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Southern California's DeMar DeRozan dunks during the second half of a second-round men's NCAA college basketball tournament game in Minneapolis. (Jim Mone)
Southern California's DeMar DeRozan dunks during the second half of a second-round men's NCAA college basketball tournament game in Minneapolis. (Jim Mone)

Raptors' intentions far from clear Add to ...

The Toronto Raptors have spent the past several weeks auditioning players, painstakingly taking notes, making phone calls, watching and rewatching video.

But no matter how prepared they are, come Thursday and the crapshoot that is the NBA draft, anything can happen.

The Raptors have the No. 9 pick in this year's draft at New York's Madison Square Garden (The Score, 7 p.m. ET).

Who they end up with is far from a given considering the only somewhat sure thing is Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin going No. 1 to the Los Angeles Clippers. Who goes where from there on down to No. 9 is anybody's guess.

"It's definitely not clear water, let's just say that," Jim Kelly, the Raptors' senior director of player personnel, said in a phone interview Monday.

Making matters more muddled, the Raptors have several key free agents that may or may not be back next season, and so the makeup of the team remains somewhat in limbo.

"You try to project where they fit on our team and we happen to have a number of free agents, and we're not really sure if we're going to be able to re-sign those people," Kelly said.

"You've got to sort of project that we think we have a good chance with him, maybe not so much with him and if they don't come back, we can use him in a certain role. It's a little bit of a guessing game there."

Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker and Jake Voskuhl are unrestricted free agents, while Carlos Delfino is a restricted free agent. Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Joey Graham will be unrestricted free agents if the team doesn't tender a qualifying offer by June 30.

"It's a little bit of a guessing game but we do have a strategy of what we're going to do in the free agent market," Kelly said. "I'm sure as we get closer to the draft, maybe with trades or something else, well know if were going down the right path or not."

Most NBA mock drafts link the Raptors with Demar DeRozan, a 6-foot-7 swingman out of USC who did a solo audition for Toronto last week.

But Kelly said the team knew DeRozan well before he walked into the Air Canada Centre. Amongst all the members of the Raptors staff, the team had probably seen DeRozan 25 times, and every member of the staff has seen him.

"It would be about that number for anybody who's on our supposed short list here," Kelly said. "But you've never seen enough. As a scout, you can always see them one more time.

"We see them play against bad teams, against good teams, in good competitions, bad competitions, three-on-three, one-on-none, we try to evaluate them all."

Other players potentially in the mix: Memphis guard Tyreke Evans, UCLA guard Jrue Holiday, Wake Forest forward James Johnson, and Arizona forward Jordan Hill or Duke guard Gerald Henderson.

The Raptors have compiled their wish list of several players.

"It's sort of a fluid list, you try to get down to five to three to two, and eventually down to the one guy. But when you're picking at nine, you're sort of at the mercy of who's picking in front of you," Kelly said.

Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has had considerable success with the ninth pick in the past. As GM of the Phoenix Suns, Colangelo took Shawn Marion at No. 9 in '99 and Amare Stoudemire in 2002.

Those two picks were part of what prompted ESPN.com to rank Colangelo at the top of the list of the best drafters from the past 20 years. Colangelo also nabbed Canada's Steve Nash at No. 15 in 1996.

But this year's draft is considered weak, lacking the star power from past years.

"I think the guys in the top 10 are pretty good players, I just don't think they're the household name players, the big splash players, but I think there is talent there," Kelly said. "We have to find a guy who can complement what we have."

There could be some movement come Thursday night, which could also potentially throw a wrench in Toronto's best-laid plans.

"It seems that there are certain picks, probably two picks, that can be had. . . by teams a little bit behind us in the draft," Kelly said. "So there's sort of a wildcard, so you don't really know who they want when they move up.

"If somebody else moves into that slot, you have no idea what they would want in the draft. You might have a course where you think you know where everyone is and then on draft day, a complete surprise is there."

Nine is the highest pick Colangelo has had in Toronto since he took Italian centre Andrea Bargnani at No. 1 in 2006. Last year, the Raptors selected Roy Hibbert at No. 17, but traded his rights to Indiana in the deal that sent T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic to the Pacers for Jermaine O'Neal.

The pick is the team's fifth top-10 in the past 10 years. Previous top-10 acquisitions were Chris Bosh at No. 4 in 2003, Rafael Araujo (No. 8 in 2004), Charlie Villanueva (No. 7 in 2005), and Bargnani.

 

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