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Well Christmas (or to be politically correct the "Holidays") is upon us. It’s the time of year when children write to that large over-weight bearded white guy in hopes that the following morning an XBOX 360, or Playstation 3 awaits them…oh no wait…that’s me... (that "Gears of War" commercial just shows how far we have come from the days of "NHL 97" and "Contra.")

So with the holidays upon us, we here at the HQ decided to come up with our own wish list, but one that examines both the Raptors and the NBA as a whole. What are we writing to Santa for this year? Well, here is an excerpt from our letter:

Dear Santa,

"Our first wish, is for an easier schedule. We know Santa that you may need to talk to the Grinch himself David Stern to make this work, but the Raptors have been given the short end of the stick thus far. Two road swings out West, countless back-to-backs and more road games than any other team in the league. Fortunately Toronto has done a great job of keeping their collective heads above water during the first part of the season. Now sitting atop the deadly Atlantic Division, this upcoming schedule could allow them to not only stay close to the top, but possibly even pull away considering that Chris Bosh should be back soon. So maybe it isn’t an easier schedule we are looking for…maybe just for the team to stay focused and not lose games that they really should win as yes, there are lots of those coming in the New Year.

Of course we know it is hard to win games when players are being hit by the injury bug time and time again. So what’s our next wish Santa? How about a spray can of OFF to keep the bug away? A new team Nurse? (Maybe one of the "Vivid" variety?) How about a few liters of milk for each player…it does a body good right? Whatever it is, please bring us something to keep this team healthy and help get our guys back. In particular Chris Bosh. Watching this team grow over the second half of the season could be especially interesting considering it could very well be glimpses of what "could be" over the next 2.5 seasons. Of course, it will be hard to see that potential if guys are consistently on the shelf.

As both Franchise and I know, it’s hard to witness the growth of a team when you head back out East for the holidays. (Halifax and PEI respectively.) Nobody here subscribes to RapsTV so unless we find the odd sports bar, most of the time we are left to our imagination when it comes to the games and what exactly has happened. Highlights are great for the occasional fan but we at the HQ demand more! No, we don’t want to be greedy but is it too much to ask to make games available in this part of the country during the holidays?? Halifax at least has a good-sized basketball community...PEI...not so much. So Santa, please bring in your Rudolph-led sleigh, some RaptorsTV and Sporstnet Ontario access. (Oh, and maybe we’re pushing it here but could the RaptorsTV coverage be minus Chuck and the gang with the exception of Jack...who after a few cold ones could probably double as Rudolph?)

Wanting more is something that most Raptor backers seem to be feeling as of late. This team has started to play good ball and it is virtually impossible not to want even more from these guys. Slowly we, the fans, are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and after losing season after losing season, with not a mention of the playoffs, and a resulting tough atmosphere around the team, can you blame us? We just ask Santa that you help keep the expectations at a reasonable level. Of course what "reasonable" exactly seems to be is another question - in fact, it’s graded on a sliding scale. At the beginning of the season the talk was about wins and maybe sneaking into the playoffs. Now? Is winning the Atlantic that far out of reach? With Nenad Krstic’s injury leaving the Nets front-court so thin that it makes Kate Moss jealous, Boston still being coached by Art Shell…err Doc Rivers (although these guys are completely interchangeable,) Philadelphia having no chance in the next two seasons and New York simply being New York, is it not possible that the Raps WIN the division? We don’t want to get our hopes too high, but with a healthy CB4 are you willing to bet against this team considering the competition? We aren’t Santa, but maybe a dose of reality here and there will help to keep us from becoming Leafs fans...you know, those ones that parade up and down Yonge Street with tinfoil Stanley Cups - after they’ve won Game 2 of the first playoff round...

Finally, one of the sayings around this time of year is "health and happiness." But for the 06-07 Raps squad all we really want is the former. The latter already seems to exist. There is no squabbling between the players or with the coach, there are no reports of the GM and coach not speaking, and it seems like ever player is supporting and cheering on the other. It’s great Santa that we don’t have to ask for anything in this regard. In fact, the Raptors’ ship seems to be righting itself. The culture is changing and so Santa in the end, there is little that we are asking for Raptor-wise. But just in case you are feeling overly generous this year, here are 10 things we would like to see under the tree NBA-wise:

10. Fighting 101 for NBA players. Someone needs to teach these boys how to fight like men. Maybe they should all be sent to boot camp, or kickboxing class. Guys, if you are going to hit someone, do it with a closed fist! What is with all the slapping? If I wanted to see people slapping each other I would tune into Jerry Springer! Carmelo, wouldn’t it have been a more enjoyable 15 game rest had to actually laid into Jefferies? Instead your bad boy image is completely gone. And what’s with the running away after the fact?! Steve Nash said it best concerning Melo’s "punch;" ""Typical NBA punch. In hockey, your own team would beat you up for that." That being said, what we DON’T want to see is the type of unexpected haymaker that Awvee Storee laid on Martynas Andriuskevicius in the NBDL...

