Following Raptors practice on Friday, we heard from Nick Nurse, Chris Boucher and Malcolm Miller; we also got Fred VanVleet and Bobby Webster making media appearances as well. Let’s get right into what everyone had to say:
1. Bobby Webster: “The NBA wants it to look and feel like a normal game... this is not summer league”
That’s Raptors GM Bobby Webster speaking with Sid Seixeiro and Donnovan Bennett, about what the three upcoming scrimmages are going to look like. Webster described it as a trial run for everything — for the teams, certainly, as they get back into shape, rebuild chemistry and re-establish their playbooks, but also for the Bubble employees, from the stat keepers to the equipment managers, to the TV crews, camera operators, broadcast teams and so on. Bubble games just aren’t gonna be the same as a standard NBA game, and everyone needs to adjust, and these scrimmages are all about working out the kinks.
Webster said he expects the first scrimmage (which, for the Raptors, is Friday July 24 at 7:30 p.m. against the Rockets) to be four 10-minute quarters, but subsequent scrimmages will be the full 48. He also says teams will be in full uniforms, not practice gear, and that they’re currently working on figuring out a broadcast plan for Canada.
2. Malcom Miller: “I’m still trying to approach this as a new season, new opportunity”
Miller has always seemed to approach his NBA opportunity the right way, and it looks like he’s continuing that approach in the Bubble. I’ve written about Miller before, and how, despite approaching it the right way, I feel a bit bummed that he hasn’t been able to actually capitalize on it when he gets on the court. He’s got the tools, and the size, and the mindset, but it doesn’t seem to wanna come together on the court, and with a team as deep as the Raptors, you aren’t gonna get too many chances. I hope that if a moment comes in the Bubble, he makes the most of it.
Malcom also talked at length about racism, and what he experienced playing in Berlin, and what America can take from Germany’s approach to history. His entire interview is well worth a listen.
3. Nick Nurse: “There’s multiple guys that can probably step up, and that makes us dangerous”
That’s coach Nurse talking, essentially, about replacing Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs. Nurse admitted that at times, players on last year’s team deferred to Kawhi, which was natural when you have a closer like that. But this year, with the more “equal opportunity” offense, everyone has had a chance to shine, including in some late game situations — and with the confidence they have from winning a title last year, I don’t feel like anyone is afraid to take a big shot or feel like they have to defer.
This could all break down in the playoffs, of course. It’s entirely possible that that confidence disappears, and guys get tight, and they start looking for someone else to carry the load. The team with the best player is usually considered the favourite in any playoff series, and that’s a big part of why. But I feel pretty good about the makeup of this Raptors squad and their ability to get it done, even without a traditional “superstar” on the roster.
4. Chris Boucher: “I can see the difference from the beginning of the season to now, staying in and fighting”
Most of the “fitness” talk in the Raptors Bubble so far has been about Marc Gasol losing weight, but we’ve also has some chatter about Chris Boucher — who’s alleged to have gained about 15 pounds. He spoke about the difference it’s made so far in camp, especially when battling Gasol and Serge Ibaka for rebounds, and how it’s helping him keep position. He also spoke about the strength helping him stay on his feet — “I was falling down a lot when I finished,” he said, which is absolutely true.
Nick Nurse, meanwhile, had plenty of praise for Chris, saying he was awesome in yesterday’s practice. Both Nurse and Boucher talked about whether he’s a four or a five, and Boucher said he’s working on both, trying to become more versatile so he can play in either role; Nurse said they’re trying to keep things simple with Chris, either in pick and rolls on offesne and or roaming on defense, so that he can focus on using his energy to attack or help block shots on the weak side.
With Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol on the team, it’s not clear there’ll ever be room for Chris in the rotation but he is fun to watch, so hopefully Coach can find a few minutes for him.
By the way, I love those glasses Chris is wearing. I wish I could pull that off. The look [fire emoji].
5. Fred VanVleet: “The food is probably the worst part”
VanVleet’s conversation with Shams Charania was mainly focused on the team’s anti-racism messaging, and Fred echoed what Malcolm Miller and Norman Powell said about the jersey messages, and the limited options available. (He declined to say what message he’ll use.) But he also confirmed what we’ve been hearing from a lot of players: Bubble food is kinda trash!
I have to say I’m a bit surprised. These are nice hotels the players are staying at; I’d have thought they’d have good quality chefs in their employ? And if not, surely the NBA would bring in their own people? Hotels of that size definitely have well equipped kitchens. Fred did indicate he thought COVID was placing some limitations on the options, and maybe that’s true in terms of keeping things separate or wrapped. And maybe the pandemic has caused shortages of top ingredients? I dunno. I thought the NBA would be going all-out to give the guys top-shelf meals.
One last thought here, I do think the Raptors organization deserves some credit for how they’ve approached the Bubble. Webster mentioned that the Raptors put a dedicated Bubble team together that collaborated from the top on down, on what they could do to make the Bubble feel like home, to meet everyone’s needs, and continue to amplify the team’s messages regarding anti-racism and social justice. That of course all led to the the little things like the family photos in each player’s room to the Black Lives Matter messaging on the buses and t-shirts.
You can easily dismiss all of this as “the least” that a mega-corporation like MLSE can do, as part of an even larger mega-corporation like the NBA. But it’s more than most teams do. I think it counts for something.