Wednesday , Nov , 01 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

New-look Raptors start season in New Jersey

(Sports Network) – The new-look Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets begin
the 2006-07 season tonight at Continental Airlines Arena.

The offseason was a very busy time for Toronto, which has missed the
postseason four straight years. The Raptors finished a dismal 27-55 during the
2005-06 campaign.

Toronto team president and general manager Bryan Colangelo was brought in to
change the environment and make the team a winner. He has a plan and is trying
to make the Raptors into a playoff team. Colangelo, who was hired by the
Raptors on February 28th, was general manager of Phoenix for 11 years, and
team president for seven before taking over in Toronto. He helped build the
Suns into a contender and one of the most exciting teams in the league
with smart personnel moves.

During the offseason, Colangelo added highly-touted Italian forward Andrea
Bargnani, who was the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, and lightning
quick point guard T.J. Ford, who was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks in a
trade for Charlie Villanueva. Colangelo also made All-Star forward Chris Bosh
the cornerstone of the franchise by signing the Georgia Tech product to a
lucrative, multi-year contract extension.

Bosh led the Raptors in scoring (22.5 ppg) and rebounding (9.2 rpg) in
2005-06. The 22-year-old Bosh has improved every year and has developed into
one of the top power forwards in the NBA.

The Raptors also acquired center Rasho Nesterovic in a trade with San Antonio,
signed free agents Jorge Garbajosa, Fred Jones and Anthony Parker and added
Texas product P.J. Tucker, who was selected by Toronto with the 35th overall
pick in the draft.

Colangelo is trying to work the same magic in Toronto that he did in Phoenix.
He has added a foreign flavor to the roster with the additions of Bargnani,
Garbajosa and Nesterovic, while Ford gives him a point guard who will have the
Raptors playing a fast-paced style which may not be as effective as the Suns,
but will be similar in style.

Ford, 23, had a sold season for Milwaukee during the 2005-06 campaign. He
averaged 12.2 points and a team-best 6.6 assists per game in 72 contests. The
6-0 Ford excels in transition and pushing the ball up the court.

Guard Mike James did leave during the offseason. The 31-year-old James signed
as a free agent with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He averaged 20.3 points and a
team-best 5.8 assists in 79 games for the Raptors last season. The loss off
James hurts, but it means that younger players on the Toronto roster will get
the opportunity to step up and play more minutes.

Head coach Sam Mitchell is back for his third year on the Toronto bench. He
will get his chance to succeed with the new-look Raptors. Mitchell needs to be
successful, as only time will tell if he is part of Colangelo’s big plan.

Toronto was a dismal 12-29 on the road last season. After tonight’s contest,
the Raptors return home for a four-game stand. They will host Milwaukee, San
Antonio, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

New Jersey is the best team in arguably the weakest division in the
NBA. It was an uneventful offseason for the Nets, who are the favorite to
capture the Atlantic Division for a second straight season.

The Nets finished 49-33 during the 2005-06 campaign and finished 11 games
ahead of the second-place Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic. In the
postseason, they defeated the Indiana Pacers in six games in the opening round
but were bounced in the conference semis by the eventual world champion Miami
Heat in five contests.

Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd give the Nets three star
players. The All-Star Carter, who shined in the postseason, led the team in
scoring (24.2 ppg), while Kidd dished out a team-best 8.4 assists and
Jefferson averaged 19.5 points and 6.8 rebounds. As good as these three
players are they still need help.

Nenad Krstic continues to get better. The 7-0 Krstic registered 13.5
points and 6.4 boards in 80 contests during the 2005-06 campaign. The 7-0
center is a solid player and important piece to New Jersey’s puzzle.

Not to be forgotten is the draft. Even though New Jersey didn’t make a big
splash in free agency or make any major trades, it did have a solid draft.
Drafting Connecticut products Marcus Williams and Josh Boone with the 22nd and
23rd overall picks had to have New Jersey’s front office smiling. Williams’
stock dropped for some reason, but New Jersey was not going to pass on the
pure point guard at No. 22. Even though Jason Kidd is the lead guard, the Nets
did the right thing and selected the best player available with their first
pick. The 6-10 Boone has a good work ethic, can rebound and adds some size to
the Nets’ roster. New Jersey added a power forward in Boone who will fill a
role and do the little things that helps teams win.

Veteran Clifford Robinson, who turns 40 on December 16th, did re-sign with the
club during the offseason. Robinson averaged 6.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 80
games last season for the Nets. He will be entering his 18th season in the
league.

Head coach Lawrence Frank returns to the bench. Since becoming the team’s
general on January 26, 2004, Frank has guided New Jersey to a 116-88 record.
The Nets have reached the playoffs in all three of his campaigns at the helm,
and have captured two division crowns. Frank owns a 12-14 record in the
playoffs.

New Jersey was a solid 29-12 at home in 2005-06. The Nets travel to Miami to
face the world champion Heat on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Nets won three of the four contests between the clubs last season. Toronto
has lost nine of its last 12 at New Jersey.

New Jersey has lost three straight season-openers, while Toronto has won three
of its last four.

NJN TOR