9. A full return to New Orleans by the Hornets. The fans in Oklahoma City support the Hornets but really we feel that this team needs to get back home to a city that still needs support and something to cheer for. The Saints are back…now it is time to get the Hornets back as well.

8. A change of scenery for Roko Ukic as apparently he is getting no burn with his current squad. This kid could still be an excellent baller for the Raps sooner rather than later but he is going to need minutes to develop. Colangelo is heading across the pond to check on his progress and while he is over there hopefully he can push a trade so that Roko starts getting some serious PT.

7. A new broadcast team for the NBA Draft. Ever since the draft has been covered by the likes of Steven A. Smith, it has become unbearable to watch. With what looks to be such a GREAT draft class ahead, it would be nice to watch it without wanting to put my hand through the screen because Smith is ranting and raving about everything and yet nothing in particular. Bring back Barkley!

6. An end to the Kevin Garnett situation. What situation you ask? Well, the one where he gives 110 per cent every game and practice and is surrounded by the likes of Ricky Davis, Marko Jaric and Mark Blount. GET HIM SOME DECENT TEAMMATES OR TRADE HIM. I mean, how does this guy feel now that the possible saviour to his career, Allen Iverson, is in one of the few places with snow this Christmas? (As an aside, anyone else find it ironic that the player who may have clinched the deal for Denver, Joe Smith and his expiring contract, is the same player who got the T Wolves in much of the mess that they’re in now!) In any event, KG is not getting any younger and while you have to love the fact that he has only played for one team in his career, give the guy some help! If he asks to leave, they have to accommodate him. Garnett has done everything asked of him and then some and besides the Sprewell/Sam I Am years, the T-Wolves have given him little in return (player wise, not cash-wise of course) while running a crash-course in team mismanagement 101. If anything, Garnett should be HAPPY that Rob Babcock is on board! As an added bonus to this wish, if Garnett does finally get traded or obtains some better talent around him, I’ll finally be relieved of seeing the weekly Sam Smith article from the Chicago Tribune on Hoopshype.com discussing how the Bulls can best obtain KG.

5. A break for New York fans. There had better be a high suicide watch on in New York the day of the draft. The fact that Chicago can switch places with the Knicks in this year’s draft could haunt that franchise even more than some of the ludicrous contracts on their books. If New York sees a player like Oden, Durant, or any of the current top five guys end up in a Bulls’ uniform because of the Eddie Curry trade (regardless of how well Curry is currently playing,) that may be the breaking point.

4. The conclusion of the ball debate. This might be the most boring story of the NBA season. Let’s get back to the old ball and pretend Stern didn’t gaffe like he did. Cuts on your hands? What is the new ball made of, recycled razorblades?

3. More Gilbert Arenas. The major networks love to drone on and on about the likes of Kobe, Lebron, D Wade et al. However Arenas (aka Agent Zero) has become one of our favourite quotable athletes here at the HQ. His latest gem? After dropping 60 on Kobe and the Lake Show only to have Bryant state that most of his points were "lucky," Gilbert is apparently now going to start saying "quality shots" when he’s draining jumpers during a game. Doesn’t this sound like some sort of inside joke that one of your friends has with you? What’s even better is that "quality shots" is going to be a replacement for what Arenas USED to say - "hibachi." Yep, more Gilbert please.

2. An NBA title for Steve Nash. We’re not sure how many years he’s going to be able to keep playing at this pace, but we’d love to see Nash and his Suns (who not so long ago had critics by the bucket-full saying that their style of basketball would never be successful) go all the way. Yes, Nash’s two MVP trophies were vindicating and awe-inspiring. But a title would really cement his status as one of the best (maybe top five?) to have ever played his position. He’s shown this year already that he’s capable of carrying the team on his back and provided the Raptors don’t suddenly storm the East and make it to the Finals, this is one team we’d love to see reach its potential.

1. Finally, a new in-game entertainment setup for the ACC. Ok...so that one’s a bit Raptor-oriented...but seriously, the echo at home games is so bad now that we can’t even make-out Herbie’s over-pronunciation of the foreign Raptor players’ names! I never remember it being this bad and between the echo and the terrible music selection to begin with (WHY are we still playing hip-hop instrumentals from three years ago while Toronto is bringing the ball up the court?) it doesn’t bode well for "getting the fans more involved in the game." And further to this, how about playing the music at appropriate moments. Nothing made me want to puke more than seeing Jose Calderon writhing on the ground in agony while the Four Corners Sound Crew spun "Hey Ya..."

So that’s it Santa, the HQ’s neat and clean wish list. Nothing too fancy, and nothing too strenuous for you and the elves. Of course, if you wanted to throw that XBOX 360 in the sleigh…"

Happy Holidays to everyone from the HQ.

HOWLAND