March 27, 2008

I Heart Jose

Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon is good people. With his team mired in a horrible slump - losers of 11 of their last 14 heading into last night -and at a critical point in their season, numero ocho went to the coaching staff and suggested he move back to the bench and let T.J. Ford assume the starting point guard responsibilities.

A classy and selfless move by a classy and selfless guy. I already had a ton of respect for Jose, and now I have even more. Dude is all about the team, and it's hard not to appreciate what he did. Here's what Jose had to say about it:

"I said five or six games ago, whatever we need to do, I have no problem coming from the bench. I have no problem putting the team first. And now after two tough losses I thought we could do it and see if things change a little. We talked Monday and again Tuesday morning and they agreed, with 12 games let's see if you can change things around.

"I have an ego, but my team is first. I work for the Raptors and I play for the Raptors, I don't play for Jose Calderon. What I want is to be in the playoffs, I want to have a chance to play in the second round, so I don't try to be 20 points a game or something like that. I think this is a good idea to change everything so this is something I have to do.”

Classy, eh? I told you so. Says a lot about Jose. He's not like other pro athletes out there. He's cut from a different cloth. Let's not forget that he's in a contract year. Sure, it's pretty much a formality that the Raptors will re-sign him in the summer (they can match any deal he gets), he's still in a contract year. For Jose winning is, clearly, the number one priority.

And I'm not surprised he threw in "I don't try to be 20 points a game or something like that," as a minor shot at T.J. At least that's what it looks like to me. I was telling a buddy of mine at work that whenever I watch a game in which Ford puts up 20 or more points, the Raptors lose. I think Jose has recognized the same.

The move, initiated by Jose on his own volition, also says a lot about T.J. Ford, and I'm kind of peeved with him right now. He basically sulked his way back into the starting point guard slot. His erratic play, and clear displeasure, at being second fiddle to Jose was clearly disrupting the team. Everyone knows that if Ford starts, he's on the floor with Bosh and has to share the ball, instead of chucking the rock on every possession. Since he's come back from injury Ford hasn't exactly displayed the best attitude, and never did embrace the backup role. Pretty douche bag-gy if you ask me.

It's becoming more and more clear to me that the two point guard system is not going to work here in Toronto. It can't work anywhere. Both guys are starting point guards and they know it. They both want to be starters, and I can't really blame either one for that. That's always been the goal for both of them. They're too competitive, and while I was assured yesterday that Jose is down with the team concept, it's clear that Ford isn't. He's simply not mature enough. If the Raptors have to choose which point guard to keep this summer, I think it's obvious it should be Jose. His game resembles that of Steve Nash and that's exactly who you want your point guard to be resemble.

Bottom line: Calderon is a rudey.

With the suddenly back-to-.500 Raptors desperate to turn around their fortunes, the Calderon and Ford swap wasn't the only change in the lineup last night against the Detroit Pistons, the Association's second-best team. Out of the starting lineup came Andrea Bargnani, with my main man Rasho Nesterovic taking his place. Bargnani continues to disappoint, and break my heart in the process. If you didn't get a chance to read The Globe and Mail's Michael Grange's column about the not-so-super sophomore - Whither Bargnani? - I urge you to check it out.

I guess change is good sometimes. The lineup moves paid off and the Raptors knocked off the Pistons 89-82, thanks to a huge third quarter that saw Toronto outscore Detroit 28-16. After a sluggish first half the Raps picked up the slack in the third and fourth quarters, and ended up shooting 49% from the floor. The Pistons shot only 41%. They were playing their third game in four nights but, well, that's their problem. We've got plenty of our own.

For one night, at least, the Raptors got the superb point guard play that defined their season early on this year. Caldeford (or Forderon, whichever you prefer), the two-headed point guard monster, combined for 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting, 13 assists, eight rebounds and only two turnovers. That's the kind of point guard play that will win the Raptors more games than not.

Got to shout out Rasho, of course. He was dope again last night. More than 46 minutes on the floor, 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting, nine rebounds and four blocks. He was instrumental in helping the Raptors outscore the Pistons in the paint 34-22. That is significant because the Raptors, and especially Bargnani, are pretty much allergic to the freakin' paint.

The Dinos remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game out of fifth place (and a date with Lebron). Up next are the New York Knicks on Friday and Western Conference leading New Orleans Hornets on Sunday. I kid you not, the Hornets are the best team in the West. And that's one mighty fine conference. If I'd have told you that New Orleans would be in first place near the end of March, you would have bitch-slapped me and called me Wanda.

With only 11 games left in the regular season, the Dinos have got to get on a roll heading into the playoffs. Thanks to Jose Calderon, the team got a huge boost last night. The world needs more pro athletes the likes of the selfless Spaniard. He's a special dude, that Jose, and what he did last night kind of makes you just feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Thanks Jose. Respect is there