There isn’t a incoming star to impress, no title to defend.
As an alternative, the Toronto Raptors enter the 2020-21 season as wanderers, for no less than the primary half of the schedule, taking part in out of Tampa Bay as the one NBA group displaced from its residence market by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just like the Blue Jays earlier than them, the Raptors have been denied an exception to journey backwards and forwards between the U.S. and Canada whereas forgoing the necessary 14-day quarantine.
Two seasons in the past, the Raptors inherited a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard, who led them to a championship. After Leonard left, this previous marketing campaign was the title defence, a “prove-it” run that confirmed the prior model wasn’t solely fuelled by Leonard.
However as issues are in 2020, the pandemic picked the main storyline for the most recent iteration of the Raptors: how they’re going to deal with being away from residence.
Listed here are eight different issues to observe for in the course of the shortened 72-game season:
Masai Ujiri’s contract is expiring. The architect behind the best period in Raptors historical past is about to develop into a free agent after the season. Ujiri not too long ago mentioned the group’s relocation pushed his personal contract standing off the entrance burner, however possession group MLSE has been open about its willingness to re-sign its president of basketball operations. The truth that nothing has been accomplished means that Ujiri is no less than contemplating different choices. We all know he has pursuits outdoors of basketball, and with no main job openings inside the sport, maybe that is the 50-year-old’s subsequent transfer. Normal supervisor Bobby Webster’s contract can be expiring, although that deal is reportedly near finished.
Kyle Lowry’s contract is expiring, too. The star behind the best period in Raptors historical past is about to hit the open market after his present one-year, $30.5 million US deal expires following this season. At 35, Lowry could also be seeking to be a part of extra of a championship contender than the Raptors. And if the season goes sideways, the group might examine dealing its chief earlier than he can bolt for nothing in free company. Having signed a one-year extension on the eve of final season, Lowry is ineligible to signal one other. Barring a commerce, we cannot have a conclusion to this storyline till subsequent summer time.
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OG Anunoby appears primed for a breakout. The 23-year-old signed a four-year, $72 million contract extension on the eve of the season Monday. Anunoby performed hero within the playoffs when he hit a self-proclaimed “cool” buzzer-beating three-pointer to win Sport three of their playoff towards the Celtics. He was maybe the one Raptor to outperform expectations in that collection, taking pictures the ball properly and exhibiting flashes of a dribble-drive sport. Anunoby’s defensive sport is already elite, however he might begin to obtain extra recognition if given extra accountability towards opponents’ prime choices. With the brand new contract, the Raptors are betting Anunoby will make good on that potential.
The Raptors’ success might hinge on Pascal Siakam. The facility ahead from Cameroon has remodeled from miscast rookie starter right into a fourth-year all-star. That kind of trajectory is uncommon within the NBA and will sign there’s extra nonetheless to return from the 26-year-old. With Giannis Antetokounmpo re-signed in Milwaukee, Siakam could be the Raptors’ best hope at gaining a superstar.
Terence Davis might not be a Raptor for lengthy. The 23-year-old is dealing with a number of prices after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend in October. Davis’ subsequent court docket look is Wednesday, the identical day the Raptors open their season in Tampa towards the New Orleans Pelicans. Davis’ lawyer mentioned she hopes to have the costs dismissed. The NBA is conducting its personal investigation and may punish Davis whatever the authorized final result. Whereas some are calling for the Raptors to waive Davis, such a transfer would possible invite a grievance from the NBA Gamers Affiliation, given the continuing standing of each the league and judicial investigations.
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Fred VanVleet wager on himself and gained. To the tune of a four-year, $84 million contract he landed within the low season. The undrafted guard and 2019 playoff hero made good on his wager from draft day, when he instructed groups to not decide him within the second spherical in order that he might select his personal vacation spot. Now, after a pair of short-term contracts, VanVleet has cashed in. However with cash comes strain: VanVleet has struggled towards larger defenders within the playoffs, and he is one of many worst guards within the league at ending on the rim. However his Lowry-like defence, candy side-spinning shot and management already make up for these flaws. If all the pieces breaks proper, VanVleet might make his first all-star group.
The East is all of the sudden loaded. For years the Japanese convention was a lot weaker than the Western, the place it might typically take 50 wins simply to make the playoffs. However with the arrival of the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving duo in Brooklyn, the hole between the conferences is narrower than ever. That, clearly, is an issue for the Raptors. The Nets, led by Steve Nash, are only one extra contender amongst a gaggle already together with Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and Toronto. The Raptors, within the Ujiri-Lowry period, have at all times been a powerful regular-season group. A top-three end this season ought to guarantee a better first-round playoff matchup. Only one extra twist for what guarantees to be a grinding season in Tampa Bay.