Today’s the day! Raptors basketball returns! Well, kinda. I think it’s valuable to keep expectations in check for tonight’s scrimmage, as we’ll get to below. Let’s check in one last time with what the team had to say before taking the court against Houston:
1. Masai Ujiri: “We said we were going to use the Bubble as a statement, right, we said we were going to use it as a platform”
Ujiri appeared on TNT last night and was asked by Draymond Green about the Black Lives Matter messaging that appeared so prominently on the team’s buses. Ujiri said that driving through Florida for three hours with that message was a great way to get that statement out there, and he’s right about that! Masai said this is on everyone’s mind, players, teams, and they need to continue speaking on it. He also said this is an opportunity not just to call out racism, but also to call out or leaders for the lack of action on the matter. “There’s a lot of leaders not talking,” he said, and while it’s easy to point to one obvious guy Masai could be talking about, the fact is there’s no shortage of people in positions of power who have not said anything, or who have said the right things but then done nothing of value.
I hope that, now that the games are starting and we have actual basketball to focus on, the messaging continue to be just as strong, and that people like Ujiri continue to put pressure on our leaders, holding them to account.
(By the way: Does Draymond Green think there are no Black people in Canada? He asked why a Canadian team would do this. Does he think racism doesn’t exist outside of America?)
2. Ujiri: “We’re coming in there to defend our title”
Ujiri was asked by Charles Barkley if Ujiri and the Raptors felt disrespected as champions, because no one is talking about the Raptors. (I actually don’t think that’s true — the Raptors may not be talked about in the same tier as the Bucks, but plenty of national NBA writers have written about and spoken about the Raptors this year.) But Masai said the Raptors understand it (“It’s kinda what we live with”) and that the team is proud to be the only basketball team outside of the U.S., and that beyond that, they’re not scared of anybody and they’re out there to compete and win.
When people talk about building a winning culture, it starts from the top. And this is what it looks like.
3. Norman Powell: “When you have that competitive nature and competitive spirit, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing in front of 20,000 fans or at the local rec centre”
Powell is looking forward to taking the court and playing against another team (“It’s gonna be fun,” he said of playing Houston tonight) and he also said the lack of fans won’t affect their compete level. I think it’s still gonna be weird for the players, but I think the weirdness will mostly come from the traditional game day trappings being absent — as Norm says, once you get out there and you’re playing ball, you tend to block everything else out anyway.
But the one area where I do think players will feel it is those clutch, momentum-building swings where the crowd starts to go crazy. I know it’s athlete-speak when guys say “we fed out the crowd’s energy tonight” or whatever, but still, when you’re using to the building going nuts after a big bucket that breaks a tie or whatever, even if you don’t consciously think about it... you’re probably gonna miss it when it isn’t there!
4. Patrick McCaw: “It’s gonna be good just to test where we are as a team, with our conditioning... it’ll be nice to go against different competition”
I think that’s the right approach from McCaw here, when thinking about tonight’s scrimmage; yes, it’s awesome to be able to watch basketball again, and it’s gonna be great to see this incredibly fun and lovable Raptors team back on the court! But it’s probably gonna be a pretty terrible basketball game. I’m trying to keep my expectations low, and just enjoy it for what it is.
Also, McCaw said he’s probably been tested for COVID-19 50-times over the past three months. Man, I really hope not all of those have been the “deep nasal swab” test — because that looks horrifying. Not gonna lie, I’m trying to be as cautious as possible during this whole thing, mainly because I don’t want to get the virus or pass it on to those around me... but also because I don’t want a giant q-tip shoved into my brain through my nose. [shudder]
5. Bobby Webster: “We’ve talked to probably 50 or 60 kids already”
It’s easy to forget, what with the season’s timelines being all out of whack — but there’s still an NBA draft to come! The Raptors actually have both of their 2020 picks, and that means there’s a lot of work to be done in figuring out a draft board. Both picks will be at the end of the respective rounds, but that probably actually makes it even more work... and this being the Raptors, they’re probably also looking at “diamonds in the rough” that not get drafted at all! Webster says they’re doing everything they can online, in terms of talking to players, and they’re hoping that at some point they can start working guys out in Toronto, but that will of course depend on travel restrictions. This is all new and different, but I do have to say that it makes a huge difference to me as a fan, knowing my team has such a competent front office, I’m confident they’ll be able to adjust and still make the right decisions.
If I were, say, a Knicks fan? I’d assume they’d simply find a new and novel way to screw up the offseason!
All right, let’s get ready for game time! We’ll have some thoughts tomorrow on how it all goes down tonight.