Four storylines to watch ahead of Raptors’ training camp in Tampa

Aron Baynes talks where he'll fit into the Toronto Raptors line-up in a press conference.

The Toronto Raptors are on their way to Tampa Bay, Fla., where they’ll conduct their training camp beginning this week and temporarily call “home” at least for the first half of the NBA season.

It’s been just 80 days since Toronto was eliminated by the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2020 Eastern Conference semifinals, and the team coming into this new season is a whole lot different than the one that nearly made the Conference Finals just a few short months back.

The team won’t be able to practice as a group until Friday, at the latest, but with the club congregating in Tampa, training camp will essentially start Tuesday. As such, here’s a few storylines to keep an eye on as camp progresses.

How safe will it be down there?

As bad as things are in Ontario for COVID-19, heading down to Florida, while convenient as a temporary home, may be even more dangerous with over 960,000 total cases and, as of the time of this writing, more than 51,000 reported in the last seven days, according to the Center for Disease Control.

And unlike the summertime season restart, when the Raptors were last forced to play in Florida, there will be no convenient Disney World bubble to protect the players and team staff.

This could make for a dangerous situation all-around, and while the NBA has outlined health and safety guidelines, they’re still just guidelines and no matter how closely they might be followed, the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus will be more dangerous outside of a bubble environment.

This is a question worth monitoring all season long, really, but specifically starting with training camp it’ll be interesting to see what the environment is like at Saint Leo University for the team and how the players respond to the protocols put in place.

Obviously, the biggest test will come when the team starts heading on a plane and travelling around for games, but, for the time being, observing how it manages to stay virus-free during training camp may provide clues as to how safe the Raptors will be the rest of the season.

Where is Pascal Siakam at now?

The last time we saw Siakam, he was valiantly falling on the sword, taking the blame for Toronto’s loss to Boston after knowing he didn’t meet expectations as the team’s No. 1 option in the post-season.

So then, what kind of Siakam might we see this coming season?

He’s a player who has always come back after time off to make his game better than ever, and the expectation is that this coming season will be no different.

As such, it will be paramount hearing during training camp what he has to say about the hours he’s put in during the off-season and what he may have learned after the loss to the Celtics. Additionally, Dec. 12 — Toronto’s first pre-season game — can’t come soon enough as that will be the first real time we’ll get to see whatever this new and improved Siakam will be.

How the new faces are settling in

The Raptors have quite a few new faces coming into camp this season.

They are as follows: Aron Baynes, DeAndre’ Bembry, Henry Ellenson, Malachi Flynn, Chris Finch, Jalem Harris, Alize Johnson, Alex Len, Yuta Watanabe.

The Athletic’s Blake Murphy first reported that Ellenson, Johnson and Watanabe would be in camp with the Raptors.

Some of them will be fighting for a spot on the roster out of camp and will be touched on more in the next section, but for the rest — names like Baynes, Bembry, Flynn, Finch, Harris and Len — it will be interesting seeing how all of these new parts manage to mesh with the returning faces mainly because of how little time these guys will have had to develop chemistry.

There’s normally a prolonged off-season for players to get together and start working out together before coming into camp, but this year that won’t be the case.

And for the Raptors, in particular, a team that generally succeeds because of its egalitarian approach and the chemistry, getting everyone on the same page as quickly as possible will be vital for the team’s success.

End-of-roster battle

As always, attention in training camp will shift to the end of the roster and guys who will be fighting for a spot on the big club.

As a refresher, teams can bring up to 20 players to camp, but the list must be cut down to 15 with two additional openings for players on two-way contracts.

The Raptors are bringing a full 20 players to camp and that number will have to be whittled down before the regular season starts on Dec. 22. They are as follows:

OG Anunoby
Aron Baynes
DeAndre’ Bembry
Chris Boucher
Oshae Brissett
Terence Davis II
Henry Ellenson
Malachi Flynn
Jalen Harris
Alize Johnson
Stanley Johnson
Alex Len
Kyle Lowry
Patrick McCaw
Norman Powell
Pascal Siakam
Matt Thomas
Fred VanVleet
Yuta Watanabe
Paul Watson Jr.

Of that list, there are eight players who are on partially guaranteed deals or are on two-way contracts, and these are the players who will be the focus as far as camp battles go.

The two players on two-way deals are Watson and second-round pick Harris, according to Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports, essentially pulling them out of the running of the camp battle, but for the six others — Brissett, Davis, Ellenson, Thomas, Watanabe and Alize Johnson — expect to see some fierce competition for the back-end of Toronto’s bench.

With that said, there is the caveat that Thomas, unless the Raptors choose not to guarantee his deal, is likely making the team, regardless, and the Davis situation is such that the team, in all likelihood, had no choice but to guarantee his contract Sunday and is likely waiting on the result of the league’s investigation into his arrest in New York before making a decision.

Besides those two, however, expect a fight between Brisett — who also according to Smith has signed a multi-year deal with the Raptors — Ellenson, Johnson and Watanabe.

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