As the Raptors prepare for the 2005-06 season, general manager Rob Babcock reflects on his rookie season and looks to the future in this one-on-one interview with the Swirsk.
Chuck: Could you review your first year as a GM?
Rob: The first year was a learning experience and we certainly made some mistakes. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes. We learned about the city, the team and the organization. We identified the issues and understand the challenges. Most importantly, we established a plan to get this team back to the playoffs and eventually compete for a championship.
Chuck: What do you mean "establishing a plan"?
Rob: When I took the job, I knew the pieces needed to build a successful team, but until you get there and learn about the team from the inside-out, you don't know how you are going to get those pieces. It took much of the year to fully evaluate our situation.
Chuck: Based on last year's record what are some of the things you can build on for 05-06?
Rob: There were some positives, even though we won only 33 games. There is a solid base of talent and character on this team. We have team-oriented players to build around both on and off the court. We have people that accept the responsibility of being a role model and are dedicated to helping others. The highlight of the year was getting to know the guys and what good people they are. I think we have a sound foundation to build on. We will continue to add talented players with character. We will not cut corners or make rash decisions.
Chuck: Any regrets?
Rob: I don't like the way I reacted in a few situations. I didn't have the experience and the knowledge that I have now, and I definitely would have handled a few situations differently. When you take all the different personalities on a team and throw them together, you are going to have some conflicts. We had some conflicts that I had never dealt with before and that were new even to Wayne, Jack and Pete.
Chuck: It has been reported that the Raptors locker room could have been better from a chemistry stand point. Your thoughts?
Rob: We have great guys on this team, but great guys don't always translate into good "chemistry". We did have some personality conflicts and we lacked leadership from players at crucial times. The coaches did a great job of leading our team, but you have to have leadership from the players as well. I believe that we have players on this team that have leadership potential and with experience that potential will come out. The three rookies we added are all from winning programs and that will certainly help.
Chuck: Is Chris Bosh ready to assume the role as "team leader"? Are the fans and media expecting too much from a 21 year old ?
Rob: I think we need to let Chris develop at his own pace. He is a dedicated player and a player with great character. He wants to be a great player and he will be. He is already a leader on this team and as a young man, he is developing his own style of leadership. We are here to help him develop. You don't want to force things on people. We know he wants to win and will do everything he can to help this team. His involvement in the community with his foundation is already an inspiration. People already admire and look up to him. I know that I do.
Chuck: The Sporting News says you are reluctant or hesitant about making a trade due to Vince Carter's success in New Jersey. Any truth to that?
Rob: That's not the case. I believe we would do the same thing over again with Vince Carter. If you're talking about why we didn't trade Donyell Marshall, teams had interest in Marshall, but what teams were offering us were players with multi -years remaining on their contracts. There wasn't a deal that made sense. We were looking for a younger player to grow with or a draft pick and it wasn't out there so we didn't do it. With the budget and the luxury tax situation we were able to use the mid-level exception and sign both Jose Calderon and Matt Bonner. We determined the direction we wanted to go and that's with these two players.
Chuck: How would yo describe yourself as a GM?
Rob: Thorough, always learning, patient, hard working, driven, committed, competitive. I am always looking for a way to improve and get better.
Chuck: Is it difficult to separate the matter of personal and professional relationships when you look to make a trade?
Rob: It is always difficult to trade a good person, but it is a business and you have to do what is best for the team. Had the Bulls not matched the offer sheet on Chris Duhon, we would not have been able to re-sign Matt Bonner. I love Matt Bonner. He is not only a good player, but he has all the values that you want in a teammate. We didn't want to lose Matt, but for the future of our team that's a risk that we had to take.
Chuck: Is last year out of sight out of mind?
Rob: I'm a history teacher and you study the past to make sure you don't make the same mistakes in the future. We reviewed the entire season, did it quickly and then turned our attention for the future.
Chuck: What are your plans for Rafael Araujo?
Rob: He checked in at 270 lbs - he won't tell you that the booing bothered him but it has to hurt. I am proud of and admire his reaction. He never made an excuse or blamed anyone else for his performance last year. He is a team guy and encourages his teammates.
Chuck: Where is his confidence at?
Rob: He had a good summer and is preparing hard. He has talent to play in this league. There were five games where things just clicked. It's not a large number but those games weren't flukes. He needs to continue to learn the game and adjust to the NBA. It doesn't happen overnight.
Chuck: How about Rafer Alston?
Rob: He has a lot of skill. He needs to make other players around him better.
Chuck: Can he do that at 29?
Rob: Last year was his first year as a starter and the pressure that comes with it. At Miami he was a productive player but remember he was coming off the bench. I think Rafer will learn from last year's experiences.
Chuck: What is your opinion of the point guard position?
