"Air Canada" is coming to Buffalo by way of Sydney next week to get started on another run to the NBA playoffs.
Toronto Raptors superstar Vince Carter will be in town as the Raptors hold training camp at Erie Community College's Flickinger Athletic Center for the second time in four years. Workouts begin Tuesday and run through Oct. 9.
Fans, however, may have a hard time getting a glimpse of Carter or his mates. Current plans are for practices to be closed to the public and for no open intrasquad game. The Raptors staged one of those at ECC at the conclusion of their '97 camp here.
The Raptors will be holding daily practices from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and from 6-9 p.m. except on Oct. 9, when only the 10 a.m. workout will be held before the team departs for Toronto. Its first exhibition game is Oct. 10 at Air Canada Centre against Minnesota.
Carter, currently starring for Team USA in the Olympics, is expected to report to camp Oct. 4 after the long trip back from Australia.
Even though they're coming off the most successful season in their five-year history (a 45-37 record and their initial playoff appearance), the Raptors have endured a torrent of change during the offseason.
The change starts on the bench, where head coach Butch Carter was fired after a season of tumult capped by criticism from veterans such as Charles Oakley, Antonio Davis and Doug Christie.
Butch Carter then became a laughingstock in the NBA for filing a $5-million defamation lawsuit against Knicks forward and ex-Raptor Marcus Camby on the eve of the teams' playoff opener.
Carter was replaced by Lenny Wilkens, the NBA's all-time winningest coach. Wilkens had coached the Atlanta Hawks the last seven years.
The Raptors have held training camp the last two years at the ACC. A team spokesman said Wilkens wanted to take them out of Toronto at the start of camp and ECC was a natural choice since the club was pleased with its experience here three years ago.
Carter will have to shoulder more of the load on offense after the departure of Tracy McGrady to Orlando via a $67 million free agent deal. The Raptors, however, made a bold move of their own by signing veteran Mark Jackson away from the Eastern Conference champion Indiana Pacers.
In addition, the team re-signed 5-foot-3 veteran Muggsy Bogues to a four-year deal, likely ensuring he'll retire from the Raptors. Jackson's package was worth a reported $16.4 million, Bogues got about $8 million.
"There's no reason we can't as a team win 50 games," Bogues said earlier this month after signing his deal. "Talking with some of the guys during the off-season, we're all excited about the year and getting to that next level."
The Raptors' 45 wins last year were 15 more than any other season in their brief history. It didn't translate into success in the playoffs as Toronto was victimized by a three-game sweep in the first round against the New York Knicks.
The Raptors joined San Antonio and Seattle as the only teams to beat all four division winners and they were the only Eastern Conference club to beat the NBA champion Lakers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Carter exploded on to the national scene by averaging 25.7 points (fourth in the NBA) and winning the slam-dunk contest at the NBA All-Star Game.
On Friday, the Raptors are expected to finalize a deal that was made last month by sending guard Doug Christie to Sacramento for forward Corliss Williamson. Due to salary cap rules, Friday is the first day trades can be consummated.
The team is also hopeful of having first-round draft pick Morris Peterson signed this weekend and in camp. Peterson teamed with Mateen Cleaves to lead Michigan State to the NCAA title in April.
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