It’s not enough that the Tim Donaghy betting scandal consumed the media’s off-season attention concerning the NBA, but now Isiah Thomas and the owners of the New York Knicks have been found guilty of sexually harassing former employee Anucha Browne Sanders.
What a mess once again for the Knicks and who knows what this will mean for the team both on and off the court. When I saw yesterday that a guilty verdict had come in, I was admittedly quite pleased and laughed out loud about Isiah’s situation. Even funnier was Thomas’ brief statement to the media which sounded like something Vince McMahon had written for the next Wrestlemania. (In fact, weren’t you just waiting for Eddie Curry to come out and clothesline Isiah during his speech?)
Isiah’s on-court moves haven’t been viewed as "innocent" either so far either, as reportedly both Zach Randolph and Eddie Curry have shown up overweight (big surprise) and neither has played together yet on the court.
Perhaps this explains why John Hollinger has the Knicks ranked 11th in the East and therefore on the outside of the conference looking in.
It doesn’t explain however how he has the Raptors sitting in 9th, tied with the Nets fighting for the last playoff spot with the Hawks at 7, the Heat at 6, the Pistons at 5, the Magic at 4, the Celtics at 3, the Cavs at 2 and the Bulls at 1. I’ll hold off on my predictions for now but let’s just say I don’t have the Hawks anywhere near the 7th spot in the East.
In any event, the Raptors training camp is in full swing in Italy and I’m preparing to head off to Spain tomorrow to eventually get a glimpse of the club when they land in Madrid. The NBA signed off on media credentials for the site so it would be a vast understatement to say that we here at the HQ are A BIT excited about next week’s games.
For now though, Part II of the Media Day interviews. There will be a Part III dealing with only Bryan Colangelo’s interviews as by the time I finished this last night, I realized the whole thing was just too long to be read all at once and believe me, B.C.’s part warrants an article on its own.
It took me a while to get a hold of Delfino one on one. He was one of the first players out and the media grabbed him up pretty quick. I wanted to get him in a bit more of candid setting because honestly, I was curious to see how he reacted to media questions. Most of us know about his supposed outbursts while in Detroit so I wanted to gauge just how "standoffish" he was. I also was curious to see if he’d take the opportunity to rant about his time in Detroit. Delfino was all class though and while you could tell he was very careful about what he said (as you’ll see), he really didn’t bad mouth the Pistons organization.
Franchise: Talk to us a little about obviously the international play you just went through…how the team did, how you played etc…
Carlos Delfino: I think we did great. In the beginning we were kind of one of the teams that nobody was thinking about, especially compared to the Olympics because we didn’t come with the biggest "names" that we had in our country. Then we had great chemistry, we took the chemistry from each player and we showed everybody that playing as a team you can get better and compete. Then, personally I feel happy because it was a great challenge for me and a great opportunity. And even if I had the little situation before the tournament on my knee, and I did the rehab, I was able to be there to compete and help my team to win. I think that was the most important thing for me, the qualification, because now we are able to go and represent Argentina again at the Olympics and represent the gold medal we won last time.
Franchise: How’s the knee feeling right now? Is the leg itself ok?
CD: Oh I feel ok, I feel ok. I was just worried about it at the moment because I had the hit on my knee and I was feeling a little stiff. By the time for the tournament to start to play, I was worried about it. But I played all tournament long, I was playing a lot and I didn’t have any problems with it.
Franchise: Yeah, you did play a lot of minutes for your team, do you think that’s going to factor in at all during the season? Any issues with fatigue, things like that or do you think this team, the Raptors, as they’re composed right now, are so deep you think it’s not going to have an impact?
CD: Well, actually I got rest, I got two weeks rest because we started the summer after Detroit. And it’s like you said, this is a deep team, I don’t know how many players we’ll play but we’ll play a lot and I think it will be a bit more of a rotation team which will help out a lot.
Franchise: Detroit versus Toronto, how excited are you to be in more of an up-tempo system, maybe a chance at more minutes, more playing time, and your role here may be more of a slasher, sort of like you play when you play for Argentina?
CD: Yeah, I feel good about it. I was motivated and excited about it because my game is more like Toronto you know, up-tempo, run, I feel good. I’ve been with Detroit three years and all three seasons I was behind the three-point line, we’re playing five on five and we almost never run the court so now, maybe it will be good for me, I’m excited about it, because I will do my best to help this team, and to get better.
Reporter: And Toronto’s a much nicer city isn’t it?
CD: Yes, it is. (All in attendance laugh.) You can say that. I mean, I know Detroit after three seasons, I understand how it is, but still, I never see people walking in Detroit! So, here, I get here to Toronto, the first thing I saw with my wife is "wow, people are walking around, even with highways and everything!" You know, I have all respect for Detroit, the Pistons fans and the organization and everything because they helped me a lot, but the city, every time was highway, highway, highway. I feel pretty much comfortable about the city and being here.