Rob: We're developing. We have the talent. Rafer is a talented player and has the tools to be an outstanding point guard. The same with Jose Calderon. Calderon has proven he can lead a team in Europe but he has to prove he can do it at the NBA level. Rafer needs to prove that he can lead an NBA team on a consistent basis.
Chuck: What attracted you and your staff to pursue Calderon?
Rob: He's a true point guard. He's a winner. He's a pass first player who is totally consumed with winning a game. He's got good height and speed. He needs to develop physically but that will come.
Chuck: Are you disappointed your second round choice Roko Ukic signed with a European team?
Rob: Yes and no. It would have been fun to work with him but I am not disappointed because he needs to develop physically and can do that for a couple of years in Spain.
Chuck: So you expect one day he'll be in a Toronto Raptors uniform?
Rob: Yes, that's our expectation.
Chuck: Was it simply a case of money why he's not here?
Rob: Yes ... he thought he was a first-round pick. But by going in the second round the salary he would command would not handle the buyout of his contract in Croatia and he would not have made any money until well into his second year.
Chuck: Since we're on the subject of Euro-ball tell me about your plans for Uros Slokar?
Rob: We had been following him for over a year. We worked him out and liked his progress. He has good knowledge of the game and he is a fun guy to be around. Solid values guy. He played well in the summer leagues. I've had three or four teams call about acquiring him. He is with a great team and organization in Benneton and he will develop there and have a good chance to make our team next year.
Chuck: Did you set out to go after European players or did it just happen to work out that way? You now have three players in your system that played or play across the pond?
Rob: We're crazy to ignore the international market. We'll scout thoroughly. Scott Howard has done a great job organizing that department. But in answer to your question we want to draft and sign the best players regardless of what country they're from.
Chuck: What's the status of Alvin Williams for the 05-06 season?
Rob: All of us in the organization are hoping Alvin can return to the court. We are optimistic but at the same time must explore other options in the event his rehab carries over in to the regular season.
Chuck: It's NBA Draft night. The Raptors picking seventh select Charlie Villanueva. You get ripped on national TV by ESPN commentators for choosing Charlie V. Three months later does it still bother you regarding the direct criticism that was pretty harsh?
Rob: I would be lying to you if I told you it didn't hurt. No one likes to be criticized on national TV, but you have to let that stuff roll off your back. The commentators have their job to do and we have our job to do. If we start doing things based on what we think will be popular to the media, then we won't be doing our jobs. Ultimately, the player's performance and the team's performance will determine if we made the right choices.
Chuck: The criticism stems from drafting a player that plays the same position as Chris Bosh.
Rob: We took a player who fills multiple needs. He rebounds and has outstanding ball skills. He can play the 3, 4 or 5.
Chuck: Critics say Charlie V.'s work ethic was/is questionable.
Rob: That's been over blown. When he came out of high school his work ethic was questioned. He had never been challenged. He put his name in the draft and just wasn't ready. He pulled out and went to U-Conn and played for a terrific coach in Jim Calhoun and Charlie responded. He kept improving. He's not lazy. Calhoun had wonderful things to say about Charlie. He has raised his level of play each year. He's got a huge upside.
Chuck: So you, Sam Mitchell, Wayne Embry, Pete Babcock and Scott Howard were all on the same page to draft him at seven?
Rob: Exactly. We all agreed. We have an outstanding staff. Three former GM's with over 50 years experience (one a hall of famer), a head coach who played in the league and a scouting staff that is very experienced. I don't think all these guys are wrong.
Chuck: Up next, you're at 16. On the board you've got players such as Danny Granger, Gerald Green, Jarret Jack and Nate Robinson. You go for Oklahoma State's Joey Graham.
Rob: We needed a rebounder. We need toughness. We needed athleticism. He tested out as the top athlete in the Chicago pre-draft camp. He comes from an outstanding program at Oklahoma State. Eddie Sutton is recognized ... is a tremendous coach and teacher. You have to play defence at Oklahoma State or you don't play. He is an outstanding character guy.
Chuck: How do you think the youth movement will play out this season?
Rob: There will be some nights where it will be a "deer in the headlights" performance. There will be other nights full of excitement. You don't have instant success with rookies. I think you'll see their potential very soon.
Chuck: How does an older player fit in a youth movement?
Rob: You have to have mentors. We have outstanding guys like Jalen Rose, Mo Peterson and Eric Williams just to name a few and we need them to carry us in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
Chuck: You're returning to Brock University for training camp. Why?
Rob: We had a great experience at Brock last year. The people and the environment were outstanding and staying at Niagra Falls was both exhilirating and relaxing.
Chuck: What about preseason ball?
Rob: It's a time to evaluate your team and your players. It is a time for the coaches to put in their system and for the players to bond as a team. It is a crucial time of the season and a time that I love.
Chuck: That's all the time we have for today. Thanks alot for doing this Rob. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule.
Rob: No problem Chuck