8 Toronto Raptors Antonio Davis got his wish: a new home with the league's fastest-rising squad

November 01, 1999

Not all that long ago the prospect of playing for the Raptors
was about as appealing to NBA players as a salary cap. Because
of the high Canadian tax rates, the cold weather and a
perennially unpromising team, players under contract to Toronto
wanted to get out, and the ones traded there sometimes simply
refused to report. (See: Anderson, Kenny.) Yet faster than you
can shotgun a can of Labatt Blue, Toronto has suddenly become
something of a Utopia. Take 31-year-old power forward Antonio
Davis, for instance. Upon being told by the Pacers' brass this
summer that he was being traded to the Raptors for the rights to
the No. 5 draft pick, teenager Jonathan Bender, Davis was
ecstatic. "I'd given Indiana a list of teams I wanted to play
for, and Toronto was at the top," he says. "This is a team
headed in the right direction."

As happy as he was with the trade--he is even trying to learn the
nuances of hockey--Davis still had to sell his four-year-old
twins, Antonio Jr. and Kaela, on the move. "Then it hit me," says
the elder Antonio. "I said, 'Daddy's going to play for the team
with the flying dinosaur mascot.' Once I told them that, they
were all for it."

Were his kids a few years older, Davis could have pointed to
another airborne species as an inducement for joining the
Raptors. Small forward Vince Carter, the reigning Rookie of the
Year, emerged last season as a star as well as a wildly exciting
player. With Carter's dunking, driving and wailing away, Toronto
was on the verge of earning a playoff berth for the first time in
its four-year history before beating a hasty retreat in the final
two weeks of the season. Still, in the wake of the team's sudden
improvement, the city is abuzz with Raptors rapture and delusions
of in-Vince-ability. "The excitement here is unbelievable," says
Davis. "The Pacers won games, but I don't think we were exciting
to watch. With Vince and [swingman] Tracy McGrady getting up and
down the court and dunking, this will be a whole different look."

Though it's hard to picture, given his bulked-up body and his
propensity to mix it up underneath, Davis was himself a
formidable dunker in his youth. After graduating from UTEP in
1990, he won a college dunk contest by jamming on a 12-foot
goal. Then he came to a realization. "That player wasn't like
Vince Carter, who can dunk but who can do a lot of other things
too," Davis says. "I realized that to play in the NBA, I'd have
to do more than be a big-time leaper. I'd have to rebound, play
defense and be serious about basketball. That's what I did, and
that's what I'm going to do here."

Davis's job will be made easier by the bruising presence of
another dirty-work warrior, veteran power forward Charles
Oakley, who spent much of the summer as a sought-after free
agent, shunning the Lakers, the Heat and the NBA champion Spurs
before re-signing with Toronto. His decision, though, wasn't
about money--he settled on a three-year deal worth $18
million--as much as about the three most important words in real
estate. "L.A. is too far away from my family," explained Oakley,
whose mom lives in Cleveland, "and Miami has all those
hurricanes." Fair enough. But what about San Antonio? "You need
a boat to get there," said Oakley.

On matters pertaining to basketball, Oakley's sense of direction
is more refined. A 6'9", 245-pound block of granite, he has an
uncanny knack for locating and retrieving loose balls and
crucial rebounds. He knows that an opponent driving to the hoop
ought to be rotated 90 degrees or so, until he's parallel to the
floor and headed downward. Most important, Oakley's compass
tells him that the Raptors, for the first time in their history,
should finish the season on the desirable side of the NBA's most
important border, the one that divides the playoff-bound from
the lottery-bound. "Last year we came close, and overall we were
proud of the strides we made," says Oakley. "This year there
won't be a sophomore jinx. The chemistry here's good, and
there's a nice mix of kids and us old guys who know what it
takes to win."

