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The Globe and Mail

With Raptors returning, interest in Toronto sports simmers once again

Toronto Raptors new vice-president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski (left) poses with GM Bryan Colangelo following a news conference in Toronto.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Believe it or not the Toronto Raptors have a heartbeat.

Although it might take an MD to detect the pulse, it is there, however faint, beating within the chests of Canada's only National Basketball Association franchise.

Granted, the interest level in the Raps has fallen practically off the map, even in Toronto where the bar has been set especially low with the antics this past season of the Argos, the local Canadian Football League outfit.

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Coming off a dismal 6-12 CFL regular-season fiasco, at the very least the Argos have the 2012 Grey Cup being staged in their own backyard as a prop to inject some interest into next year.

And don't forget the pending coronation, expected later this week, of Montreal assistant and offensive whiz Scott Milanovich as the new Toronto head coach.

That will free up Jim Barker to concentrate solely on his general manager duties. Maybe he will even be able to find a quarterback with all his freed-up spare time.

Then there's the Leafs, enjoying their status as one of the top NHL teams through the first third of the season.

If this keeps up the head honchos at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment will be able to hike up the cost of the already outrageously priced draft beer that is dispensed at the Air Canada Centre – and nobody will care.

As for the Blue Jays, they appear headed in the right direction and Major League Baseball did them a big favor by announcing an additional wild card team for the playoffs. Who says you have to spend money to get ahead?

So where does that leave the Raptors and their star-bereft lineup now that the NBA has finally got its house in order with a new collective bargaining agreement with the players that has salvaged the 2011-12 season?

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The Raptors will undoubtedly be crappy this season so it's to their benefit that the regular season has been pared back to 66-games from 82 because of the labour strife. The schedule is expected to begin on Christmas day.

The team is still in major rebuilding mode so don't expect president and general manager Bryan Colangelo to add any high-priced free agents – at least not for this season.

If the Raptors were content to bite the bullet last season after Chris Bosh flew the coop to Miami and let the "kids" develop through extensive playing time, it makes no sense to now alter that blueprint for a team that won just 22 times.

"The plan is to acquire the right pieces, the correct pieces, to keep adding to this nucleus that we have," Colangelo said last month when the team added some executive muscle with the hiring of Ed Stafanski as the executive vice-president of basketball operations.

And what better way to rebuild than to once again swim with the bottom feeders to snag another top pick at the draft in June.

History has shown that Toronto has more than its fair share of basketball fans. Many of them are fair-weather, choosing to emerge from the closet in support of the team once there's something in place to support.

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The Raptors won just 22 times last year and saw attendance fall to 16,566 from 17,897 the previous season.

In 2007-08, the last time they made the playoffs, average attendance soared to 19,435.

Once the product improves the Raptors will once again be a factor on the city's sporting landscape.

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