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Tip In + More: Tough Loss But Tougher Questions

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I admit. It was my responsibility to talk about the Dallas game, and yes it is a day late. Thanks to the digital box and "TiVo" however, I did take it in, albeit 30 hours later (and yes, knowing the outcome). I was hesitant to hit the play button knowing that in the end it was going to be another L, but I knew two things: (1) the collapse was imminent; and (2) knowing it was imminent, I could spend time analyzing why it happened. With the rewind capabilities I figured it could be fun.

I did watch the game very carefully, but at times found it hard to concentrate. Not because the game was boring. This was NBA ball at its best. The reason was I couldn't stop thinking about the off-season, and what could possibly happen to take this team to the next level....well at least to the point where 24 point leads are safe, no matter who the foe.

I am going to assume at this point most of the readers have seen the highlights, watched the game, or read about it. So without getting into the statistical details of what ended up being the Dirk Diggler show, here are a some thoughts on how a few of the usual suspects played, but more importantly the questions that surround them.

Mike James

No doubt the Space Mountain nickname fits. I am having second thoughts though. I watch this guy I think Bulldog. Someone should just drape him in the Union Jack and team him up with Brett Hart. The way he is built, the way he backs down from no-one, and the way he barks at others while on the court. More importantly however, sometimes this guy needs to be leashed in.

If you saw the game the whole atmosphere changed when Joey Graham inadvertently clothes-lined (this is getting more WWE all the time) Jason Terry and absolutely planted him....yes pot, dirt and all. When Terry (after getting teched up) came back on the court and started jawing at the rook, Mike James stepped in and basically told Terry to back off. Mike as a result got a technical as well, and things suddenly got personal. If you have watched the Raps AT ALL this year you know that Mike James takes everything personal, just to different degrees. When things get personal with James the bulldog in him really comes out, and then every viewer is given a ticket..... to Space Mountain.

This game was no different. James jacked three's and nailed some money shots. He also over dribbled and at times bit off more than he could chew. This is Space Mountain. This is the nature of the Bulldog. The Raps now know what they have. They obviously like what he brings as there was really no discussions, at least none leaked to the press, about dealing Mike James. Some will argue if he walks we will be revisiting the D-Marsh exit. That argument is only made by the ignorant.

Mike James has come out and said that he really likes Toronto. The fact that Bosh is a supporter is no secret either. If the Boston Herald is reporting accurately (which is more likely than if this report came from the NY Post), then James is going to want more than the mid-level to stay in Toronto. Yes, more than $6M per. Even though the Raps are going to have close to $15M in cap space this upcoming off-season, this is a big investment. This will undoubtedly be one of the first issues that a new GM will have to consider.

Suddenly the question is not simply "Mike James....who?" The real question is what is Mike James going to be 3+ years from now if he is demanding a long-term contract. He is thirty. He's not young. It is a career year....and a contract year. Three years from now the best case scenario is he's a Vinnie Johnson like player. A great spark off the bench. In certain ways Mike James is a guy I hate to love. Still, I'm with Bosh. I want him back, but damn that seems like a lot of cash. On top of this we all know.....you can't teach a old dog new tricks. The ultimate question for management is whether re-signing him gets Bosh to walk into the executive offices of the ACC to re-sign.

Matt Bonner

In the Dallas game Bonner was useless. Sure he hit the three to tie. Other than that he did nothing in 21 minutes of action. In fact (thanks to the rewind!) it was Bonner's poor rotations that left more than a few Mavs with open threes. If Bonner does not find his stroke quickly he has very little value to the team. If you are the hired gun you best not be shooting blanks. It's tough, cause as a fan you know Bonner is a good guy, and plays hard. Unfortunately he plays a game where the freakishly athletic dominate. The new haircut clearly has not made him more aerodynamic and he is a step slow. When he misses his assignments it is the lack of speed that makes it impossible for him to recover. It was very evident in this game.

It wouldn't surprise me if Bonner ends up being the 8th or 9th guy on the bench. All things considered that probably is not a bad thing. He's not a guy to complain, and still has that innocent smile that just says, "Damn I am happy to be here." He is also a guy that when you are down 20 you can stick in the game just to see if he can get hot and bring the team back withing 10. That's it. Unless he works like mad on footspeed in the off-season we have seen the best of Matt Bonner.

