In the early, lonely days of a playoff-less off-season, Chris Bosh, the Raptors' all-star, sent a text message to Jay Triano, the Toronto coach. Bosh told Triano that he had finally watched the video of the epic conclusion of the men's Basketball tournament at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But the American player wasn't rubbing a U.S. gold medal in a Canadian's face. He was talking about being a bigger man.
"Chris sent me a message saying, 'I looked too skinny (in Beijing),'" Triano said Thursday. "He said, 'I called my (strength trainer) the next day and said, 'Let's go!'"
A few wondrous months of Texas-based training later, Bosh is the proud owner of 15- or 20-some pounds of well-placed bulk. His formerly scrawny frame now tips the scales, by his count, at a career-high 250 pounds. If it's the most thorough off-season transformation in Raptorland since a teenager named Tracy McGrady went from boy to man in one summer all those years ago, it's also one of the biggest reasons for optimism after Toronto's off-season of change.
The NBA, although its rosters go 15 deep, is still a star's stage. And though Bosh's game has flat-lined since he established himself as a perennial all-star four seasons ago - though he has led the Raptors to precisely one over-.500 season in six years - there is at least some reason to believe that now, at age 25, Toronto's best player is poised to pair his newly found lean muscle into a competitive leap. It's too early for grand pronouncements, of course, but on a team with nine freshly arrived players, the longest-tenured Raptor has the look of a new man, indeed.
"He's more engaged now," Triano said. "I get a text from him now once a week, 'Watching tape. I really clogged things up last year. How are we going to eliminate that this year?' Or, 'Coach, we need to move the ball a little bit better.' He's wanting to get better, (asking) 'What can I do not to clog things up? What can I do defensively?'"
The coach, needless to say, is enamoured with Bosh's contract-year commitment to both the barbells and the details and he is all too happy to offer suggestions for further advancement.
"I gave him three (things to improve) and he texts back, 'Anything else?' I said, 'If the door's open.' And I gave him seven more. So now you have 10 things. And he was, like, 'Thanks. Love constructive criticism.'"
The constructive criticism continues. As the Raptors began training camp here earlier this week, Triano flashed some telling stats for all the players to see, numbers that pointed out the relative efficiency of shooting the ball from various places on the floor. Taking shots in the paint, Triano's data suggested, is an awfully efficient way to score points (and the Raptors , in winning 33 games last year, scored the fourth-fewest in the league according to 82games.com). The stats also said three-point shots are among the NBA's wisest selection of shots. And what of the mid-range jump shot that has been Bosh's bread and butter during his NBA career? Triano's numbers underlined that Bosh's habitual top-of-the-key 20-footer isn't a particularly effective choice.
"Seeing that stat ... now I really want to get to the rim because the fewest points per possession are scored on mid-range shots," Bosh said.
Breaking the mid-range habit, admitted Bosh, will be easier said than done, just as any ascent to another level will come with obstacles. The hamstring tweak that has him watching workouts from the sidelines is worrisome, mostly because alert observers have learned to distrust public diagnoses on the severity of such injuries. (Bosh, for the record, said it's unlikely he'll play in Tuesday's pre-season opener and that full-speed workouts are still about a week away.)
Bosh's option to become a summer-of-2010 free agent could become a distraction as the season rolls along. And the child-support case that coincided with a swoon in Bosh's play last season continues, although Bosh said this week that the legal issues "are not going to affect me."
What's certain is that Bosh's every action affects the Raptors . After an off-season of personnel turnover, Bosh's transformation, of body and mindset, could prove to be the most important change of all.
"Different times, different things click for different guys. Sometimes you see yourself in a new way and Chris did and that was a big thing," Triano said. "I've never seen him wanting to be so good. That's just a great sign for us."