TORONTO, ONTARIO-- Some may say that because the Toronto Raptors have suffered an extraordinary number of injuries this season it is unfair to pass judgment on them. TORONTO, ONTARIO-- Some may say that because the Toronto Raptors have suffered an extraordinary number of injuries this season it is unfair to pass judgment on them. It is true that the Raptors have lost a disproportionate number of players to a wide assortment of injuries and ailments. In fact, only Morris Peterson has played in every game so far this year. And it could be argued that a healthy Raptors club would be doing much better than their abysmal 8-26 start this season.
But when it comes to a discussion of franchise player Vince Carter, the injury situation is not a reason to suspend judgment. On the contrary, injuries are at the crux of the problem. Carter, who has been surrounded with high-priced role players with long contracts, has suffered knee injuries in each of the last three seasons. These injuries have caused him to miss games, and his knee woes have probably prevented him from playing to his full potential when he does play. Now, I’m not suggesting the Raptors trade Vince Carter. But given his recent history, it’s not unreasonable to question whether or not the club should re-evaluate his status as the future of the team.
Vince Carter’s superstar status has taken a hit recently. A perceived lack of toughness, intensity, and will to win have many wondering if Carter has what it takes to lead a team to a championship. Now the legs that once lifted him above his competition – legs that rejuvenated a stale, unimaginative slam dunk contest at the 2000 All-Star Game, and that allowed him to become the most popular athlete in a Canadian city where hockey was, is, and always will be number one - have begun to fail him. The long-term success of the franchise is now relying on Carter’s gimpy limbs, and for this reason management should consider devising an alternate game plan.
The Raptors current roster was built with Vince as the foundation for the present and the future. He was to be the cornerstone of a team that was to build on the success of the 2000-01 season, which saw the Raptors come within a basket of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals. But Vince has yet to fulfill this role, partly because of his injuries. And so not being able to count on your main player to be healthy for the majority of the year means another player has to step into that role. The Raptors current roster lacks such a player.
Of course, basketball is a team game and the other players are professionals and should be able to pick up the slack. But when a player is unaccustomed to that role it may be asking too much from him. Morris Peterson was looked at by many to be at second scoring option. Unfortunately again this year his frustratingly inconsistent play disqualifies him from that role. Alvin Williams is a solid player, and is having his best season in the league so far, but it is unreasonable to expect him to be able to score 20 points a game, run the offense and defend the opponent’s best guard at the same time. Antonio Davis is a warrior and a great leader. He will give you his best effort on a nightly basis, and put up 15 points and grab 10 rebounds a game. Once again, he is at his best playing a supporting role on the team, and isn’t the type of player who can take over a game. It is apparent that with Vince out of the lineup for extend periods of time, Toronto lacks a go-to guy and thus the team will have trouble scoring points.
There is another problem. Toronto is in luxury tax territory. The Raptors have many players with long-term contracts that would be hard to move, as most teams are attempting to divest themselves of players with these types of deals. It’s not impossible to get rid of players like this, but it will take some creativity on the part of general manager Glen Grunwald. For example, Jerome Williams’ energy and defensive intensity, or Antonio Davis’ presence in the middle may be attractive to a team that feels it is one