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Game-Day Preview - Raptors vs. Celtics

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We could use Chris Webber right?

Sure he’s playing on creaky knees but he’d be a nice complement to Chris Bosh in the post or even off the bench wouldn’t he?

And we probably have the cap space to sign him...think we could clear some playing time?

Of course I’m joking, but it seems that this is the exact mentality of half the league right now. As most know, Webber was recently bought-out of his contract with the Philadelphia 76ers less than two years after being brought there in attempt to make a final championship push with Allen Iverson. It didn’t work out and after AI was recently traded, it seemed like Webber was next on the chopping block.

Call it the ebb and flow of the NBA if you will. Teams, especially poor ones, seem to undergo this facelift every four or five years. Go as far as you can with your overpriced players before a new regime tears it all down to start anew (see the Denver Nuggets a few years back and the Atlanta Hawks EVERY season.)

However I think these types of transactions kill the league.

Only in the NBA can one player hold a franchise under such a hostage-like grip. We’ve seen it with T Mac, seen it with Vince here in Toronto and Chris Webber has already been the bane of a few franchises prior to his stint in Philly. Sure there are holdouts in the other major sports, but the buyouts in the NBA are frankly out of control. Here’s Chris Webber, an underachiever for his entire career, being paid not to play but to now go and sign with another club. Isn’t that kind of like saying:

"yeah, sorry Chris, we really blew this. We thought you’d come and help us win a title but you’re not that good anymore and overpaid so why don’t we just give you a ton of money to go and play with a better team?"

And make no mistake, that’s what will happen. It’s happened with all of the players Isiah Thomas acquired and then cut loose (Jalen to Phoenix, even Shandon Anderson in Miami and may yet happen to Stevie Franchise) and we’ve seen it first-hand with Alonzo Mourning. No sooner had the words "Webber will be waived" been uttered than Dallas, Miami, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Detroit were all rumoured to be in the mix for the ex Wolverine.

Yes I know, life, or the NBA, ain’t fair but this isn’t a rant against Webber or the amount of money he’s making for leaving (reportedly 38 of the $43 million he was owed.) If that were the case I’d have discussed the merits of signing David Beckham for the equivalent of the GDP of Nauru.

This is simply a public plea for David Stern to change a system which rewards terrible management and players’ sense of supreme entitlement. Seriously, unless more teams start pulling a Scott Skiles and making stars sit instead of just paying them to leave (see Tim Thomas last year with the Chicago Bulls) any star in the league can simply put in his 10 or so seasons and then say "ok, that’s enough, time for me to win a championship" and then pout and complain until his team buys him out, leaving the player free to hitch on with the title-contender du jour.

In fact I wouldn’t be surprise to see this happen with Toronto’s foe tonight. Paul Pierce is hurt and likely won’t be back for a while and the team continues to struggle with its identity.

Are the Celtics a rebuilding club ready to make way for their youngsters like Gerald Green, Al Jefferson and Tony Allen? Or do they still feel that Paul Pierce is the centerpiece of the club and if surrounded by the right group of complementary players, the team can continue to work towards Championship contention?

The pundits have been saying for years now that Pierce has to go and I tend to agree. The Celtics aren’t going to get a star in return (as we’ve seen whenever a top star gets dealt) but if they keep fumbling with the blueprint and are unable to decide which direction they are headed in, the C’s risk a Webberesque situation in which Pierce begins to demand a move to allow him to play for a "contender."

Because right now, contenders the Celtics are not.

However that doesn’t mean Toronto can waltz through this game. Even with the onslaught of injuries the Celtics have faced, the team plays a style that has given the Raptors fits this season. The Celtics are equipped with some lightning-quick guards who have the ability to get into the paint and wreak havoc. Toronto is therefore going to have to do a number on the perimeter with quick rotations and switching defensive looks to prevent easy baskets. Even with their injuries the Celtics are one of the better three-point shooting teams in the league so Toronto needs to make sure it challenges and prevents easy looks from the exterior.

Al Jefferson has started to figure things out too and Toronto needs to keep him off the glass tonight. Jefferson has been averaging close to a double-double in the past few weeks and has kept his injury-riddled mates in many a game. Chris Bosh and Jorge Garbajosa will likely draw the assignment of putting a clamp on the young power forward and if they can in fact do this, it will substantially limit Boston’s scoring ability and give the Raptors a major advantage. Without Pierce, Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Tony Allen the Celtics will be leaning on Jefferson and Gerald Green for the majority of their scoring so taking one of these two out of the picture bodes well for the Raps.

And let’s be honest here - this is another game like Milwaukee that Toronto needs to win. The Celtics are starting Allen Ray for crying out loud! A loss would be completely unacceptable and seeing as New Jersey has reclaimed the division lead with their win over the Bulls last night, Toronto needs this one to keep pace before heading home to face the Mavericks.

Finally, I’m not expecting a very pretty game tonight. Like the Raptors’ last match against the Bucks, I expect this one to be extremely choppy at times as the Celtics search for a rhythm offensively. What I’ll be watching closely however is how Sam Mitchell doles out the minutes at the 2/3 spot. Beside Anthony Parker, no one has been able to consistently give Toronto the minutes it needs and now Morris Peterson’s name has been linked to trade rumours out of Detroit. Even with the impending Chris Webber situation, trading for Mo makes sense for the Pistons who too have been ravaged by injuries and are short on bench skill to begin with.

So who would Toronto take back in this deal?

I looked at various scenarios and while some work financially, I’m not sure there’s anyone on Detroit that I really want. The prospects they have are still quite raw (Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson) and not sure they really would add anything to a Raptors’ team looking to make the playoffs this year.

Perhaps the most intriguing trade I could get to work was Morris Peterson bringing back Dale Davis’ expiring contract and Carlos Delfino. I’ve always felt that Delfino was under-used in Detroit and his game fits with the Raptors’s style and needs. A solid shooter from long-range, he’s also no wilting flower and can get to the rim. While the Pistons lost to the Bobcats on Wednesday, Delfino had a stand-out game and threw down a number of vicious dunks on Charlotte. He’s also got a year left on his contract which would give Toronto time to evaluate his fit with the club. And of course, it goes without saying that the Raptors would become even more of an international franchise.

Bryan Colangelo has plucked under or misused players from teams before (Boris Diaw) so maybe he’ll see something in Delfino that others haven’t. That being said, maybe Toronto could push Detroit into throwing in the first-round pick in this year’s draft that it’s receiving from Orlando via the Darko deal...

...or with Pape Sow ready to return, maybe the Raps don’t need to make any moves at all...

FRANCHISE