Fred VanVleet has nothing but great things to say about Tampa. He loves food. The people in the arena are nice. The temporary accommodations for the Toronto Raptors were as good as anyone would expect. It didn’t even bother him that an alligator lived in his backyard.
The Raptor Guard has only one complaint.
âIt’s just not Toronto,â VanVleet said. “It’s not where we’re supposed to be.”
Toronto’s races of seven straight winning seasons, seven straight playoff seasons and five straight 50-game seasons are over, after a season like no other for the Raptors. They haven’t played in Canada since February 2020, had to make do on the Florida Gulf Coast this season, watched players get injured, watched players and most coaches deal with coronavirus issues , and it all added up to a sad record of 27-45.
Now comes an offseason where playmaker Kyle Lowry – he’s now called the GROAT, or the greatest Raptor of all time – is a free agent. There is also uncertainty as to the status of team leader Masai Ujiri with the franchise and with no guarantees that Toronto will be home again when next season begins in a few months.
âIt wasn’t like we didn’t have the facilities or anything,â Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “The restrictions on how much time you could spend together, the way you spent them together, the tests that kept you would like to function normally, those were the main issues I saw.”
The Raptors started off slow, seemed to find their lead about a month out of the year, and looked a lot like a playoff team until those virus issues arose. Toronto, which needed a temporary residence this season due to the challenge of crossing the Canada-U.S. Border during a pandemic, has not been the same since.
âI would like to think this team could have been a lot better than this one,â Nurse said.
Coming home would help, VanVleet said. The weather in Florida in January is a bit nicer than what is common in Toronto this time of year, but VanVleet has missed it all. He missed the change of seasons, the rabid fan base the Raptors built, the familiarity with a true hometown.
That’s why he doesn’t think the Raptors’ window of victory has suddenly closed. This year won’t be record-erased, but no other NBA team faced what Toronto was this season.
âWe took a few bumps and bruises along the way,â VanVleet said. “But everything will be fine.”
WHERE IT WAS NEEDED
The Raptors went 9-3 over a three-week span spanning the end of January and most of February, finding themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference race. That’s when players and coaches were lost to virus issues and Toronto lost 15 of its next 17 games. The Raptors were technically in the play-in race until there was about a week left into the season, but they didn’t exactly pursue it with a ton of vigor.
SUMMER OF THE NURSE
Nurse is also the coach of Canada’s National Men’s Team, which will need to win a six-team Olympic qualifying tournament in British Columbia to compete in the Tokyo Games. He doesn’t care about the workload. âWe have 2-1 / 2, three weeks with Canada, unless we win,â Nurse said. “And if we win, the extra month or six weeks we put in will definitely be worth it.”
VanVleet and Pascal Siakam were both consistent 20-point scorers, and Lowry has been saying for some time now that the Raptors will ultimately become VanVleet’s team from a leadership perspective. If Lowry leaves as a free agent, then clearly the time will have come. Lowry was preparing to be moved by the trade deadline, but the Raptors held him back at that time and will almost certainly try to woo him.
10 FOR 30
The Raptors had 10 players after at least one game in which they’ve scored 30 or more points this season, with five different players – VanVleet, Lowry, Siakam (twice), Stanley Johnson and Jalen Harris – doing so in the past two weeks. of the season alone.
In 2019-20, the Raptors used 18 starting rosters in 72 regular season games. This year, again playing exactly 72 games, they used 38 starting lineups. It was difficult to be consistent when the rotation was constantly changing.