Franchise: So did you feel you learned a lot from your time in Detroit? What lessons are you bringing with you to the Raptors?
CD: Just to play hard. Detroit was good because they have great system in place, and you play and practice hard. I want to do the same here and to help the team win.
Franchise: Thanks Carlos and best of luck this season.
Juan Dixon was one of the players who impressed me most from Media Day. He’s smaller in person than I imagined but has a presence to him that exudes confidence. Simply put, he looks ready for the season to get underway. Dixon had already completed his scrum by the time I rolled over so Ryan McNeill from HoopsAddict.com and I cornered Juan to get his take on the upcoming camp and various other issues.
Ryan: In March, I was a big fan of your game – 13.1 points a game, you had a great start. Now the wrist injury it kinda affected your game, how’s the rehab are you fully healed from that?
Juan Dixon: Uh, I’m pretty healthy, just dealing with a little foot problems right now but my wrist is perfectly fine. I got some work done over the summer, in terms of a lot of physical therapy, so, I’m healthy, and looking forward to kicking off training camp in Europe.
Franchise: How’s, what’s with the foot, how are things with that?
JD: Oh the foot is fine, just a little pain that I’m feeling. But, it’s just constant from all the working out and running and cutting, so I should be fine, I get treatment every day, and I’m looking forward to getting the season kicked off.
Ryan: You and Darrick Martin were the veteran leaders of this team. How are you approaching that role?
JD: Pretty much the same as last year. I got here in the middle of the year, but this year I’m here at the beginning, starting from media day and I’ma take it from there. I’m going to lead by example and hopefully the guys, you know if I have to give some input I’ll give a little input but for the most part we have a smart team, we’ve been around and know how to play the game of basketball. And most importantly, we have a locker room full of good guys so we should be good.
Franchise: With Mo Pete gone, do you feel your role with the team will change?
JD: No, same role as last year, we have some new pieces on the perimeter with Jason and Carlos so we have some guys that can play on the perimeter...more shooters, and hopefully we can open up the floor even more and get some easy baskets.
Ryan: Obviously you came mid-season last year so it’s hard to learn new offensive and defensive sets on the fly. Will you feel more prepared to have a full training camp under your belt and how is that going to change your contribution to the team?
JD: I’m here from the start. Last year I jumped on the moving train. It was unfortunate to be in that situation but this year I’ve been with the guys from the start and I’m going to put in the same amount of work that they put in so I’m really looking forward to starting the season off with the guys and I’m very excited. We’re all looking forward to the season.
Franchise: Deepest team in the league would you say?
JD: I think so, especially when you remember that everyone on our team can shoot the ball. So, that’s gonna be a plus. The floor’s gonna be open and that’s going to give guys like TJ and Jose and myself opportunities to get to the basket so hopefully we just continue to work and develop and things will work out for us.
Ryan: It’s a deep team but it’s also very deep at shooting guard and small forward, so there’s going to be some good battles...
JD: …Oh there’s gonna be some great battles, guys are going to have to compete every damn practice because coach is gonna give guys minutes who deserve it. Like I said it’s open, and whoever plays better, whoever’s out there being productive, those guys are gonna play.
Franchise: What team were you most impressed with this off-season in terms of the transactions and things they did?
JD: I thought Boston made some nice moves, obviously, they’re top of the East right now.
Franchise: You think so?
JD: Yeah so hopefully those guys can play well together, I’m sure they’re all first-class professionals and Boston, they’re back to the top of the East now.
Ryan: What are you most excited about training camp in Europe?
JD: Just the experience. I’ve never been to Europe so this is a first for me and I’m looking forward to it.
It’s funny, but each time I see TJ up close, he reminds me more and more of Sam Mitchell. I guess that’s a good thing considering TJ’s being groomed as a cornerstone of Sam’s club but sometimes TJ takes on Mitchell’s prickly demeanor with reporters as well. At times I can hardly fault Ford considering some of questions being asked (you can tell that some of the reporters were just baiting him with the Jose stuff), but at other times it’s quite entertaining to basically be watching a mini-Mitchell in terms of TJ’s mannerisms and expressions (see his "lace-up the shoes" line down below.) In any event, this was a full scrum around TJ but I managed to get a question or two in.
Reporter: First of all, how are you feeling?
TJ Ford: I’m feeling great. You know, as far as me, I’ve come in a lot stronger, I feel like I got better over the summer, I did all the things necessary to come in this season and be a better player than I was last year.
Reporter: What specifically did you work on in the off-season that you feel has improved?
