As late as April 21, they were in the thick of the Eastern Conference
playoff -- after beating the Orlando Magic at the O-rena 95-88, they held a winning mark
of 22-21 and the city was abuzz with talk of a first-ever postseason appearance. However,
back-to-back home losses to Detroit and Charlotte sent them spiraling into a six- game
losing skid that abruptly ended their playoff aspirations. Nevertheless, 1999 was a
remarkable turnaround season for the Raptor franchise. The combination of Glen Grunwald's shrewd managerial moves, Butch Carter's steady coaching, and Vince Carter's phenomenal rookie play
catapulted the Raptors from a dismal '97-98 campaign (16-66; .195 winning percentage) to a
respectable final record of 23-27 (.460 winning percentage). Along with the move to a
sparkling new basketball facility, the Air Canada Centre, the Raptors' surprising play
created a wave of excitement for basketball in this city. The future should only get
brighter for the Raptors. Grunwald has managed to assemble a nice mix of young talent
(Carter, Tracy McGrady, John Wallace, John Thomas, Alvin Williams, and Michael Stewart)
and veteran leadership (Charles Oakley, Kevin Willis, Dee Brown, and Doug Christie). With
two picks in the first round of the 1999 draft (5 & 12) and piles of precious cap
space (close to $17-million), the Raptors seem poised to leave the ranks of the NBA's
bottom feeders to emerge as a team on the rise in the next decade.
|1995: Damon Stoudamire (7th overall) the Raptors' marquee for its three years of existence. Became embittered
with last season's management turmoil and was shipped to Portland last February for Gary
Trent (signed with Dallas as FA), Alvin Williams, Kenny Anderson (traded to Boston with
Zan Tabak and Popeye Jones for Chauncey Billups (moved in a three-way trade with Denver
and Minny that netted the Raps the fifth pick in this year's draft, Michael Willaims, a
first-round pick next year from Minny and the rights to Zelkjo Rebraca), $$, and a 1998
first round pick (dealt with another mid-first round pick to Houston for Kevin Willis).
1996: Marcus Camby (2nd overall) Although
he's blossomed with the Knicks in this year's post-season, he never showed the kind of
sustained promised that Isiah Thomas had hoped for when he drafted him ahead of Shareef-
Abdur Rahim. Dealt to the Knicks for Charles Oakley at last year's draft.
1997: Tracy McGrady (9th overall) Don't believe the speculation, T-Mac's not going anywhere. Look for him
to sign a seven year extension close to the max and be a Raptor for the next decade.
1998: Vince Carter (5th overall) The Franchise . . . 'Nuff said.
- a quick point guard who can break down defenses,
distribute the ball to Vince, T-Mac, and Doug Christie, and spot up for the open jumper.
- a young big man who can develop into a low-post threat.
- an insurance wing player if John Wallace departs via free
|Kevin Willis (12.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 29.0mpg; signed to '00): The cagey 36 year-old vet is the Raptors only legitimate low-post
threat. When healthy, he was an important cog in the Raptors' offence, drawing double
teams giving Vince and Tmac the space to slash to the hoop and freeing up Dee and Doug for
wide open jumpers, and a valuable presence on the defensive glass. Butch relied a bit too
much on him at the beginning of the year and he seemed to wear down over the condensed
season. For him to remain an effective player, the Raptors need to find a reliable backup
so that he can be limited to a solid 25 minutes per game.
Michael Stewart (1.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.67 bpg; FA): Didn't really pan out as the Raps expected when the signed him to a
one-year $1-million contract. He didn't show the shotblocking and defensive rebounding
presence that he flashed as a rookie in Sacramento. Instead, he appeared rigid and
immobile on the defensive end of the floor and lacked timing and touch on the offensive
end. Started to come on a bit at the end of the year when an injury to Willis forced him
log heavier minutes. It's unclear whether he'll be back next year. He's a FA, but there's
speculation the Grunwald lured him to Toronto with a one-year exemption (he had a more
lucrative offer from Boston last offseason) with a handshake agreement on a longer
contract this offseason.
