Arash Markazi
Friday November 20th, 2009

Chris Bosh's offseason transformation began in an unlikely place -- his couch. Early into his summer, Bosh decided to watch the championship game from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. It was supposed to be one of those feel-good moments, like popping in a classic film that always makes you smile, but it made him angry even as he saw himself receive the gold medal.

"I couldn't believe how skinny I looked," Bosh said. "That was the thing that sparked me. I called my weight coach the next day. The tape really motivated me and made me become ambitious when it came to attacking the weight room and getting bigger and stronger. It was good for me. I really wanted to get at it and improve."

Five months later, Bosh's 6-foot-10 frame now has 20 more pounds of muscle, and the Raptors' forward estimates that he weighs about 250 pounds. He looks more like Rocky than RuPaul, as Shaquille O'Neal dubbed him last season during an argument between the big men.

It was an offseason of reflection for Bosh, 25, after another losing season in Toronto that ended without a playoff berth. Since the former Georgia Tech star joined the Raptors as the No. 4 pick in the 2003 draft, Toronto has finished above .500 only once, made the playoffs twice and never advanced past the first round.

Not only did Bosh realize he needed to get bigger, but he also understood that he had to get better if he ever wanted to recapture the feeling of being a winner that he experienced with Team USA.

"This summer I did a lot of thinking and I wanted to become a better basketball player," said Bosh. "I just had to be realistic with myself, look at my weaknesses and look at the things that I was doing wrong. Everybody doesn't like doing that but I had to."

Bosh also pored over game film from last season and texted Raptors coach Jay Triano with his observations.

"He told me that our spacing wasn't good," Triano said. "He asked, 'What do I need to do?' I would give him some ideas and things that he needed to do and he said, 'Is there anything else?' I figured that was a chance where he opened the door and I starting giving him what I really thought. I filled him in on a lot of things."

Triano found that Bosh was settling for too many mid-range jump shots and that the Raptors would be better served if he spent more time in the paint while at times also drawing the defense beyond the three-point line.

"He's our best offensive rebounder," Triano said, "so when he takes a mid-range jump shot, we're not getting the offensive rebound if he misses. That's not a real high-percentage play for us. He still has to take it to keep defenses honest every once in a while, but he knows that he can stretch the defense with a three, which I told him to take. I also told him the best point-per-possession play is when he drives to the basket. He's been very good at that this season."

Bosh has been more than just very good; he's been the most productive big man in the league. He ranks seventh in the NBA in scoring (26.8 points), second in rebounding (12.2) and third (behind LeBron James and Chris Paul) in the all-around efficiency category. Bosh is also shooting 50 percent from the field, including 6-of-8 from three-point range.

"I just wanted to work out as hard as I could and become the best forward in the league," Bosh said. I just wanted to be more effective, and guys who attack the rim all the time are more effective. So it's worked out."

With Bosh's progress, along with contributions from Andrea Bargnani, Hedo Turkoglu and Jose Calderon, the Raptors lead the NBA in offensive efficiency. But they also rank last in defensive efficiency, which helps explain a 5-7 record during a start in which they've played an Eastern Conference-high eight road games.

Whether a team with nine new players and obvious defensive deficiencies can improve enough to make the playoffs and possibly get past the first round could go a long way in determining Bosh's future in Toronto. Bosh is one of many stars who can become a free agent in 2010, and his lack of success north of the border could make him the most likely of the marquee players to change addresses.

Bosh is keeping open his options, which even include teaming up with LeBron or Dwyane Wade in a city to be named later.

"It all comes down to being happy and winning," Bosh said when asked what he will look for in the team he signs with next summer. "There's a whole bunch of things that you can talk about, but at the end of the day, you want to be somewhere you're happy and on the best team possible to win."

As much as Bosh desires to win, he also wants to be recognized as one of the best players in the NBA, which isn't easy when he's playing outside the country in games that are rarely on national television.

"Sometimes I do feel left out," Bosh said. "I'm talked about but not talked about enough. I feel that I'm one of the best forwards in the league and I don't think I get recognition for it, but all of that is going to come with success. I just have to make it happen."

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