TJ: You know, just confidence within myself. Just making sure that I’m unstoppable at all times and always continuing to put pressure on people. I definitely hit the weights pretty hard and just tried to tone up my body by getting more strength.
Reporter: Playoffs last year, what do you expect to achieve this year, what’s the goal for this team?
TJ: The goal? The goal is to continue…one of the goals is to just win our division again, be one of the best teams in the East, have the best record in the East, get back to the playoffs and get out of the first round and just take it from there.
Reporter: Do you think winning the Atlantic now, it’s going to be a lot tougher this year?
TJ: I think the NBA is tougher this year. I think all around the board. I think it’s good for people who are NBA fans, people who enjoy basketball, because now, you can’t pinpoint who’s gonna win. Who’s your pick in the East? Last year everybody was Detroit. Who do you have? You could say Boston, you could say Detroit, but, you’re gonna hear different answers depending on who you ask now.
Reporter: I mean a lot of people picked you guys to be third in the Atlantic right now.
TJ: That’s ok.
Reporter: Where do you see yourselves?
TJ: That’s fine, that’s everybody’s opinion, I mean, everybody still has to go out there and play I think that’s the biggest key. No matter if they basically have an All-Star team as far as three players, they’ve definitely been All-Stars since they’ve been in the NBA but, you know, they still have to lace up their shoes like we do. We’re gonna go out and play hard every night, we still have confidence that we can beat any team in the NBA.
Reporter: Do you pay attention to any Eurobasket? Jose played great over there…
TJ: …no I didn’t.
Reporter: …I guess he was tournament All-Star…
TJ: That’s good, you know definitely helped his country, definitely it’s good for him, as far as his confidence coming in to this season so, I’m happy for him and I can’t wait to line up in front of him for our first day of practice.
Reporter: You guys gonna go pretty hard on each other?
TJ: Why not?
Reporter: He was in a conference call last week and he was saying he understands his role, but he wants to make the choice for Sam difficult at least.
TJ: Well why not I mean everyone wants to outplay someone or wants to compete…he’s a competitor, I’m a competitor…we’ll see who gets the best of each other.
Reporter: When you look at your team, and we’re talking about on paper but that’s all we’ve got to work with right about this time of year, do you guys substantially better than last year?
TJ: I think so! I think with the moves that we’ve made, bringing in 3-point contest winner, definitely going to help us stretch the defense. And Maceo Baston is definitely going to help us down low. Delfino is a guy that’s been, probably underrated as a player since he’s been in the NBA, and just hasn’t had that opportunity to show everything that he can do, so, there’s an opportunity for him to step in and make people recognize him for a lot more than what he was able to showcase in Detroit.
Reporter: What goes through your mind when you think of Italy?
TJ: Bargnani (laughs.) I don’t know much about Europe.
Reporter: Have you been?
Reporter: Never been overseas?
TJ: I’ve been to Asia last summer and this summer.
Reporter: So what are your expectations?
TJ: My expectations? I don’t have any expectations. I really don’t. I’m just going to work…I mean, I’m not sure how much free time we have…I haven’t even looked at the schedule to see all the mandatory things they’re gonna have us doing, which I’m pretty sure is gonna be a lot. So hopefully guys are still able to have time to tour the city or go shopping whatever the case may be depending on how their body feels.
Reporter: TJ when you heard that Chris withdrew from the tournament this summer, what was your first thought, were you concerned, or did you have contact with him?
TJ: Naah, I wasn’t concerned. That’s the choice he made. Chris came to Houston and worked out, if he was hurt I’m pretty sure he would have told me if it was something that was serious. I guess he felt that this season was more important.
Reporter: Who’d you get to work out with this summer?
TJ: As far as on this team?
Reporter: Yeah, on this team, or just in general.
TJ: Me and Chris worked out only one day, that’s it.
Franchise: But you spent a lot of time in the Houston pro leagues, you were training in that kind of system?
TJ: Oh yeah, that’s my thing, pro-am, you’ll see me every year. If you ever come to Houston you’ll hear that I play in pro-am.
Reporter: Who plays in that league, what NBA guys?
TJ: Aaah, my team…it was me, Damon Stoudamire, Daniel Ewing that was with the Clippers, John Lucas Jr., Terrence Morris, Josh Smith, Sean Williams that just got drafted by New Jersey. On other teams you know you’ve got Rashard Lewis, Sam Cassell, Steve Francis, Mike James, Moochie Norris, a lot of people. We made it to the championship but we lost.
Reporter: Who’d you lose to?
TJ: Anthony Goldwire, Andre Emmett, they were on one team and they had a bunch of college kids who played really well.
Franchise: So you like playing in that sort of system in the off-season? Do you find it helps not only with conditioning, but also in terms of improving in-game skills that you can’t always develop just by lifting or doing one-on-one drills?
