As Raptors open training camp, expectations remain unchanged

Tim sits down with Raptors GM Bobby Webster on Media Day to discuss a difficult last season, team vaccines and the organization looking forward to once again playing at home in Toronto.

For the first time since Feb. 28, 2020, the Toronto Raptors were in the building at Scotiabank Arena.

On Monday, the team finally managed to return to its official home for its annual media day festivities, where general manager Bobby Webster, head coach Nick Nurse and four players, including Pascal Siakam and newcomer Goran Dragic, spoke to an assembled group of reporters in-person.

Here are a few highlights of what was said by each person who spoke on Monday.

The Raptors are close to being fully vaccinated

The most pressing question around the start of every NBA team starting up camp again is how vaccinated the team is. In the case of the Raptors, it looks like getting the team has been full onboard to get jabbed and as protected as they can against COVID-19.

“With us, we are really close,” said Webster. “We’ll announce when we are 100 per cent vaccinated for players and staff, but so you all have it here, we are currently one second dose away. So we are really close. We are not quite there but we anticipate on opening night that we will be at 100 per cent.”

That’s not just good news, but relieving news as well as it means that the team won’t have to go through the potential headaches that other teams around the league may have to face with players only being able to play in certain markets.

However, on the topic of unvaccinated opposing players, those individuals should still be able to play in Toronto when they visit as the Raptors can apply for a National Interest Exemption for them.

“So we have the NIE, so there is an exemption for unvaccinated players to come into Canada,” Webster said. “I don’t know if it’s similar to the Blue Jays one but they have a really stringent modified quarantine. I believe it’s hotel, place of work, so obviously, the arena and practice facility, daily testing and mask wearing.”

Had the Raptors had unvaccinated players on their team they likely would’ve had to apply for an NIE for their own, but it looks like, thankfully, they won’t have to go through that particular headache.

As for who has yet to get that final dose, the Raptors weren’t willing to divulge that particular piece of information, and it sounds like the team doesn’t really want to discuss the topic of vaccines around the league, in general. Or, at least, Fred VanVleet doesn’t.

“I’m not touching any vaccinated, unvaccinated questions, I see that’s become a media whirlwind in the last couple of days so I’m going to respectfully stay out of that,” VanVleet said.

“I’m happy that hopefully, we won’t have to deal with any of that, we’re in a time where all of that stuff is new, it’s happening every day, there’s good information, bad information, good media, bad media, it’s like such a divisive topic right now, I’m happy that our team can just be locked in and not have to have that split of having to figure out what we’re doing to do with this guy when we travel to this city.

“Whoever is unvaccinated, it’s their own personal journey and they have to deal with whatever comes their way.”

The conversation around vaccines won’t be going away anytime soon around the league, but at least around the Raptors it likely isn’t a topic that will be discussed very much now that we know that the team should be fully vaccinated in time for Oct. 20.

The expectations of the club appear to be the same as always

As far as what to expect from this Raptors team this season on the floor, while there has been some prognostication that this is a club that won’t have the greatest of seasons, with many believing this to be an 11th-place-or-worse squad in the Eastern Conference hovering around the 35- or 36-win mark, the Raptors, of course, don’t view themselves that way and haven’t lowered their usual expectations of being a pretty good, competitive team.

“I don’t really approach the season with thoughts other than trying to win and win big,” said Nurse. “There’s got to be a way. There’s got to be a way and we’ve gotta figure it out. And if we’ve gotta work a little harder then we’re gonna work a little harder and if we’ve gotta play a little smarter then we’ve gotta coach a little better to get them to play a little smarter.”

Added VanVleet: “The goal is to win a championship every year and I’m certainly not going to lower my standards because I don’t care who’s on the team, and that’s what we’re gonna push for. Do we have to have more patience? Yes. Do we have to manage the expectations? Probably. But at the same time, the goal is gonna be to win, and that’s set from the top down.

“This is not a franchise that’s accustomed to having the type of year that we had last year, but I think we’re on the track to get right back to where we need to be.”

The team seems pretty excited about all the length and athleticism it features

One of the biggest assets this Raptors team has coming into the new season is all the rangy, long and athletic players the team boasts to be as supposedly “position-less” and versatile as possible on both ends of the floor.

No one really knows how this will all fit until we actually see it ourselves on the floor, but the team has high hopes for what all of these six-foot-eight, six-foot-nine, athletic players on the roster will be able to bring to the roster.

“I think with some versatility, first of all, we believe in ball pressure, right? We believe in trying to get into the basketball and we think that letting people handle the ball with freedom and ease is not something we want to do, right? We want to try to be disruptive,” said Nurse of how all thing length might aid his team’s defence.