Charlie Villaneuva

Charlie is definitely doing well since entering into the starting line-up and watching him in the first half was awesome. Sky is the limit. His ability to do everything on the floor makes him so valuable to the team. His steal late in the game was huge. It will be really exciting to watch him for the last third of the season.

No question that there are definite holes in his game but I can't help but wonder if a lot of that is the result of the coaching. I realize he is playing the three, and offensively he can. You can tell that Sam runs very few plays for him and he still manages to fill it up when the ball moves. Here's the catch. He can do more. A lot more. The fact that CV Smooth plays the three does not mean he can't post-up and spend more time in the paint. Run isolations for him, take the smaller defenders down low. Put him in a position to rebound. What ever happened to the talk of him getting his points on put backs and offensive boards? Sam run some plays for him and don't let him settle for the outside shot! Lately I have reached a new high with #31.

Charlie has the ability to be the second option behind Bosh. The ability to make other coaches enter a game against the Raps and say to themselves...."Well time to pick our poison". The pressure in on the staff to give Charlie the chance to become the offensive weapon that breeds such a mentality. The pressure will be equally high this off-season when new management is looking at free-agents. There is the idea that bringing a guy like Peja in would be awesome. The great inside-outside game between him and Bosh could be sweet (too bad we are not getting to see a sample of that in Indiana right now with Peja and O'Neal). That said where would that leave Charlie? Off the bench? I don't support that idea.

Antonio Davis

Perhaps my hopes surrounding the return of AD were too high. Maybe seeing him back in the Raps uni brought me back a few years where you could run a play for him in the post and he would use that turn-around J to beat his man. I did not think that he would be taking pages out of Hoffa's book. Watching AD lumber across the court in Dallas was painful. Perhaps not as painful as some of the hard fouls he is good for every game, but he is showing his age. He will be hard pressed to find a roster spot next year anywhere in the L. I can see him on the bench as a coach of some sort but not as a player. Plain and simple AD brought nothing in this game that a guy named Hoffa couldn't bring.

Apparently Sam has given up on the youth movement the Raps have at the 5 spot as Hoffa continues to rock the suit and Pape is getting sores from sitting for so long. I could understand not playing these guys if AD was bringing something to the table, but he has shown little. I sure would like to attend a Raps practice to see if he is at least showing the young guys a thing or two.

Chris Bosh

Damn. This guy wants to win so badly. This would have been such a tough loss for him to swallow. At home, in front of friends and family and his team squanders a huge lead. He definitely made some mistakes, but we are not far from the time when he is the best guy on the floor 99 out of 100 nights. His dunk at the 7 minute mark of the 3Q is the reason why I have not deleted this game from the digital box. His range just continues to grow and his basketball IQ is well above that of a regular NBA player.

Speaking of Bosh's friends and family Norma had her low point of the season as the interview with Chris' mom was painful to watch. Most of the interview was just gibberish due to the mass amounts of noise the Dallas fans were making, and it was clear that Moms' Bosh did not want to get into the contract situation other than to say that Chris liked Toronto. So bad interview, no biggie. Here's my concern though: Any camera shots or interviews with a players Mom reminds me of VC and his "meddlesome" mother. Vince's Mom was too involved. Let's not push and pry to see if, or how much, Bosh's mother is involved. There may be no reason to fret, two totally different situations, but let's not add fuel if there is a fire.

Sam Mitchell

I don't have much to say about Mitchell's performance per se. He was ok. What is more important to me is how new management is going to deal with this. Whether it is Colangelo or Janet Reno, they are going to look at this team and undoubtedly think, "Man, had they just won the close one's" and as a result will wonder whether replacing Mitchell with a more experienced coach might speed up the rebuilding process. Doesn't that sound familiar?

Do you let Mitchell continue to grow with these guys and take the lumps, or do you try for a quick fix? Are we going for a Utah, San Antonio approach where the coach stays no matter what or will we always bo looking for someone new?

For whatever reason it was this game. The game I missed. The game they blew. The game that I saved because of the best Raptor dunk of the year. It was this game that made me realize that it is this off-season, perhaps more than any other that will direct this team for the next 5 years. Maybe this will be the reason Colangelo will accept the job. So many questions to be answered, and a great opportunity to put his stamp on the team immediately. So many moves, from big to little, that will make the difference between closing out games against the big boys, and not watching a halftime lead disappear. Moves that will determine the Raps place in the East for years to come.

This summer it is going to be a fun time being a raps fan. Too bad it took such a harsh loss for it to truly dawn on me.

HOWLAND