TJ: Oh for sure. You keep your speed and conditioning up, you get to bond with teammates, just things you don’t always get from being in the gym.
Reporter: How much stronger did you get in the weight room?
TJ: I feel like I got a lot stronger, that’s something that was my focal point and my biggest thing is to keep it up over the whole season. I don’t gain weight but I got stronger. I’m not a person you’re going to see bulk up, be able to pick up weight, that’s never been my thing and I don’t think that’s ever going to be my thing but uh, definitely got stronger.
Reporter: Do you notice the difference in your game as you get stronger?
TJ: Definitely. There’s a lot of things that I do notice, as far as making contact and still being able to put the ball through the hoop.
Reporter: Any lingering after-effects from your injury in the playoffs?
Reporter: None? It didn’t bother you at all in the weight room or playing?
TJ: Naah. No problems.
Reporter: When did it clear completely clear up?
TJ: The only problem I had was my hand! I mean, even with the neck thing, that went away in a couple of days, but my hand, I couldn’t even move my hand before that game. I guess a miracle happened before game time. Maybe a week later my hand was back to normal though, it wasn’t something that affected me for a long period of time.
Anthony Parker (joined in progress)
AP was doing a lot of Q and A’s with RaptorsTV so I didn’t get to get him for as long as I would have liked. Just talking to Parker though, you get the feeling that this is a guy who is much more valuable than his statline indicates. Parker’s personality just seemed to rub off on everyone and he’s obviously a huge key for the team this season.
Reporter: Do you feel like you need to now beat Boston to win the division?
Anthony Parker: It’s about us, we feel that we have just as good a shot as anyone else, and we’re gonna shoot for it again. I don’t think it’s a thing where we have to be worried about pressure or any other team, you know there’s 82 games and you’re gonna play so many different games that you don’t have time to worry about one specific team.
Franchise: Hey Anthony, RaptorsHQ.com here, just wanted to talk to you about some of the changes this off-season, Mo Pete’s now gone, how do you think your role on the team will change? Do you think you’ll be asked to do more slashing/scoring?
AP: No, I don’t think coach will ask me to do anything that I didn’t do last year or that I haven’t done. I don’t think any of our roles change as a result, we brought in some new pieces and certainly people are going to have to step in and fill in the gaps.
Franchise: How do you feel about the depth of this team? Do you think this is the deepest team in the league?
AP: That’s for you guys to decide! (Laughs.) I am very happy with our depth and number one, to go from a TJ to a Jose, to have that luxury is unbelievable. And I just think we have a lot of guys who know how to play and can step in and play. We don’t have any guys that are you know, like a deer in the headlights mentality. We have guys that have played and are confident that they can contribute to the team.
Franchise: Talk about your off-season a bit. What did you work on, where did you train, that sort of thing.
AP: I think last year I was able to get my shot going and felt real comfortable with my shot and I think teams are going to try to play up on me a little bit more this year. So I’ll probably have some opportunities to get to try to get to the basket and then finish that way. Hopefully that’s the case, I still think I’ll get some shots but I hope to get to the basket a little more this year.
Reporter: What kind of challenge do you think Boston poses for you guys?
AP: Everyone’s concerned about Boston, and rightfully so, I mean anytime you bring a Ray Allen and a Kevin Garnett in, in addition to a Paul Pierce you know you’ve got a great team. But I don’t think we should concern ourselves with any other team. We need to focus on ourselves right now and certainly we’ll play Boston several times this year but we’re not gonna focus on just them.
Reporter: This off-season didn’t see quite as many new faces with the team. Do you think this team then is further ahead of where it was last year at this time?
AP: I think so. Last year we had nine new faces trying to come in and learn the system, coaching staff trying to learn what different players can do and can’t do and this year I think it’s a little bit different where we’re a lot farther than we were this time last year. We have a lot of guys that have a year under their belt that know what coach expects of us and what our defensive principles are so we should improve.
Reporter: You guys went from 30th to 20th last year. I imagine it gets harder to get better in terms of defence the higher you go.
AP: That sounds like a coach conversation right there (laughs.) I’m not really dealing with how high we can go in the standings as far as the defence is confirmed but possession by possession we have guys that know what we need to do to get it done and what it takes to be successful. Wherever that takes us in the standings so be it, but we’re trying to get the wins.
Reporter: This is an offensive oriented team. In terms of personnel, you got more guys that can score than are Bruce Bowen types or Tim Duncan types, does that matter?
AP: I think that’s true of most teams, at least most successful teams in the NBA. But with the rules and everything it’s a scoring league and you have to have guys who can put the ball in the basket. But defence is about desire, it’s about being smart, it’s about understanding where you’re supposed to be at and it’s not always just the physical or athleticism of a person.