- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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It might only be an interim era, but the Wayne Embry Era in Toronto has started nothing like the Rob Babcock Era.
Embry's first strike as Babcock's temporary replacement was Friday's removal of Jalen Rose from the Raptors' payroll, which wipes away a $17 million obligation for next season.
The Raptors certainly don't have a great need to bring Antonio Davis (and wife Kendra) back to Canada and will meet with Davis on Saturday to determine whether a Toronto reunion is best for all parties.
But they desperately needed Davis' expiring contract as part of their plan to get way under the salary cap this offseason and find a beefy sidekick who can help protect Chris Bosh and thus help convince Bosh -- unlike Tracy McGrady and Carter -- to pledge his future to Toronto. That's why Embry, along with a $3 million check to the Knicks from Raptors ownership, was willing to part with the first-round pick (via Denver) that Babcock clung to.
As for the sidekick search, file away this name: Nene.
Denver's injured power forward/center will be a restricted free agent this summer and a target for any team with salary-cap space, with Chicago and Atlanta already known to be interested. But the Raptors just added themselves to the short list of clubs that might be able to put forth an offer that the Nuggets deem too rich to match or (more likely) forces Denver into a sign-and-trade … especially if Embry can follow through on his efforts to move swingman Eric Williams before the Feb. 23 trading deadline.
Something else you should know: Nene has some little-known Canadian ties.
His original NBA interpreter and personal manager, Joe Santos, was born and raised just outside of Toronto, which might actually give the Raptors a bit of a free-agent edge for once.
Even if Nene can't be lured north of the border out of Denver, having significant cap space is vital as the Raptors try to start over around Bosh. They need to make a splashy acquisition or two to convince Bosh that he would be wise to sign a long-term extension before next season, and cap room makes the Raps a contender for not only Nene -- whom doctors expect to recover fully from his Opening Night knee tear -- but perhaps sharpshooting free agent-to-be Peja Stojakovic, a move that would be well-received by Toronto's expansive Serbian community as well.
Either way, Toronto just increased its options and manufactured some hope after a dark season and a half under Babcock. More moves that do that and Embry, who at 68 has made it clear he prefers an advisory role to the thought of replacing Babcock full-time, might be asked to reconsider.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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