Tuesday , Oct , 19 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Toronto Raptors 2004-05 Season Preview

=== Toronto Raptors 2004-05 Season Preview ===

By Dan Di Sciullo, Contributing NBA Writer

2003-04 FINISH: 33-49

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Rafer Alston (G) – Free Agent; Matt Bonner (F) – Acquired
in 2003 trade from Chicago; Loren Woods (C) – Free Agent.

SUBTRACTIONS: NONE

2004 DRAFT PICKS: 1. (8) Rafael Araujo,(C, BYU); 2. (39) Albert Miralles (F,
Spain) – Traded to Miami.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Rafer Alston, SG Jalen Rose, SF Vince Carter, PF
Donyell Marshall, C Chris Bosh

COACH: Sam Mitchell

(Sports Network) – For the last few seasons, the Toronto Raptors have only
gone as far as Vince Carter could take them. Now it seems that Carter and the
Raptors are nearing the end of the road.

A war of words was played out through the press this offseason between Carter
and Toronto management. Rob Babcock, who just became Toronto’s GM back in
June, was forced to battle rumors that Carter wanted out of Toronto.

At first Carter remained quiet on the issue, but in mid-September, he laid
down the gauntlet and admitted that he wanted to be traded. However, Carter
has since said that he will play despite his wish to be dealt.

The Raptors have missed the playoffs for the past two seasons, largely because
Carter has battled knee injuries during that time. Last season’s 33-49 record
resulted in a 10th place finish in the Eastern Conference and cost head coach
Kevin O’Neill his job after just one year.

This year, new head coach Sam Mitchell has the unenviable task of getting his
team to forget about the Carter controversy and play as a unit. Mitchell is
expected to implement a new up-tempo style of play and the Raptors have tried
to accommodate that with some personnel changes.

The big move came when Toronto signed free-agent point guard Rafer Alston to a
six-year, $30 million contract. The 28-year-old former playground legend
had a career year for Miami last season, averaging 10.2 points and 4.5
assists per contest.

The Alston signing has resulted in some changes to the team’s starting lineup.
For instance, veteran Jalen Rose will move to the shooting guard slot to make
room for the team’s new floor general. Rose is another Raptors’ player that
has been hampered by injuries.

Still, it seems that this franchise’s destiny will continue to be tied to that
of Vince Carter and whatever he decides to do. If Carter stays healthy and
changes his mind about playing in Toronto, than the Raptors have a decent shot
at making the postseason in the Eastern Conference.

BACKCOURT

Alston had the best season of his five-year NBA career in 2003, averaging 10.2
points and 4.5 assists while playing in all 82 games. He does have a difficult
time shooting the ball and sports a .376 career field-goal percentage.

The versatile Rose is expected to be the starting shooting guard for the
Raptors this season. Rose played 50 games with Toronto last season after being
dealt from the Chicago Bulls prior to the trade deadline. The 31-year-old
played his best ball with the Raptors last year, averaging 16.2 points and 5.5
assists since the deal.

Because of his athleticism and his 6-foot-8 frame, Rose will likely see time
at both the point and small forward positions.

Alston will share a good deal of the point guard duties with Alvin Williams,
who played in just 56 games last season due to ankle and knee injuries. The
split time will most likely be a blessing for Williams, considering his
injuries were related to fatigue. Williams had averaged over 30 minutes a game
in each of the last 30 seasons.

On top of the injuries, the 30-year-old Williams had an all-around difficult
year in 2002-03. He averaged just 8.8 points and 4.0 assists per game — his
lowest averages in both categories since the 1999-2000 season.

Roger Mason, a third-year two-guard out of Virginia, is also expected to see
some time in the backcourt. He is averaging just 2.9 points in 43 career
games, but is considered to be a solid shooter.

FRONTCOURT

Starting at small forward for the Raptors will likely be Carter, if he still
wants to play for the Raptors.

Carter has missed 70 games over the last three seasons, but only nine came
during the 2003-04 season. That is why, if he commits to playing in Toronto,
many people believe Carter will have a huge season.

The 27-year-old Carter averaged 22.5 points and 4.8 rebounds over 73 games
last season. It was a huge improvement over the previous season when Carter
was only able to play in 43 games.

Carter hasn’t had a huge season since he was fifth in the NBA with a 27.6
scoring average in 2000-01. The Raptors, who were 0-9 without Carter last
season, desperately need the former North Carolina standout to turn in a
season worthy of his superstar status.

Donyell Marshall will start for Toronto this season at the power forward
position.

Marshall was also acquired from Chicago last season in the Rose trade and
played solidly in 66 games for the Raptors, averaging 16.2 points and 10.7
rebounds per contest.

Marshall, a 10-year NBA veteran, turned in 38 double-doubles in 82 games with
Chicago and Toronto last season.

The Raptors are very young at the center position and will likely start 20-
year-old Chris Bosh in middle. Bosh, the fourth overall pick in the 2003
draft, had a solid rookie season last year, posting 11.5 points and 7.4
rebounds in 75 games.

Toronto made a surprising selection in last year’s draft, selecting center
Rafael Araujo with the eighth overall pick. At 6-11, 290 pounds, Araujo is
expected to add some much-needed size at the center position.

A key player off the bench for Toronto this year will be Morris Peterson, who
should see most of his time at small forward. In 2003-04, Peterson had the
most disappointing season of his four-year career and the Raptors hope he can
rebound this year. In 82 games last season, Peterson averaged 8.3 points and
3.2 rebounds.

The Raptors will also have Lamond Murray to add depth at the forward position.
Murray also had a down year in 2003-04, posting averages of 6.0 points and 2.7
rebounds in 33 games.

OUTLOOK

The Raptors have some serious question marks to deal with this season. Will
Vince Carter stay healthy and, if he does, will he accept Toronto as his home?
On top of that, it remains to be seen if these players can work with Mitchell
in his first season as a head coach in the NBA. After all, many of the players
on this year’s team clashed with O’Neill last year, clearing the road for the
former coach’s firing. The Raptors will battle all season long for the final
spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but they could sneak into the
postseason in the top-heavy East.

TOR