(prior to last night’s loss to Utah, Toronto mascot Raptor — who escaped the draft by fleeing to Canada during the Vietnam War — honors military vets Anne Wood and Duncan Graham, both of whom had been promised free Maple Leafs tickets)

An assignment to the Raptors beat is the journalistic equivalent of turning lemons into lemonade for the Toronto Star’s unflappable Dave Feschuk.

On a day when the latest in the continuing series of Rose-related trade speculation was printed in these pages, Rose’s cell phones ” two of which were visible in the vicinity of his locker, even if he was not ” were ringing off the hook.

The Raptors, of course, hadn’t won a game since phones had hooks. So with confidence down all around, Rose seemed at least a little flattered by the attention.
“When you’re my age, there’s people younger than me that are retired and there’s players my age that (aren’t) in the league,” said the 32-year-old swingman. “So I guess it always means something when somebody thinks you could help a team.”

Exactly what will help the Raptors is anyone’s guess ” and no one is taking wilder stabs in the dark than a coaching staff that isn’t exactly making a name for itself by overcoming the club’s obvious personnel deficiencies. The optimists figured last night was the game that would turn the season-opening four-game losing streak into a one-game winning one. The Jazz are rebuilding, after all. But the Raptors, after a decent start, gave up a 15-0 second-quarter run that vaulted the Jazz into a cushy lead. And soon the over-riding feeling of this young season ” the feeling that the Raptors haven’t got a hope in heck of beating their opponent du jour ” had taken over the lifeless Air Canada Centre.

The young players, at least, are getting an education on being a Raptor in rough times. Last night Morris Peterson offered an introductory course on delivering a play-me-or-trade-me tirade.
And Rose set a fine example in dealing with theoretical talk of a swap, being non-committal but quotable in equal measures.

Rose’s would-be destination is New York, home to one of the few clubs financially equipped to absorb his $15.9 million (all figures U.S.) salary and send back a package. So, how would Rose enjoy playing for Larry Brown, a coach who frequently benched the player when they co-inhabited Indiana?

“Can’t speculate. I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth either way,” Rose said. “I ain’t going to get into that either way.”

For Rose, who is not a part of this club’s future and hardly enthused about its present, Toronto is a place to pass time, and last night he, like a lot of Raptors, played like it. As the losses mount ” as it becomes more and more evident that Rose’s usefulness as a go-to scorer might be the difference between, say, a 25-win season and a 20-win one ” the likelihood increases that he’ll finish the season elsewhere. This morning’s standings say almost anywhere but here is a better place.