Raptors what-ifs and March Madness talk | Basketball | CBC Sports

NBARaptors what-ifs and March Madness talk

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 01:06 PM

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Vince Carter, shown here as a Toronto Raptor, passes against forward Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks during a game in Dec. 2002. These two players were the subject of decade-old trade rumours that surfaced this week. (Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images) Vince Carter, shown here as a Toronto Raptor, passes against forward Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks during a game in Dec. 2002. These two players were the subject of decade-old trade rumours that surfaced this week. (Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images)

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As if Raptors fans had nothing else to look back upon with regret, late last week came word that former GM Glen Grunwald could have traded Vince Carter and Antonio Davis in 2001 for Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash.

As if Raptors fans had nothing else to look back upon with regret, late last week came word that former GM Glen Grunwald could have traded Vince Carter and Antonio Davis in 2001 for Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash.

The story, recalled on Rogers Sportsnet and the FAN 590 from a board meeting by then-MLSE TV honcho John Shannon is actually quite unsurprising, and despite the obvious "what could have been" storyline, it is a trade that you can't blame Grunwald for not pulling the trigger on at the time.

Carter was at the apex of his career in 2001. While there were some early warning signs of his commitment (graduation day in Chapel Hill) and softness (preference at playing off guard rather than small forward), to trade him for a still-developing Euro big man in Nowitzki (exactly what he was at the time) and a pre-All-Star Steve Nash could have been considered risky from a basketball standpoint and potentially suicidal from a fanbase standpoint.

Sure, while landing a Canadian would appease some, you have to remember many in Toronto -- and not necessarily basketball people -- had hitched their wagon to Carter's star.  

People forget that many had doubts Carter would re-sign with the Raptors, insisting instead he would go to the Washington Wizards as a free agent, for instance. Of course, many in the "nobody wants to play in Toronto" crowd also forget that he did commit long-term to Toronto in the summer of 2001, but the perceived doubt before that opened up a trade market that had Mark Cuban's Mavs willing to trade two up-and-comers for the NBA's flavour of the month and a 33-year-old power forward.

But that's not the story that actually raises questions. Sports and life are full of these what-ifs. The real story is the one uncovered by Michael Grange that says Grunwald considered a Carter-for-Nash trade to Dallas in 2004, when circumstances had dramatically changed. According to sources, Grunwald presented his proposal to the MLSE board, which soundly rejected the idea.

You have to keep in mind that it takes two to tango and the Mavericks would need to be on board, but it's at least plausible that they would have considered it had it got that far, seeing as Nash was to become a free agent that summer -- when he ultimately signed with the Phoenix Suns. Could Cuban have OK'd such a deal, assuming he knew losing Nash was a distinct possibility?

The Raptors of 2001 and the Raptors of 2004 were vastly different. The '01 team was a playoff squad with a reasonably bright future. The '04 squad was a gong show of legendary proportions. If it wasn't a broken team bumbling their way to a 33-49 record, it was coach Kevin O'Neill breaking lamps in hotel rooms. Carter was backing up and jacking shots from outside, and his superstardom of three years earlier had given way to a rhythmic malaise. Fans were calling for the heads of Grunwald and team president Richard Peddie, the former coming to fruition after the season. We all know that the incompetent regime of Rob Babcock followed, climaxing when Carter was dealt to New Jersey for used shoes and two-for-one movie passes.

But the question remains. Why would the MLSE board reject the trade proposal at least in principal at that time? While Vince certainly had his fans in the upper echelons of the organization, that clearly changed when the team didn't submit to his mother's parking spot request or his demand that Julius Erving replace Grunwald -- leading to his trade demand.

Man, nothing beats hindsight.
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I am dubious of people who claim to be NCAA Tournament experts unless they are die-hard fans bordering on insanity or comprehensively cover U.S. college basketball for a living. And let's face it -- it's the fact that most of us know very little about most of the 68 teams in March Madness that makes filling out brackets and skipping work Thursday and Friday to watch ball so much fun.

Having said that, here's some stuff to consider:

The sexy upset predictions in the Regionals seem to be centered around Belmont over Georgetown, Harvard over Vanderbilt and Saint Louis over Memphis (although that's an 8-9 matchup, Memphis is a much better team on paper). This is Belmont's fifth trip to the big dance, so there's an assumption that they are due after hanging around with Duke in 2009 (and only losing by one to the Blue Devils this year).

Georgetown is also coming off two straight years of Thursday-Friday knockouts by Cinderellas -- VCU last year and Ohio in another 3-14 matchup in 2010. Belmont does also have the size to go toe-to-toe with the Hoyas. Saint Louis gets love solely due to coach Rick Majerus, whose preparation skills are legendary.

New Mexico State -- four Canadians strong -- is also trending as a potential 13-4 upset over Indiana. ESPN's Doug Gottlieb, for one, says the Aggies' athleticism will overwhelm the Hoosiers. Montreal's Hernst Laroche (12 points, 3.8 assists per game) mans the point with beast Wendell McKines inside. Laroche's fellow Canucks Daniel Mullings (Toronto) and Tyrone Watson (Hamilton) also contribute key minutes. Toronto's Renaldo Dixon rounds out the CanCon, and there would have been a fifth had Christian Kabongo (Myck's cousin) not left the team after being suspended in January.

The Aggies lead the tourney in Canadians, although the East bracket is the place to be to cheer on your fellow countrymen. St. Bonaventure may be in tough against Florida State, but Mississauga forward Andrew Nicholson -- whose NBA stock is rising -- presents a matchup problem for the Seminoles.

Joining Nicholson and Canadian Bonnie teammates Matthew Wright and Chris Johnson are Syracuse's leading scorer Kris Joseph (Montreal), Gonzaga's Robert Sacre and Kevin Pangos (North Vancouver and Holland Landing, Ont., respectively), Myck Kabongo of Texas (Toronto), and Harvard's Laurent Rivard (Saint-Bruno, Que.).

Here's the master list of the 26 Canadians this year:

Hernst Laroche, New Mexico State
Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State
Tyrone Watson, New Mexico State
Renaldo Dixon, New Mexico State
Andrew Nicholson St. Bonaventure
Matthew Wright, St. Bonaventure
Chris Johnson, St. Bonaventure
Arnold Mayorga, LIU-Brooklyn
Troy Joseph, LIU-Brooklyn
Robinson Odoch-Opong, LIU-Brooklyn
Robert Sacre, Gonzaga
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Myck Kabongo, Texas
Kyle Wiltjer, Kentucky
Brady Heslip, Baylor
Junior Cadougan, Marquette
Laurent Rivard, Harvard
Emerson Murray, California
Grandy Glaze, Saint Louis
Alex Johnson, NC State
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Taevaunn Prince, South Dakota State
Nik Cochran, Davidson
Jahenns Manigat, Creighton
Randy Dezouvre, Iona

While I'm an unabashed Syracuse fan, I can't pick them. For a start, they've only scored more than 60 points twice in their last five games. While defence is their bread and butter, that won't cut it. The team offence approach has worked all year, but what if nobody can step up?

And that was before Fab Melo was ruled ineligible, which he was Tuesday. Syracuse is in big trouble.
 
I'm looking at Ohio State coming out of that East bracket -- Jared Sullinger looks unstoppable right now.

So I'll go with Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State and Kansas, with Kentucky winning it all.

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