In a playoff-opening loss, the Raptors had to cope with
a bizarre lawsuit and awful shooting
Raptors forward Vince Carter sat facing a sea of microphones and
notepads in the wake of Sunday's 92-88 road loss to the Knicks
in the opener of their first-round playoff series. Which oddity
would he like to address first? Why had he missed his first 12
shots, or why had Toronto coach Butch Carter tossed an air ball
of his own two days before by filing a defamation suit against
former Raptors and current Knicks forward Marcus Camby?
Taking the easier question, Carter said his shooting woes were
caused by Latrell Sprewell's defense and by his having become "a
little overexcited." But even if Vince had buried 12 straight, he
wouldn't have stolen the headlines from his coach. When asked on
April 19 by the New York Daily News about critical comments Butch
had made while coaching him in Toronto, Camby said Butch had told
him he would be part of the Raptors' foundation; the team traded
him a few days later. Camby called Carter "a liar" and claimed
none of the Toronto players liked their coach.
While Camby was at practice last Friday, his girlfriend was
served with the lawsuit at Camby's Larchmont, N.Y., house. The
suit demanded $5 million in damages. The following afternoon
Carter said he would consider dropping the suit if Camby
When New York coach Jeff Van Gundy informed the Knicks about the
lawsuit last Saturday, the players burst out laughing. NBA
deputy commissioner Russ Granik wasn't amused. His statement
read, "A coach suing a player over his public comments seems
unprecedented and highly inappropriate." Toronto general manager
Glen Grunwald, who signed Carter to a four-year, $8 million
extension in December, said with a pained look, "I'm just not
going to comment right now." Even Butch's brother Cris, a
Vikings receiver, was virtually at a loss for words. "What do
you want me to say?" Cris said. "He's my brother."
Carter's preposterous actions seemed to have little effect on
his young team. "It's like when you beat up your little brother
in the house. That's O.K.," said Toronto guard Dee Brown. "But
when your little brother goes out and someone else starts
beating up on him, well, now we've got a problem. We stand
behind Butch on this. Have we had some things with our coach?
Yeah, who hasn't? But we keep it within."
"It doesn't bother us," added another Raptor, smiling. "We
already know Butch is nuts."
In mid-March, Carter publicly criticized Maple Leaf Sports &
Entertainment Ltd., which owns the Raptors and the eponymous NHL
club, for favoring its hockey team and neglecting its basketball
team. Carter was also in the news two weeks ago when excerpts
from his upcoming book, Born to Believe, a collaboration with
Cris in which each brother wrote a dozen chapters without
showing his work to the other, claimed Indiana coach Bob Knight
had used racist language while chastising his players, a charge
Knight denied. (Butch played for Knight in the late 1970s but
has a strained relationship with him.)
Why did Carter look to the courts for justice in his dispute
with Camby? Maybe it was psychological playoff warfare, as the
Knicks suggested. Maybe it was a way to drum up interest in the
brothers' book. Or maybe it was, as Butch conceded, in part a
ploy to deflect pressure from his young stars, Vince, 23, and
Tracy McGrady, 20.
None of it had anything to do with why Vince hit only 3 of 20
shots. The Knicks used two defensive schemes to smother him:
They double-teamed him with Sprewell and Patrick Ewing, and they
shaded Carter to the right, knowing he's more effective when he
goes left. With Game 2 set for Wednesday, neither Carter was
backing down--Vince on his promise to keep shooting, Butch on
his promise to keep suing. As for a Camby apology: Forget about
GLOBAL SEARCH FOR 7-FOOTERS
This just in: There are no franchise big men in the NBA
draft--again. Chris Mihm, a junior from Texas, will certainly go
high if he comes out, as will Minnesota sophomore Joel
Przybilla, but neither of them has front offices salivating. So
teams will gamble on international talent to fill the middle, as
the Knicks did last year with French center Frederic Weis. This
season's sleeper is 20-year-old Iakovos Tsakalidis, who just
completed his fourth season with AEK Athens in the Greek League.
Tsakalidis is attractive because he is big and strong; a program
for the Greek championships listed him at 7'2", and he weighs
219 pounds. He also has a huge wingspan and can run the floor
fairly well, given his size. He averaged 9.4 points and 7.2
rebounds for AEK in the regular season, which ended last month.
According to one NBA scout, however, Tsakalidis is "very, very
raw offensively." In other words, aside from a little jump hook
that he has been honing, he isn't going to dazzle Shaq with his
low-post moves, and his high-post game is close to nonexistent.
The upside? Tsakalidis has good rebounding instincts and blocks
Questions remain about how long Tsakalidis's contract runs with
AEK, but the consensus is that if he declares himself eligible
for the June 28 draft (he has until May 14 to do so), he'll be a
mid- to late lottery pick. "That's where we have him," says
Magic general manager John Gabriel, who has three first-round
selections. "The best thing about him is his size, but our
scouts also like his aggressiveness. He knows how to play the
game, but to succeed on the next level, he'll have to be even
One thing is certain: Teams are more secretive than ever about
international prospects. Nobody wants to tip his hand, which is
why Celtics president and coach Rick Pitino secretly worked out
7-foot Dirk Nowitzki, a German who has emerged as a star power
forward for the Mavericks, in Europe before the draft two
seasons ago. Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, who drafted
Toni Kukoc and Dragan Tarlac, both from Europe, and has three
first-round choices in this year's draft, was recently asked to
assess Tsakalidis. "I never comment on foreign players," said
Krause. "Do I know about him? Of course. We all do."
For the latest scores and stats, plus Phil Taylor's NBA mailbag,
go to cnnsi.com/basketball.
Around The Rim
After taking over as the Pistons' interim coach on March 6,
George Irvine repeatedly said he had no interest in the job
beyond this season. But now, after getting endorsements from
Grant Hill and other Detroit players, Irvine is leaning toward
staying, according to Pistons sources. Irvine, one of the NBA's
nicest guys, has surprised the Detroit front office with his
willingness to get tough. (Ask Jerry Stackhouse, who was
confronted after one game for trying to do too much himself.)
All this spells doom for former Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer, who was
hoping to land the Pistons job....
File this under Something Has to Give: The 76ers were 17-8 in
games decided by three points or fewer this season, yet their
first-round opponents, the Hornets, were 9-0 lifetime against
Philadelphia in games decided by five points or fewer. Nothing
gave in the teams' playoff opener last Saturday, however. The
Sixers won at Charlotte 92-82....
Though he resigned as the Hawks' coach on Monday, Lenny Wilkens
will receive the $11 million due on the last two years of his
contract--unless he takes another job. Late Monday, league
sources said, Wizards boss Michael Jordan had called to talk to
Wilkens about becoming Washington's coach....
The Suns aren't complaining about the NBA's ludicrous decision
to string out the playoffs' first round over two weeks. The
schedule might--just might--enable Jason Kidd to return from his
broken left ankle at the end of Round 1.