“I think all the kind of same sized guys a lot of the times gives you a lot more switching to do and again that goes along with switching to disrupt, right, not just switching to slide along, but switching to get in there and jar the ball loose and change patterns and cut offenses off and things like that. And I also think that all the length should enable us to play a lot more zone, right? I think that would be something.”

As for what the team might be able to do offensively, an area of some admitted concern from Nurse, it sounds like this is a team that will look to get out in transition as much as it reasonably can as that would be a way it could turn its defence into offence.

“We're not trying to be some run and gun type of team, but we do like to put pressure on the defence and I also say that if we're gonna play all this defence we better get some offence out of it, right?

“So I think that those things are important about getting it up quickly and trying to attack before they’re set and get them in rotations really quickly and all those kind of things just as a complementary piece to our defence and also puts a lot of pressure on their defence.”

Siakam’s rehabilitation appears to be going well, and he seems to be in high spirits

Siakam, of course, was a major talking point during media day, but outside of discussion about his leadership and his new role as “the man” now on the team, Siakam updated the media on how his rehab from off-season shoulder surgery has been going.

“I had the surgery. It was my first surgery, so I was a little scared. I think things have been going super well,” said Siakam. “I’m just gonna continue to rehab. I was in L.A. all summer. Just continue to get right and I think it’s moving in the right direction. Hopefully I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

Added Nurse about how Siakam has looked so far as he recovers: “Pascal looks really good right now. I mean if you went into the gym and saw him working out, you wouldn't know that he was anything. I mean he's moving full speed. He's in great shape, his conditioning looks good.”

Siakam isn’t expect to return to the lineup until closer to late November with a possible return date set for close to U.S. Thanksgiving, possibly, according to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange.

It doesn’t appear like Dragic will be any issue

Goran Dragic’s tenure with the Raptors didn’t get off to the best of starts, but between his apologetic comments he made to Grange shortly after his controversial comments came out back in August, and what he was saying on media day, it seems pretty safe to say that Dragic will be a professional for however long his stint with the Raptors ends up being.

“I have been here for two weeks. I was practicing, getting to know the people in the organization, the coaches, the training staff and everything and one thing that I noticed is it's a hard-working group,” said Dragic. They established the culture, and it's something that I was a part of before [in Miami] and I really cherish that and I see that you know they're working hard to develop young players and they always play hard.

“And that's why they won a championship and because of that, every player wants to do that, and I'm happy to be here and I can be part of that and give everything that I got.”

And in case that wasn’t effusive enough of his new situation with the Raptors for you, Dragic’s reason for taking No. 1 instead of his old No. 7 because it was his old buddy – and Raptors legend Kyle Lowry’s – number may yet change your opinion of him.

“Kyle, he brought a championship to this organization so I do believe that probably his jersey is going to be in the rafters and that's why I chose No. 1,” said Dragic. “I already had number one in the past, when I was with the Phoenix Suns, and I had a pretty decent season that year. That's why I chose No. 1.”

As mentioned before, it’s unknown just how long, exactly, Dragic might be a Raptor for, but one thing that does look like you can bank on is he’ll give it all he has for the team while he’s on it. He doesn’t seem to be like a man wired to give anything other than his best.

Scottie Barnes looks to have endeared himself to his veteran teammates quickly

Though he didn’t speak to the media on Monday, Scottie Barnes came up a number of times during Media Day and it was nothing but glowing reviews for the young man across the board.

Nick Nurse: “First of all his role is going to be huge. I'm sitting here from Day 1 to give him as many minutes and reps and all those things that he can handle. I think his impact of defending, rebounding, running, spirit, enthusiasm, size – all that stuff gets him in the mix, early and often – and he'll stay in there, often and late, I would imagine.”

Pascal Siakam: "So I was walking, I was in practice, and I think it we were doing physicals and I was walking out and he was in the hallway, and he was trying to give me one of those high [chest] bumps like you do in the game, and I'm just walking in the facility. It’s like I hit some game winner or something.

“I think he's just he's just an exciting kid, like he's exciting to be around and, he just has a great presence and it’s really, really fun to see. I mean, I feel like he might beat me in terms of energy just because he's always happy, always excited. It's great to see.”

Goran Dragic: “He's hilarious. He's so funny. Good kid. Works hard, you know you're gonna see him to be first in the gym, last to go out. He got that personality that it's unique, and I really like him. So we hung out a couple of times. And, yeah, he’s got a bright future. I can already see that. He’s really funny.”

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