Babcock may buy out Mourning

There’s still plenty of work ahead for Toronto GM Rob Babcock.

First on his list: what to do with Alonzo Mourning, acquired in last Friday’s blockbuster trade with New Jersey.Babcock may never have expected the veteran centre to don a Raptors jersey. The 34-year-old Mourning, whose once dominant game was derailed by a serious kidney ailment that required a transplant, has health issues. Plus he says he’s only interested in playing for a contender.

”I told Alonzo, do what you need to do, take care of your health. That’s the No. 1 thing right now, taking care of his health,” said Babcock.

According to reports in Monday’s New York Post and the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Mourning and the Raptors are close to a buyout deal, a source telling the Post that Mourning could get $9 million to $10 million US from Toronto.

But Babcock told reporters in Houston prior to the Raptors’ game there versus the Rockets that the only discussion he has had with Mourning is about the player’s health.

Mourning has $17 million and three years remaining on the $22-million deal he signed with the Nets, and reportedly had asked the Nets for a buyout of $14 million. New Jersey offered him just $6 million.

The Raptors traded Carter to the Nets for Mourning, Aaron Williams and Eric Williams, and two first-round draft picks, with Mourning included basically for salary-matching purposes.

Toronto lost its game Monday to Houston 114-102. Eric Williams had eight points and five rebounds in 23 minutes of action while Aaron Williams played just four minutes, registering two rebounds.

Speculation continues to swirl that Carter was only the first shoe to drop. Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall have been mentioned in recent trade scuttlebutt, with both Raptors rumoured to be headed to Miami for Eddie Jones.

Babcock has made his intentions clear: he values hard work and team play over anything, and wants to assemble a squad that defends hard and battles for every possession. The team needed more interior toughness, and in Babcock’s rebuilding project, Eric and Aaron Williams fit the profile. Carter did not.

Rose doesn’t either. The guard has been inconsistent this season, his lack of intensity on defence some nights has been startling, and he’s not always keen to share the ball – all serious no-no’s in head coach Sam Mitchell’s regime.

The Raptors would also dearly love to dump his salary – with Carter gone, he’s by far the highest-paid player on the team, set to make $14.5 million this season and signed through 2006-07.

Marshall, meanwhile, is now another post player on a Raptors team full of them. He becomes a free agent this summer, so the team may wish to package him in a trade with Rose before his contract runs out.

Adding more intrigue to the Miami trade rumours, Mourning has also expressed an interest in playing for his former team in Miami.

Mourning suffers from a serious kidney ailment called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis – FSGS – which has kept him off the court for much of the past four seasons. He played just 12 games for the Nets last season, undergoing the kidney transplant in December 2003.

He’s spending Christmas with his family in Florida.

Babcock spoke with Mourning for an hour on the phone Saturday, but wouldn’t divulge his interest – or lack thereof – in playing for Toronto.

”That discussion is between Alonzo and myself,” Babcock said after Sunday’s 110-99 win over New Jersey.

”This trade for us was good without Alonzo ever reporting and playing with us. At the worst possible case, he never plays for us,” the GM added.

Mourning, a seven-time all-star and three-time NBA defensive player of the year, averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 18 games with New Jersey. But he has been out of action recently because of a myriad of health problems, saying his knee, hip and hand were all bothering him.

”I’m still nursing physical ailments that need time to heal,” Mourning told USA Today about his health woes. ”As soon as I’m confident to get out there, so be it. If not, I won’t play at all. Basketball is secondary. I want to get myself right physically. There are a lot of things I want to get right before I get back.”

The Nets, who are 0-2 since Friday’s trade, may not see Carter on the court anytime soon either. Carter’s physical showed there was still tenderness in his Achilles tendon, which had kept him out of his last three games as a Raptor, and New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank says he didn’t plan to rush Carter back too soon.

On Monday, Babcock told The Fan 590 the process to trade Carter began six months ago when the star guard/forward went public with his desire to leave the Raptors. The eventual trade with the Nets happened in just a couple of days.

Critics have claimed Babcock didn’t get enough in return for the five-time all-star, but the Raptors GM said Carter’s value took a nosedive after his off-season trade demand.

”When a player comes out and says he wants to be traded, you’ve got a problem,” Babcock told The Fan. ”Once you come out and make a statement to the fans, it’s hard for the fans to bring you back in the fold. It’s very difficult, and it lessens your trade value. As soon as you make a statement, your trade value drops significantly.”

TSN

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