Where Raptors will call 'home' weighing on team as off-season heats up

Marc Berman joined Good Show to talk about the ramifications of the Toronto Raptors potentially playing outside of their home city, for both recruiting free agents and keeping fans engaged.

If you were being asked to suddenly relocate temporarily for work, say for six months or so, what is the minimum amount of notice you would expect to have from your boss?

Anything short of two weeks would seem ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

Like, when you factor in the need to find a place to live and what to do with your old place; decide whether it makes sense to bring the family or not; let alone the simple logistics of packing or shipping a car or anything else that shows up on a to-do list in advance of a big move, two weeks would seem the bare minimum -- an amount of time that was suitable only because a month or longer wasn’t an option.

That’s where the Toronto Raptors will be as of Tuesday morning – two weeks out from training camp, but without any assurance where that will be.

The rest of the NBA, unworried about such existential concerns, is continuing on without them.

The trade moratorium was lifted Monday afternoon, the draft is Wednesday night and the negotiating window for free agents opens on Friday at 6 p.m., with signings able to take place on Sunday.

It promises to be a hectic week and the process has already been kickstarted.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have continued with their grand plan to accumulate every draft pick in every draft, as they have reportedly reached an agreement to trade Chris Paul to the Phoenix Suns.

The Los Angeles Lakers have reportedly bolstered their title defence aspirations by agreeing to trade Danny Green to the Oklahoma City Thunder for playmaker Dennis Schroeder. In both deals the Thunder acquired a first-round pick, giving OKC roughly a bajillion of them in the next six drafts.

Players are picking up their options – yes, shocking as it may seem, Stanley Johnson picked up his option of the final year of his deal with Toronto, wisely judging that it was unlikely that anyone was going to pay him $3.8 million in this tight-knit market to play the 150 minutes the sparsely-used forward was on the floor for last season.

Players are declining their options, too – Robin Lopez is now a free agent after playing one season alongside his brother in Milwaukee. If the Raptors' front office had a sense of humour they could sign the wild-haired Lopez and former Serge Ibaka sparring partner to deals, just to see what would happen in training camp.

There is no doubt Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster are on top of things as they try to work out what to do with their pending free agents – Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Ibaka – as well as doing the math on whether it makes sense to sign OG Anunoby to a rookie extension before the season starts, or wait sign him as a restricted free agent next summer.

But at the same time, they’ve got to field calls from various agents and in some cases from the players themselves with a simple yet pressing question:

Where is training camp, and where are we playing this season?

“I don’t know what to tell [my client]” said an agent for one Raptors player. “He’s pretty particular about his living arrangements and likes to have all that stuff figured out well in advance but right now the team isn’t saying anything and so we just have to wait. I’m going to hire a realtor in Tampa tomorrow just in case.”

Based on multiple sources it seems like an arrangement where the Raptors play their games in Tampa at Amalie Arena (home of the Tampa Bay Lightning) and train in the community nearby – the University of South Florida has hosted NBA teams for training camps in the past, as an example – is the leading option if the Raptors can’t get the necessary exemptions from quarantine requirements to travel freely across the border.

But even late last week Fort Lauderdale and Nashville were mentioned as options to agents asking about where their clients might be headed.

The Raptors continue to say that their first option is to train in Toronto at their OVO practice facility and play games at Scotiabank Arena.

They have been working in parallel on options B, C and D, but time is running short.

Several agents representing Raptors players contacted by Sportsnet said they’ve received little to no insight from the team about where their clients may be headed in the short- or long-term.

“It’s a little surprising,” said one. “You would think they would say, ‘We really want to be in Toronto but just in case, familiarize yourself with Tampa – or wherever – just in case.”

Even with Ujiri’s close relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, there doesn’t seem to be much obvious traction being gained on the possibility of playing in Toronto this season.

“It’s a very protocol driven process,” said one team official. “It’s ‘Send us your proposal and we’ll evaluate it’ and that’s about it.”

Ultimately the decision for who gets to be exempted from the quarantine requirements at the border is made by Health Canada.

When I reached out to the office of Health Minister Patty Hajdu, the response was clear as mud:

“The Government of Canada’s priority is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. The resumption of sports events in Canada must be undertaken in adherence to Canada’s plan to mitigate the importation and spread of COVID-19. Like other countries, Canada is working on plans for a measured resumption of sports, including, both professional and amateur sporting events.

"The Government is open to reviewing proposals from the Toronto Raptors that includes a comprehensive public health plan agreed to by the Public Health Agency of Canada and obtaining written support from provincial or territorial public health officials.”

In the meantime, Ujiri has done some subtle prodding through the media – an interview with the CBC here, an op-ed in the Toronto Star there – to get his position out there and perhaps make it easier (optically at least) for the government to grant the required exceptions and exemptions even as the second wave of COVID-19 keeps rising on both sides of the border with no crest in sight.

After all the NHL, MLB and MLS – not to mention the CHL and other lesser leagues that operate in both Canada and the US – will be watching with interest.

One way or the other, a precedent could be set.

Those are big picture issues. But for the player trying to figure out whether they need to rent an apartment in Toronto or Tampa or the Raptors staffer waiting to find out if they have to leave their family behind for months at a time – again – they just want to know: Where are we going and when.

Tuesday is two weeks until training camp.

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