On The Rendezvous, Buzzards And Risk. Oh Yeah…And The Raptors

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I grew up in Sarnia so long ago the Mayans hadn’t yet invented a calendar predicting the end of the world…any world.

Eccentrics enjoyed  a certain celebrity in southwestern Ontario towns. Television was considered a gateway to the starry network of four stations.  Detroit passed for our Emerald City.

Kids were more active then; not because of some inherent ambition or nobility but because our entertainment options were so limited you needed to get out of the house.

Around the corner beckoned The Rendezvous Grill, a hamburger joint with a jukebox and a beehive -wearing waitress who sold us smokes for what was, in retrospect, a tragically inept attempt to garner what is now known as street cred.

The guy who owned the Rendezvous was a salty former military guy named Jack who in those primitive times recognized a matchbook cover as an emerging sales technique. Yes, in 1975, matches were our internet.

Jack’s message detailed the multiple foreclosures, plagues (fire and health inspectors were equally destructive) and general chaos that came with running The Rendezvous. I remember the last line of the copy. “In fact the only reason we are staying in business is to find out what the hell is going to happen next.”

Raptor fans, welcome to The Rendezvous.

I’m watching to find out what the hell is going to happen next.

I was there in 2000 when Tracy McGrady aptly observed “this ship be sinking” before he sprinted out the door.  Spirals cross sports and franchises.

They are kvetching right now in Washington, New Orleans, even in Los Angeles over their basketball teams. Two guys I don’t want to be in six months: John Farrell and Joe Girardi.

We are attracted to disaster.  The number one and two highest grossing films of all time are Avatar and Titanic. One is about conflict in strip mining a new world and its indigenous people for precious minerals. The other is a real downer.

Conversely, there is nothing less interesting than a team and a franchise treading water. The difference between Kanasta Night at the Old Folks Home and The Rendezvous Grill: drama.

Glorious, ultimate success, you may have heard, is hard to achieve. Over the last 44 years It has happened twice in Toronto, both times thanks to the Blue Jays. There is only one Tom Brady.

Most seasons are the usual stuff, winning streaks, losing streaks, bumps and bubbles, one step forward, two back or the other way around. Both get you to the same place: fun, some thrills, progress and hopefully plenty of hope for more to come.

And then there are times like this.

The Raptors situation is so gloriously, uniquely, diabolically, geometrically unlikely, it belongs in the Louvre.

Here is what we have. A team expected to nicely contend for a playoff spot is having an Old Testament swoon. Locusts are the only missing ingredient.

The boss is a suave basketball sophisticate of impeccable credentials who says there is a fundamental problems with the execution of the team which, as you may know, isn’t the sort of endorsement you want from your superior.

The point guard has had stretches of brilliance. The harder he tries, the more the team loses.

DeMar DeRozan is progressing nicely.

And yet they lose.

Had the Raptors matched the defensive improvement they managed in Dwane Casey’s first year – not an impossible idea considering Kyle Lowry’s acquisition and Landry Fields reputation as a solid defender – they would have been the league’s best defensive team.

Last season they went from 30th to 12th in Hollinger’s Defensive Efficiency Quotient. Now they have backslid to 27th.  Jinkies.

For many this speaks to Andrea Bargnani’s absolute standstill in development. This is particularly galling since he showed every indication of becoming a lower case star last year. Now, cynics argue that last season’s team-wide defensive improvement can be directly attributed to Bargnani’s long absence due to injury.

Oh, it gets worse. Bargnani’s woes have kept Ed Davis, one of the team’s brighter stories, on the bench. The seven-foot Italian has  become the dreaded word usually reserved for pouty European hockey players: an enigma. Okay, more of an enigma.

When I got back from the Rendezvous I slept under one of the great posters of the 1970s.  It pictured two weathered buzzards sitting on a limb over a barren tundra.

“Patience my ass,” says one of the birds. “I’m going to go kill something.”

That, friends, is interesting. We watch because we know something has to happen. Something big.

If Bargnani is to be dealt it will be for fifty cents on the dollar and could require the inclusion of the noble Jose Calderon, a total pro, marvelous person and player whose greatest value right now seems to be an expiring contract.

Bargnani’s name is linked with Pau Gasol who has a great courtside seat to watch the Lakers in the fourth quarter. He’s 32 with a history of knee problems and a $16 million contract but he would be an improvement and he is a winner.

If  you could ever quantify winning basketball, momentum would be on its periodic table of elements. Mickael Pietrus was a member of the Golden State team that stood 10 games under .500 in March and then went on a 16-5 run to make the playoffs. The Raptors went 12-2 to qualify for the 2002 post-season.

Still, each loss brings the Raptors closer to the buzzard on the perch. It will take a miracle or a stunning turnaround to reboot the franchise.

These are risky times. I leave it to another icon of the era, James Tiberius Kirk, to summarize the situation.

Yeah. We were that cool.

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