Raptors’ McKechnie tasked with getting team into shape post-stoppage

The Toronto Raptors arrived in Fort Myers Florida Monday to begin their preparation for the NBA return-to-play plan. Michael Grange & Faizal Khamisa discuss where the Raps will train, when COVID-19 testing begins and how the dinos are staying fit.

The Toronto Raptors touched down in Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday and made their way to nearby Naples, Fla., to begin their preparations for the 2019-20 NBA season’s restart in Walt Disney World near Orlando.

Currently in the midst of Phase 2 of the NBA’s return-to-play plan, the Raptors got a special exception to convene in Florida early instead of in their home market like the rest of the NBA because of their circumstance as a Canada-based team that would’ve had to quarantine for two weeks.

Since the start of Phase 2 there’s been a lot of focus on health and safety measures in regard to the NBA’s resumption. Some NBA players have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, as the league begins mandatory testing before teams travel into the Disney bubble.

Tracking coronavirus cases is an important thing to monitor, especially after the state reported a single-day record of 5,511 new cases on Thursday.

But equally important is the health of the players as they return from a months-long hiatus without having had their typical resources to stay fit with the world locked down thanks to COVID-19.

Speaking on a Sports Business Classroom panel Thursday, Raptors director of sports science Alex McKechnie discussed some of the challenges involved in getting players right again after such a long layoff and during these strange times.

“It’s difficult to measure the conditioning, obviously, at this point,” McKechnie said. “So how do we deal with this knowing full well that every one of our players is going to be at completely different levels of fitness, knowing that some people have done a certain amount of work and some people have done different kinds of work?

“We know that we have to address injuries, we know that we have to address cardio conditioning using all sorts of techniques – we’ve used yoga, we’ve used a million different things to try to sustain and maintain – however, we know that everyone’s at different levels of fitness at this point. So this is our job over the next two weeks. To try to pull everything into a status quo and a norm for players to work within.”

Because of the variable level of fitness that players may have entered Phase 2 in, McKechnie stressed how important it was that the Raptors found a way to convene together somewhere outside their home market. The two-week quarantine would’ve been just too much to try to make up, even if players are still only limited to individual workouts right now.

“You’re coming into two weeks of quarantine if you come into Canada, so we couldn’t afford to lose two weeks of work with our players at this point and we had to evaluate the best-case scenario here. So we had to come to Florida by permission of the NBA and the (players’ association) and we’ve developed our own training camp here in Naples,” McKechnie said.

“So we’re working out here and developing our own programs and making our assessments as we go along. On a day-to-day basis we’ve got to start assessing players individually and face the possible challenges of how we step into this bubble and maintain a level of consistency and fitness.”

Teams that are travelling to Orlando are expected to start doing so on July 7 with training camp slated to begin on July 9. As McKechnie said, work has already begun with the Raptors to get players as fit as possible before training camp begins and then continuing that work when they reach the NBA campus.

A big part of the philosophy McKechnie said the Raptors are employing in this ramp-up work is knowing and understanding the unique needs of each player.

“I think we’re very comfortable and we know where our players are at and, from a personnel standpoint, we know that certain players need to pushed more than others, we know that some have lost a little bit of an edge, we know that some players like to be on the ball and on the court more than others,” McKechnie said. “So there’s so many different things that have to be considered.”

Among those many things is the term that most people came to know McKechnie for last season when Kawhi Leonard was around: load management.

As he explained, load management isn’t just about sitting out games, there’s a lot to it and tailoring an individual load management program for each player will be an important part of keeping the Raptors as healthy as possible before they enter the bubble and beyond.

“I’ll use the term ‘load management,’ that’s obviously a buzzword, but the fact is load management doesn’t mean rest, it means managing the load and having that feel for how you come and go with that, and that’s really important,” McKechnie said. “And what’s extremely important here is recovery and how we’re dealing with rest and how we’re dealing with sleep and how we’re dealing with nutrition and supplements. All of these things are taken into consideration.”

The work McKechnie and the Raptors training staff did with Leonard last season was universally praised and its results could very clearly be seen in the warrior-like post-season performance Leonard put together that saw him play all 24 playoff games without taking any off despite, at times, looking like he may have injured himself.

There’s no Leonard this time, but heading into the 2020 playoffs, McKechnie and his team figure to be just as important as last year in getting the Raptors ready for what they’re hoping will be another long, triumphant playoff run.

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