A key addition to the latter faction is free agent Dell Curry,
who reneged on an oral agreement with his former team, the Bucks,
to take Toronto's three-year, $6 million deal. Now 35, Curry
won't pose a threat to Carter or McGrady in the intrasquad dunk
contest, but as the league's most proficient three-point shooter
last season, his presence will unclog the floor for his slashing
teammates. Curry will have to siphon minutes from McGrady, who
showed tantalizing glimpses of his potential last season. As one
would expect from a player who doesn't turn 21 until May 24,
though, his performances can vary wildly.

The Raptors' glaring weakness is at the point. Last year's
starter, Alvin Williams, averaged just 5.0 points and, more
damning, finished fifth on the team in assists. With Williams
wanting, Doug Christie, a 6'6" shooting guard, will initiate the
attack, even though he's better suited to playing off the ball.
Toronto signed Muggsy Bogues to the $1 million veteran minimum,
but at this stage of his admirable career, he's little more than
a small insurance policy.

After a surprisingly busy off-season for general manager Glen
Grunwald, the Raptors' roster is suddenly loaded with
battle-tested veterans, four of whom will be at least 35 by
season's end. Ultimately, though, Toronto's fate rests on the
shoulders of young Carter and McGrady, both of whom have already
guaranteed that the Raptors will make the playoffs this season.
It's a tall order to be sure, but this much is certain: Like the
dinosaur on the team's logo, the Raptors' days as the NBA's
expansion doormats are extinct.

--L.J.W.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN GLASS ACT Davis brings to Toronto his rebounding skills and a do-the-dirty-work ethic.

FAST BREAKDOWN

STARTING FIVE [3 1/2 stars]
BENCH [3 stars]
COACH [3 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [3 1/2 stars]
CHEMISTRY [3 1/2 stars]

By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 23-27 (10th in Eastern Conference)
Coach: Butch Carter (third season with Raptors)

1998-99 PER GAME POINTS FG % REBOUNDS TURNOVERS
AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)

RAPTORS 91.1 (18) 42.1 (25) 43.2 (6) 16.0 (21)
OPPONENTS 92.8 (17) 43.9 (15) 40.1 (7) 15.5 (15)

In Fact

In their four seasons the Raptors have had two players, Damon
Stoudamire and Vince Carter, win the Rookie of the Year Award.
Six franchises have never had a rookie so honored, and 11 more
have had only one recipient.

Projected Lineup

STARTERS PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS

SF Vince Carter 15 18.3 ppg 5.7 rpg 3.0 apg 1.54 bpg
Scoring, rebounding and assists topped those in any of his
college years

PF Charles Oakley 137 7.0 ppg 7.5 rpg 3.4 apg 42.8 FG%
Snapped streak of 13 straight playoff appearances

C Antonio Davis [#] 102 9.4 ppg 7.0 rpg 0.7 apg 47.1 FG%
Started only 60 of his 420 games in six-year stretch with the
Pacers

SG Tracy McGrady 47 9.3 ppg 5.7 rpg 2.3 apg 1.35 bpg
Triple-double threat: career highs of 27 points, 15 rebounds,
eight assists

PG Doug Christie 55 15.2 ppg 4.1 rpg 3.7 apg 2.26 spg
Moves to point after leading team in assists as starting
two-guard

BENCH PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS

C-F Kevin Willis 105 12.0 ppg 8.3 rpg 1.6 apg 41.8 FG%
Suffered through worst shooting season of his career

G Dell Curry [#] 182 10.1 ppg 2.0 rpg 1.1 apg 48.5 FG%
Sharpshooter led league with career-high 47.6% from three-point
range

G Alvin Williams 192 5.0 ppg 1.6 rpg 2.6 apg 40.1 FG%
As point guard last year he had one or fewer assists in 17 games

G Muggsy Bogues [#] 240 5.1 ppg 2.0 rpg 3.7 apg 1.19 spg
Best among active players with an assist-to-turnover ratio of
4.69 to 1

G Dee Brown 255 11.2 ppg 2.1 rpg 2.9 apg 38.7 3FG%
Had NBA's highest rate of three-point shots among field goal
tries (70.5%)

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)