How hot is Raptors forward Chris Bosh? Very, according to Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who last month paid him a most expensive compliment, suggesting that Los Angeles would pursue the Raptors' 6'11" forward when he becomes a free agent in the summer of 2007. "There are some [players who] will be available that you obviously have to take a look at, and this kid here is one of them," said Jackson. The league office viewed that remark as a declaration of genuine intent and fined Jackson $25,000 for tampering. Bosh had a more generous opinion of Jackson's message. "Just to hear that was pretty cool," he says. "I think it was bigger for my family than for me, because they were like, Oh, wow, did you hear what Phil said?"
But Jackson and others smitten with the hardworking and prodigiously gifted Bosh (like Larry Bird and Pat Riley), take note: As much as he appreciates the interest, Bosh isn't planning to move Stateside anytime soon. Signs point to his signing a maximum contract with Toronto, perhaps as soon as this summer, for the following reasons:
1. He likes being the Raptors' leading man. Here are a dozen players who exhibit the requisite blend of talent and leadership to be labeled franchise players: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Andrei Kirilenko, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade and Ben Wallace. Along with Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, Bosh is on the verge of joining that group. At week's end he was averaging 22.7 points and 9.3 rebounds; besides Richard Hamilton, he was the only player in the East to score at least 20 per game while shooting better than 50%. And though Bosh is only 21, his influence is certain to grow within the organization, particularly at the end of next season, when the Raptors will have the cap space to make a run at a major free agent to play alongside their young star.
While the prospect of playing with Bryant is no doubt tempting, Bosh is wary of going to a new team as a "piece added to the main picture," he says. "It's cool to be the focal point and bring these guys around you. It's like, O.K., this is your team, these are your guys, this is what's going to make you better and us better as a team."
January 30, 2006
2. He likes the direction of the franchise. Rivals had hoped that the Raptors' 1-15 November would persuade Bosh to begin plotting his exit strategy. However, that poor start was misleading. "People kept asking me if we were like the [old] Clippers," says Toronto assistant Jim Todd, who was 4-33 as the Clippers' interim head man at the end of the 1999-2000 season. "But the Clippers used to give up; our guys were still out there working hard and trying." Indeed, six of the Raptors' first 15 losses were by five points or fewer, and they had gone 13-12 since then through Sunday, including 8-7 on the road.
G.M. Rob Babcock was deservedly criticized for last winter's trade of Vince Carter to the Nets for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and a pair of first-round picks. Toronto's recent improvement, however, can be traced to Babcock's off-season moves, notably the additions of rookies Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham and José Calderon and veteran point guard Mike James, who was obtained from the Rockets for Rafer Alston. "He's piecing the team together," says Bosh of Babcock. "We like one another, we get along, everybody works hard, and everybody's professional. When you have guys like that who come together, then eventually you know you're going to start winning."
Bosh also has a good relationship with coach Sam Mitchell, who has applied lessons learned from seven seasons of playing alongside Garnett in Minnesota. Early last season Mitchell demanded extra wind sprints from Bosh during practices while the team watched. "I would say, 'Chris, you owe me a few more,'" recalls Mitchell. "After a week and a half, he came to me--he was laughing--and he said, 'Coach, why do you make me run extra?' And I said, 'Because when they see the best player on the team do extra, what are they going to say when it's their turn?' When you walk into the Timberwolves' locker room, it's a rule that you're going to give more because KG gives more every night."
3. He likes Toronto. Unlike some previous young Raptors stars, notably Tracy McGrady, Bosh is in no hurry to return to the States, though he admits that "I didn't really like [Toronto] at first as a city." An inquisitive mind and an avid reader, he has developed an affinity for the city's rich cultural diversity. "After going out, getting acquainted with some people and seeing the city for what it is, I liked it a lot," Bosh says.
Granted, Bosh isn't promising yet that he will sign an extension with the Raptors. First, he wants to make sure the organization doesn't waver in rebuilding. "[My not signing] works because nobody gets comfortable," he says. "I don't get comfortable, the team doesn't get comfortable, and I think some people just work better under pressure."
• More NBA trade talk at SI.com/nba.