By Frank McLean
First let me state this up front. In the 20-seasons that I have had the privilege to cover the Toronto Raptors, Jose Calderon is my all-time favourite player to deal with. Win or lose, especially lose, when I needed just one quote Calderon was always my go to guy and he never ever turned down a post- game interview request from me or any of the other members of the fifth estate. I’m biased when it comes to the Spanish point guard.
Stories out of New York after Sunday’s 99-95 win at home to the Los Angeles Lakers had Calderon giving a frustrated rant over him being blamed for every thing that is wrong with the basketball team.
Fans and the fickle New York City sports media are calling for him to be yanked from the Knicks starting line-up, which is absurd because the 34-year-old can still play. Here’s the numbers he put up in Sunday afternoon’s win over the Lakers. 35-minutes played, 6-for-12 from the field, 14-points and 3-assists.
Not only being a class act off the floor and on the floor, he is the ultimate teammate. You can see him being a leader in the Knicks huddles during television time outs. Calderon will tell you he is getting older and yes he has lost a step or two, but when you attack him, well, you are leaving his younger teammates alone. The two in particular are his understudies Langston Galloway and Jerian Grant.
“I prefer you guys talking about me than my teammates,’’ Calderon said after Sunday’s game. “It’s ok, keep talking about it. I’m ok with that. Whatever happens will happen. I want to win. I want to help this team, and (it) doesn’t matter if I’m starting or coming off the bench. It’s all right. (If) you guys (are) talking about me, then you are not talking about the Knicks and us losing. It was good for us. I know my weaknesses. I know my strengths.’’
A statement like this from Calderon is why everyone in the NBA, media and general managers alike, know this is one class act. Very few veteran players in any sport will take a bullet for their younger teammates.
Coming into the preseason the expectations were that if the Knicks did not make the playoffs Phil Jackson and his coach and former player for him with the Lakers Derek Fisher would be fired by crazy Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan.
Dolan likes making money and for the first time in years there are empty seats at Knicks games that were unsold tickets. Not good for the bottom line. If seats aren’t being sold heads usually roll, but Calderon is not the problem with the NBA’s favourite dysfunctional team. It’s the ownership and past general managers spending too much money on players who can’t play simple as that.
Another gamble the Knicks are making is with 20-year old Latvian center Kristaps Porzingis. A 7-foot-3 220-pound lanky center, who many think he is not built to take a nightly pounding in a 82-game NBA season. And let’s not forget Carmelo Anthony at forward who is 31-years of age on his birth certificate, but his often injured knee is more like 51.
The Knicks make their first visit of the season Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre. Calderon is expected to start and the hope is Aaron Afflalo will come off the injury list and play his first minutes of the season at the other guard position. As you can see Calderon is the least of the Knicks problems. It’s the questionable cast of characters around him that’s the problem.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.