|Charles Oakley (7.0 ppg; 7.5 rpg; 3.4 apg; FA): Undoubtedly the most respected Raptor. His value to the team far exceeds
his stats. He brought the kind of professionalism, toughness, and veteran leadership to
the team that had been sorely lacking in its first three years of play. Offensively, his
game is limited mostly to hanging around the perimeter and shooting the open jumper when
the defense collapses on Vince or Kevin Willis. Doesn't hit the offensive glass with the
same zest that he did in his younger days. Although limited as a shotblocker, defensively,
he provides the kind of physical presence in the lane that sets the tone for the rest of
the team and disrupts opposing offenses. Like Willis, he's most effective if his minutes
are limited. Even though he's a FA this summer, I think there's a fairly good chance that
he'll be back. He seemed miffed in the middle of the year when Raptor management lowballed
him with their first offer for a contract extension, but I think he likes Toronto and
recognizes his value to the franchise. I'd look for the Raptors to lock him to a 2 or 3
year contract at $5-6 million a season.
Thomas (4.3 ppg; 3.4 rpg; .577 FG%; signed to '00): Developed
into a solid contributor off the bench this year. One of Coach Carter's favourites because
of his enthusiasm and hardwork on the offensive and defensive glass. He's very limited
offensively. JT doesn't really have a low-post game, he gets most of his points on open
dunks or mop-up rebounds. Defensively, he has the size and physical strength to muscle
some of the tougher big men in the league. A very useful, if not spectacular, bench player
who should be a solid NBA contributor for the next 10-12 years.
Reggie Slater (3.8 ppg; 2.3 rpg; 8.8 mpg; FA): After being a regular in Butch's rotation last year, his PT and
production really dropped off. He has a nice arsenal moves in the low post, but at 6-7 he
really doesn't have the size to get his shot off against power forwards and he doesn't
have the quickness to play the 3 spot and create his own shot from the perimeter. Once JT
started to cut into his playing time, he started to press to hard to put up big scoring
numbers and became a black hole in the half court set. Whenever he touched the ball, he
put his head down and tried to bury his way to the hoop with little success. A FA, he's
unlikely to be back next year. Look for him to sign somewhere in Europe if he can't find a
bench gig somewhere in the league.
Sean Marks (1.4 ppg; 3.5 mpg):
A throw-in included in the Camby/Oakley deal, he didn't see much action this year as a
rookie. He's the first New Zealander to ever play in the NBA. Tall and lanky, he's
supposed to be the most athletic of the Raptor big men (which really isn't saying all that
much). Will probably have to compete for a spot on the team next year with this year's
draft picks and FA signings.
|Vince Carter (18.3 ppg; 5.7 rpg; 3.0 apg; 1.54 bpg; 1.10
spg; t-opt '02): The NBA ROY exceeded everyone's wildest
expectations this year. Not only did he provide hair-raising entertainment with his
thundering dunks, but he showed that he was a far more complete player than anyone
expected coming out of UNC. He has the quickness to blow by any NBA small forward and the
strength and athleticism to finish around the hoop with defenders draped around him.
Although everyone realized he had major, major hops, I don't think anyone knew that he
could also bury the open jumper or carry the team on his back and take the clutch shot in
the closing minutes of a tight game. He still needs to work on finding more consistency
with his three-point shot, but he has good mechanics and works hard so he shouldn't have
any problems improving that facet of his game in the offseason. He's still learning the
finer points of NBA defense. He didn't really show that he could blanket the other's team
superstar and completely disrupt the game on the defensive end. But, unlike a lot of other
young stars, he likes to play and works hard to become a better defender. There's no
question that he's the franchise player. He'll be resigned to the MAX when he contracts
comes up in two years. Look for him to be in Toronto for a long, long time.
