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Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani drives past Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Michigan April 12, 2010. (REBECCA COOK/Reuters)
Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani drives past Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Michigan April 12, 2010. (REBECCA COOK/Reuters)

Jeff Blair

Are the Raptors too Eurocentric? Add to ...

This is the unhappiest sports city going so it's no surprise that a whispering campaign against Chris Bosh is in full force.

Has any place done a better job in a relatively short period of chewing up and spitting out franchise players? Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter … and now, quite likely, Bosh. Here we go again: In an unsubstantiated report in a Toronto newspaper this week referencing "word around the league," somebody suggested Bosh "shut down mentally" in order not to damage his marketability as a free agent. No surprise: When it comes to sports, Toronto seems to wallow in a world of imagined and sometimes even actual slights. Nobody has an off-game in Toronto, apparently, without having an agenda - and that's especially the case with the Toronto Raptors.

Even in the social club that is the NBA, it's difficult to discern how quitting would make Bosh a more viable free agent. His value is well-established, and after so many years of playing you'd have to think his strengths and weaknesses are apparent. Still, when a team pulls a retreat in the standings like the Raptors have done, who wouldn't look for an agenda or something deep and sinister? Teams win and lose because of talent and coaching and complementary pieces fitting together on the court or field and ice more than locker-room chemistry. Chemistry is all just so much hooey for fans and call-in shows and barroom debates - or so I've always believed.

But these Raptors? Mother of god, they have been abject enough for me to re-evaluate that belief.

So if we're going to whisper things about Bosh - if we're going to put that out on the table just in time for the New York Knicks to come to town for the Raptors' season finale tonight - let's talk about the Europeans. Or, as general manager Bryan Colangelo more properly calls them, "international players." C'mon, you know that's been out there all year, right? Does this team have too many international players? Or maybe just one too many Canadian-born head coaches?

Jose Calderon is not a starting point guard. Period. He is a walking mismatch. Andrea Bargnani seems happy being a complementary player who can disappear when it matters. And Hedo Turkoglu? I mean, really. So since we're looking in all the closets and corners, I asked Colangelo five questions via e-mail about his team being too international. He received it on his BlackBerry while watching Bosh get his face rearranged in Cleveland last week. (Bosh, no doubt, deliberately took the elbow for cover - all the easier to shut it down mentally.) This is a serious matter for a GM, who in his words still gets "told by a few agents not to bother." Toronto's long-term viability as an NBA franchise will depend on international players because international basketball players are a great deal like Latino baseball players: They've grown up with passports, so for them going through the Canadian border is not akin to an invitation to a night in Guantanamo Bay.

The flip side is that people still wonder about communication and culture. Hell, old-time basketball guys still wonder whether a team with so many internationals gets less respect from NBA game officials.

Colangelo wonders why Turkoglu doesn't get more calls ("Hedo, for whatever reason, has just struggled getting calls but it has nothing to do with him being an international player") and Bargnani's limited trips to the charity-stripe are due to his hovering on the perimeter by design. But with Bosh out, Colangelo agreed that, "Andrea does need to get more post-oriented and get to the line." Colangelo acknowledges his team has problems with defensive intensity but "that is not something limited to the international players." "Regarding defence and intensity," Colangelo wrote, "we seem to be challenged across the board.

"I have to continue building this basketball team following the same philosophy, convictions and instinct that have helped me find success throughout my career," Colangelo said. "No disrespect, but I can't let the media (or bloggers for that matter) dictate the way we conduct our business. In the end, winning games is the single biggest key to keeping our fans content and engaged."

Hey, Dirk Nowitzki's done okay. Pau Gasol. … Spare me, I know there are plenty of internationals who have made the move to the NBA. You can make a case that it all started to go pear-shaped here the second that Jose Garbajosa's leg exploded in 2007. But that's where we are, isn't it?

Fifteen years after the franchise started, and something's still horribly wrong with this city's NBA team. Once again, it's all about a star's mindset and whether he's checked out and other troubling areas where euphemisms and stereotypes and amateur psychology run rampant. Just never bloody works out, does it?

 

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