Few teams in the NBA, or indeed in any other league in US sports, have had a more disruptive offseason than the Toronto Raptors. The team was forced to acclimate to the relative warmth and comfort of Tampa Bay, over 1,100 miles south of the Canadian border.
If early regular season results are anything to go by, the Raptors roster has not yet found its feet in its new surrounds. But there can be no doubt that when they do start clicking properly out on the parquet, Tampa Bay sports fans are in for something special.
Who knows, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Tampa Bay residents and Torontonians.
Here are all the things that b-ball fans need to know about this new team in town, that’s hoping to become the new noisy neighbor on the Florida sports scene.
Free Agency Looms on Horizon of Already Weird Season
As if playing all your home games away from home – in a foreign country no less – was not strange enough for those on the Raptors roster, there’s also the small matter of the franchise already being in a state of flux, with their NBA futures odds ballooning thanks to an enforced rebuilding process.
This is because star player Kyle Lowry will become a free agent at the end of this season, no doubt set to court huge offers from around the league. This may even challenge the record set by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s recent bumper deal with the Bucks.
And that is not all either, with franchise president Masia Ujiri also weighing up offers from other sports and NBA franchises before deciding whether he wishes to stay with the Raptors.
All this turmoil, and the potential for an even rockier long-term outlook, has resulted in most expert NBA betting tipsters and analysts downgrading the Raptors in their odds rankings, unsure if the franchise is robust enough to weather the stormy seas they may encounter this season in Florida, and the seasons after that when they return to the north.
The East is Now Arguably Wilder Than the West
When it comes to putting together lengthy regular-season winning streaks and deep playoff runs, it always helps if the NBA conference you are in is weak enough that you can rotate your squad, resting your big-name players so they are 100% for the showcase games.
That used to be a luxury enjoyed by the Raptors in the East, but unfortunately for them, a whole load of East coast outfits have begun upping their respective games, with the likes of the Bucks, Nets, Celtics, and Heat all laying claim to be the number one side on the Atlantic’s shores.
That sudden uptick in competition in the Eastern Conference is bad news for Toronto who will have to quickly learn how to swim or else be drowned in the deep waters patrolled by the likes of Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Terence Davis Got Season Prep Off to a Bad Start
When you know the going is tough and that it’s likely to get tougher still, the last thing you need is your star players stirring up new and unnecessary problems.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened in the case of Terence Davis, whose off-court misdemeanors towards the end of 2020 have cast a long shadow over what was supposed to be the shooting guard’s breakout season.
Whatever the outcome of his protracted disputes away from the basketball court, there is no doubt that his presence will be greatly diminished this season, meaning other less talented individuals will have to make up for his absences.
The Raptors Must Trust in Youth to get Them Through
When you lose two such seasoned veterans of the game in the form of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, you better sure as hell have a back-up plan to compensate.
It would seem that in their case Toronto have decided that youth trumps experience, with the franchise pinning its hopes on Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. With big things expected from both these grasshoppers, it will be interesting to see if one or both can rise to the considerable challenges ahead.
Who Cares How They Perform? NBA is Back in Tampa!
While it would be a treat to see Tampa’s VIP guests shake up the league this season, most ardent basketball fans in the Bay area will just be delighted to have top-level hoops back in the locale. After all, it’s been almost two long decades since an NBA franchise was based here.
In that regard, it does seem to matter little as to whether the Raptors are successful or not this season, with perhaps them exhibiting exhilarating basketball being more important than results, giving their adopted fans the slam dunks and highlight-reel plays that might just convince NBA executives that Tampa is a city worthy of having its very own permanent NBA franchise.
The Team Is Borrowing Inspiration from the Hornets
Although at first glance it may seem that the plight of the Raptors is unprecedented, that is actually not the case, with the team drawing on the experiences of the displaced New Orleans Hornets, who themselves were forced to up sticks to Oklahoma after Hurricane Katrina wiped out their home court.
As was the case with the Hornets in 2005, other franchise owners from around the league will no doubt pitch in to help Toronto get by this season. After all, losing a team of their size from the league for even just one season would be damaging for everyone with a vested interest in the sport.
Tampa Bay residents can do their bit by putting their full support behind this young and plucky team. One thing is for sure, there are many special basketball moments to expect in the near future, which is all that really matters.