John Wallace ( 8.6 ppg; 3.6 rpg; 16.9 mpg; FA):
After riding the pine for much of the beginning of the year, JW really stepped up in the
second half of the lockout-shortened season. His agent made some heavy noise in the media
about wanting the Raps to give him the MAX or deal him to another team that would at the
beginning of the year, but JW himself never overtly complained about his lack of PT or his
unhappiness in T.O. I think that Butch and the rest of the team really gained respect for
him when he kept his mouth shut and took the challenge of making himself a better player
to get back into the regular rotation. He's a gifted scorer off the bench. Not blessed
with great shooting ability or quickness, he finds a way to get to the basket and create
his own shot. He really improved himself defensively this year. After being a defensive
sieve for much of the past few years, he tightened up his D in the post and started
hitting the boards hard. He's a very valuable player on the Raptor bench. His future in
Toronto, however, is uncertain because he's a FA. He doesn't appear likely to crack the
starting lineup in Toronto. With starting minutes, he might average 16-18 ppg. He might
look elsewhere for more PT if his agent's comments at the beginning of the year reflect
his feelings about his place in the Raptor lineup.
|Doug Christie (15.2 ppg; 3.7 apg; 2.27 spg; signed to
'04 opt-out in '02): One of the league's most underrated
players. He's one of the league's better defenders but never gets credit for it. He always
takes on the challenge of guarding the opposing team's best player and usually does a good
job of blanketing him (he used to give MJ fits). His isn't as good on the offensive end.
He tends to force shots a bit too much and he's a bit of a streaky shooter. He has games
where he can't throw the ball into the ocean. But he's athletic and he's good at posting
up other two- guards, so he usually manages to collect 12-15 ppg. Signed to a 7-year,
$22-million contract he's a great bargain for the Raps. There's been a lot of talk that
Grunwald might move him in a deal to move up in the draft, but I have a feeling that he'll
Tracy McGrady (9.3 ppg; 5.7 rpg;
28.1 mpg; signed to '00): He added about 15 lbs. to his lanky
frame last offseason and used his added bulk to show flashes of the potential that Isiah
Thomas gushed about when he drafted him with the 9th pick in the '97 draft. Only two years
removed from high school, he's still very raw offensively. He gets most of his points on
sheer athleticism. He uses him great leaping ability to play soar above his defender for
rebounds and put backs at the offensive end. He has great basketball sense and handles and
passes the ball well for a player his age and size. He jump shot still needs a lot of
work. It's kind of a flat, ugly ducking that he aims at the net. But he showed the
willingness to commit Butch's system and really benefitted from having his cousin, Vince,
take some of the pressure off of him in Toronto. I don't think he'll ever become a
superstar offensive player, but I think he has the potential to become a terrific
all-around player. I look for the Raptors to lock him up for something close to the league
max this offseason.
|Alvin Williams (5.0 ppg; 2.6 apg; 21.0 mpg; signed to
'01): Not the answer at point guard. The Raptors shipped out
Chauncey Billups in the offseason gave Alvin the chance to step up and become a big-time
player. He seemed to wilt under the pressure and really struggled at the beginning of the
year. He's not a bad player if his minutes are limited. But when he's forced to shoulder
the burden of generating offense, his weaknesses become glaringly apparent. Although he's
got a pretty good handle for a big point guard (6-5), he doesn't have the quickness or
shooting ability to create his own offense or create shots for his teammates. Defensively,
he doesn't have the lateral footspeed to guard any of the quick, little points in the
Eastern Conference. He's signed to a three-year, $6-million deal, so if he doesn't get
moved in any kind of package deal, he's likely to be back next year in a more limited
Dee Brown (11.2 ppg; 2.9 apg; .387
3PT %; FA): Revived his career as a sixth-man in Toronto. He
was the team's most dangerous outside shooter and along with Vince, he shouldered much of
the scoring burden in the fourth quarter of close games for the Raps. He's more of a small
two-guard than a point. When he was inserted into the game, Doug Christie and T-Mac did
most of the ball-handling, while he ran off screen and spotted up for open shots behind
the arc. Although unorthodox, it proved to be an effective half-court system for the Raps.
