TORONTO Just eight days into the job, interim general manager Wayne Embry has been able to do what former GM Rob Babcock was unable, or unwilling, to do during his 1½years with the Toronto Raptors -- trade Jalen Rose.
In his second deal since assuming command of the bad-ship Raptors, Embry pulled off a National Basketball Association stunner last night, shipping the 33-year-old swingman to the New York Knicks in exchange for former Raptor Antonio Davis, 38.
The Raptors also sent New York an undisclosed amount of cash and their second first-round pick in the 2006 NBA draft, acquired last year from the New Jersey Nets (from the Denver Nuggets) as part of the Vince Carter deal. At the moment, that pick is hovering about the No. 20 mark.
"I wasn't totally surprised," Rose said after last night's game between the Raptors and Knicks. "I guess I would have been totally surprised had it been a team that hadn't been speculation basically since the Vince Carter trade. Everybody understands that Toronto's in an active rebuilding mode.
"It wasn't nothing personal. I just understand that business is bigger than basketball nowadays and I'm not beyond it." The Raptors beat the Knicks 104-90 at the Air Canada Centre last night. While Davis was a no-show, an ebullient Rose showed up just before the opening tip, clad in a brown suit and exchanged hugs with several of his former teammates before sitting on the Knicks' bench.
Toronto guard Mike James said the trade of Rose, who was averaging 12.1 points for the Raptors on the season, was like absorbing a body blow.
"It's a business and we're just basically investments," James shrugged.
The deal is most notable for the relief it will provide the Raptors under the NBA's salary cap at the end of this season.
Davis, a power forward and centre is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $13.9-million (U.S.), while Rose still has two years to go on a deal that will see his base pay increase to about $15-million (U.S.) next season.
The Raptors are estimating the trade will clear $10-million in salary cap.
"Cap room is very important," Embry told reporters last night. "The franchise is in transition. Places where I've been I've found it's much easier to build when you have cap room. It gives you flexibility."
By being under the cap, the Raptors would no longer have to match salaries and would be able to add an additional player or players until they have used up their cap room, which is roughly $49-million (U.S.) this season.
If the Raptors did add a player who filled their cap room -- one possibility is Joel Pryzbilla, a centre with the Portland Trail Blazers, who will be a free agent after this season -- then they could use the roughly $5-million (U.S.) mid-level exception to re-sign James.
"We must have the ability to keep players that we have developed, while seeking opportunities to sign players others have developed," Embry said. "This trade is a big step toward being able to accomplish that."
While Embry may have pulled the trigger on the trade, the deal was initiated by Babcock, who was fired as the GM of the struggling organization last week.
Similarly, the trade made by Embry earlier this week, in which veteran Aaron Williams was sent to the New Orleans Hornets for two second-round picks, was a deal Babcock had discussed. "He was waiting until the trade deadline got close to see what else might develop," a source close to the Raptors said.
Other sources indicated Babcock's perceived hesitation in making deals -- as well as the relative confidence the club's executive had developed with Embry -- was what prompted his firing by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
"I think with Rob, there was so little faith in his abilities upstairs, I don't think they even would have let him make this trade," a team insider said.
There is some doubt whether Davis will report to the Raptors or ask to be waived. Embry said he is optimistic
Davis, who played for the Raptors from 1999 to 2003 and is the franchise leader in total rebounds, will report.
Plans are under way to arrange a meeting of Davis, Embry and Mitchell this weekend, according to Davis's agent, Bill Duffy.