-Star break, with enough quickness at 6'11" to create matchup nightmares up front. His durability is a question, though, as is his judgment; he was arrested for marijuana possession in the off-season. Charges were dropped after he agreed to perform 16 hours of community service.

The Raptors will go with Zan Tabak, a 7-foot Croatian, in the pivot. Tabak averaged 7.7 points and 4.8 boards as a starter in 1995-96, but last year he injured his left foot and played just 13 games. If he doesn't hold up, Toronto can choose from 6'11" Carlos Rogers or, when he returns in March from injuries to his left arm and shoulder that he suffered in a car accident, 6'11" Sharone Wright. Ultimately, Camby might wind up spending a lot of time in the middle if coach Darrell Walker elects to put his five best players on the floor. "If Marcus stays healthy," Thomas says, "I don't worry about us at center."

Christie believes in Thomas because it was Thomas who saw something in him that nobody else in the league did. Shortly after the Raptors obtained him from the Knicks, where he had languished on the bench, Christie spoke one-on-one with Thomas. "He told me, 'Go out and play your game. If you make a mistake, don't worry about it, learn from it,' " Christie recalls. "He allowed me to put myself back together."

This season the first meeting between the Raptors and the Bulls will be on Dec. 13 in Chicago. Will Jordan rip Christie? Or will Christie enhance his growing reputation as a defender? The Raptors have a lot riding on the answers to those questions.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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