Defensively, he was a solid contributor. He's the kind of player that can occasionally
step into passing lanes and intercept errant passes, but he isn't really the guy you look
to for a tough defensive stop in a tight game. Patricia Bender's web site lists him as a
FA, but the Toronto papers haven't really said much about him being a free agent. If he is
a FA, I'm 99% sure he'll be resigned he loved playing for Butch in Toronto and the team
really needs his leadership and perimeter shooting.
|Andre Miller PG, 6-2
205 lbs., Utah: A need pick. In terms of talent, there may be more gifted players left
in the draft, but Andre fills a gaping void for the Raptors. Few question that he'll be a
solid, if unspectacular, NBA point guard. Although he's not the fleetest afoot, he's got
the strength, size, and smarts to get by at the point. He's often been compared to Mark
Jackson largely because they share the same size and foot speed but I think it's a bit of
an ill-fated comparison. He's a much better penetrator and slasher that Mark Jackson was
coming out of St. John's. He may not be as good a perimeter shooter (like Vince, he didn't
really show that aspect of his came for the Utes) as Jackson, but he's the kind of player
who can weave his way into the lane and finish. He's a nice complementary point to get the
ball to Vince, T-Mac, JW, and Doug Christie.
|Corey Magette the most athletically gifted player in the draft. The Raptors could draft
him at #5 and deal him for other picks and/or players. Or, they could draft him, develop
him and move one of their other swing-players, like Doug, T-Mac, or JW.
Wally Sczerbiak a terrific shooter who could really stretch defenses and open up lanes
for Vince and T-Mac. The Raptors could draft Wally, play him at the 3, move Vince to the
2, T-Mac to the 1, and try to deal Doug for a young big man. Or, as with Magette, they
could leverage Wally into a nice package of players and/or picks.
Richard Hamilton a clutch player who could potentially take some of the scoring burden off
of Vince's shoulders. Although he's a nice player, his game doesn't seem to really address
a need for the Raptors and he doesn't appear to have the trade value of Magette or Wally.
Jonathan Bender a young, talented big man with potential. If the Raptors think that Oak
and Willis can hold the fort for the next couple of years, they could take Bender and
develop him for the future.
Who the team probably will take:
|If the real draft shakes down the same way, I'd look for
the Raptors to move down and pick up more players and/or picks. It looks as if Paxson and
Cleveland are hot and heavy for Wally-world, so Glen could potentially swap picks with
Cleveland and pick up the #11 pick or Brevin Knight, or something along those lines. Andre
Miller would probably still be available at the #8 spot. The rumours of the Raptors'
interest in dealing for the Bulls #1 pick to draft Francis just won't seem to go away. I
don't think they'll move T-Mac in a package for the opportunity to draft Francis, but it's
conceivable that they might put together a package like the #5 and #12 along with Christie
for the #1 (I don't know if Krause would bite on such a deal). I don't know if Francis
would be a good fit with the Raps. Grunwald seems to have made a concerted effort to move
out all of the bad attitude guys and assemble a cast of guys who'll play hard for Butch.
Judging from Steve's predraft comments, I don't know if he fits the bill. But Glen is
pretty smart guy, so it's completely possible that he might be blowing smoke with his
reported interest in Francis to disguise his interest in the player he really wants (maybe
Baron Davis??) . . . who knows, we'll probably have to wait until June 30th to find out.
Other Moves the Team Should Make:
- Lock up T-Mac: To me, it's a no-brainer. Sign T-Mac to a
long-term contract and you've got two guys who can fill the seats and win basketball
games. It should be a slam dunk.
- Re-sign Oakley: Oak is the heart and soul of this
basketball team. If he goes, it's conceivable that the Raptors' structure of veteran
leadership might collapse and they could revert to the type of young, talented but aimless
team that they put on the floor for their first three years of existence.
- Sign Zelkjo Rebraca: The Raptors obtained the rights to
the talented Yugoslav centre in the Billups deal from Minnesota. He offers the Raptors the
opportunity to give Willis a much needed reprieve and he might develop into the centre of
- Reward Butch with a more lucrative long term deal: This
guy didn't a terrific job with the Raptors. He has everyone's respect on the team and he
knows how to manage a lineup. Send a message to him and the team that he's the guy to lead
them into the next millenium.
||# of years