COVID-19 be damned, the NBA gears have started to hum along again, as the league has settled on a December 22 start date and teams reconvene in anticipation of next Thursday’s draft.
For the Raptors part, it looks like discussions about a temporary home — with the U.S.-Canada border closed and an accelerated timeline for decisions — have reached a head.
Sportsnet’s Michael Grange reported late Wednesday that Tampa Bay has emerged as the favourite landing spot for as long as Toronto can’t hold home games at Scotiabank Arena. Grange cites both sources within the Raptors organization and the NBA.
"We're on the clock" -- The Raptors need to find out where they're playing and soon. If it's not Toronto, sources say it's likely Tampa: https://t.co/W4G8UbAET1— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) November 12, 2020
This would mean home games at AMELIE Arena, where the Tampa Bay Lightning play out of — but Toronto executives aren’t resigned to that fate, according to Grange.
As they lobby for a favourable outcome – MLSE has had a roughly 20-person committee dealing with issues related to the pandemic since January – their plan is to push the timing of the decision as close to the limit as they possibly can.
Training and playing in Toronto means having a world-class practice facility at their fingertips and it means that Raptors staff don’t have to navigate being separated from their families for the bulk of the season.
And while Tampa isn’t necessarily close to the Raptors’ Atlantic Division rivals — a flight to Boston is just under three hours — it doesn’t carry the political baggage of Louisville, doesn’t mean crossing time zones like Nashville, and is a warm weather environment for the players to enjoy during the winter months.
Still, the lobbying continues between the Raptors and the Canadian government. Availability of rapid PCH testing for the purposes of cross-border sporting events hasn’t really materialized. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s the best political decision for Trudeau to put basketball before public health. Even though the Blue Jays put together a plan that involved making sure players tested negative before traveling back to Canada, their request to play 2020 home games at Rogers Centre still fell through at the last minute. Though we’re further along now in the pandemic, and perhaps closer to a vaccine than previously imagined, it’s still unlikely to me that the government will budge from potentially bringing the U.S.’ unique epidemic into the country.
Is having the Raptors play home games all the way down in Tampa an ideal outcome? Probably not. But with numbers spiking in Ontario and lockdowns starting, I can’t think of a situation where fans would be in the building at Scotiabank in the near future anyway. Keeping the NBA below the border is probably the best decision for all parties at this point.