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Toronto Raptors' Jamaal Magloire, of Toronto, holds a ball as players return to practice in Toronto on Thursday December 8 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young (Chris Young/Reuters)
Toronto Raptors' Jamaal Magloire, of Toronto, holds a ball as players return to practice in Toronto on Thursday December 8 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young (Chris Young/Reuters)

Jeff Blair

Raptors' new system will be tougher, meaner Add to ...

Another general manager might have followed Brian Burke’s lead and called what plagues the Toronto Raptors ‘red and white disease.’ But since Bryan Colangelo has been general manager for everything including the contraction and incubation period, it is probably best that he refrain from colourful characterizations.

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The NBA is a mess. It is a league overseen by a commissioner with an out-of-control ego and a meddlesome bent yet still handcuffed to the cult of the star player.

The monster has turned on Dr. Frankenstein and that’s providing an added amount of cover for the Raptors at a time when their mission is play hard, don’t hurt the development of DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, give Andrea Bargnani one last chance before dispatching him out of town – and lose enough games to get a lottery pick in a loaded draft.

Cheer up: nothing the Raptors do on the court can match the embarrassment of David Stern.

Tanking is a difficult task. The artful tanker will beware of loading up on too many hungry, athletic, dead-end guys playing for their next meal, and will successfully find the proper balance of motivation and lack of talent. And it must have a coach who knows how to keep happy the one or two players of actual consequence. Refer, please, to coach Ron Wilson’s now-famous “weeding” analogy with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Raptors have seen new head coach Dwane Casey’s weed-whacker in practice. Sunday, they’ll see it in action when the Boston Celtics visit the Air Canada Centre for the first of two exhibition games.

Casey, a former assistant with the champion Dallas Mavericks, has everybody’s attention, whether it’s practices that leave bodies on the floor, or his lack of fear in comparing Bargnani, the GM’s fair-haired boy, to Dallas’s Dirk Nowitzki. He’s put in plays for Bargnani that worked for Nowitzki.

“I know a lot of people like that comparison,” Casey said, shrugging. “But the thing is, I’ve seen how those plays work.”

Colangelo has brought in big, plundering types such as Jamaal Magloire and earlier this week told reporters at the Raptors’ media day that last season “we had a very quiet circle, so to speak.

“At half time, very few people would say anything,” Colangelo said. “So at the end of the day, what we intend to do in terms of making this a successful campaign is instilling a system and a culture: tougher, meaner.”

DeRozan and Davis are the flowers among the weeds, and Davis’s growth might be the most fascinating aspect of this season. Davis could be Casey’s Luke Schenn. Colangelo believes Davis will be a power forward, but freely admits it’s up in the air whether it’s as a starter or reserve. To that end, Davis packed on 25 pounds of muscle – his father Terry, a hard-nosed former player, following through on a threat that his son would “sleep in the weight room.

“I didn’t bring pillows, like he told me I’d have to do,” Davis said, smiling. “ “I just kept lifting weights all summer … all fall … all November. It made it [the lockout]a little less hard for me.”

Casey said the 6-foot-10 Davis’s game is “non-descript” but it is said without malice. “He’s not a high-flyer, but he’s quick and athletic and is always around the ball,” he said of Davis, whose .576 field goal percentage was a franchise rookie record. “He’s not a great shooter, but he puts the ball in the basket. The No. 1 thing he needs to do now is learn how to screen people; how to be comfortable putting his body in harm’s way. It’s not about learning plays with Ed; it’s about learning how to play.”

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