Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri is seen in the tunnel area ahead of NBA basketball action against New Orleans Pelicans, in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. The Toronto Raptors are the only NBA team forced to play outside of their home market this season, but Ujiri says the club is doing everything it can to help players feel comfortable in Tampa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri is seen in the tunnel area ahead of NBA basketball action against New Orleans Pelicans, in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. The Toronto Raptors are the only NBA team forced to play outside of their home market this season, but Ujiri says the club is doing everything it can to help players feel comfortable in Tampa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ujiri: Raptors’ unique trait is ‘togetherness,’ says Toronto will adapt to Tampa

Raptors learned less than three weeks ago they wouldn’t be permitted to play out of Scotiabank Arena

Their practice facility is still under construction. The players and staff are on the hunt for temporary housing in Tampa.

As the NBA’s only team playing outside of its market — and country — this season, the Toronto Raptors have numerous hurdles to clear.

But team president Masai Ujiri said if there’s a unique trait about Toronto, it’s his roster’s ability to come together in the face of big challenges.

He expects nothing less in this bizarre campaign.

“Listen, this is not an easy task here,” Ujiri said on a Zoom video conference call Saturday. “There’s a lot of sacrifices to it. I know the whole world is sacrificing now and we are coming into a game and we’re working at a job that we love.

“When we decide this is something that we are going to do, we all want to do it together. I’m proud of this organization, honestly, to make this jump.”

The Raptors begin team practices Sunday in Tampa, where they’ll play their “home” games at Amalie Arena at least for part of the season due to Canada’s travel restrictions around COVID-19.

Ujiri spoke to the media for nearly 40 minutes Saturday, touching on everything from free agency and front-office contracts, to keeping the Black Lives Matter momentum going, and the seventh anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death.

The Raptors learned less than three weeks ago they wouldn’t be permitted to play out of Scotiabank Arena. The last-minute location change has meant rushing to build a practice court in a hotel ballroom, and finding the players and staff housing.

Replicating the comforts of Toronto’s OVO Centre practice facility won’t be easy, but Ujiri said if the team’s reaction to the bubble’s ballroom courts during the NBA’s summer restart is any indication, the team will adapt.

“I remember walking into the ballroom in the bubble almost the same time as Kyle (Lowry) and Fred (VanVleet). I’ll never forget that image in my head. Right away they dribbled the ball and just got to it,” Ujiri said. “These guys are hoopers. There was no complaint, there was nothing, all they wanted to do was play. That’s how basketball players are, they see that hoop, they see that wooden floor and they just want to play.”

Ujiri, who is with the team in Florida and was also in the Walt Disney World “bubble” after the resumption of play, said priority No. 1 is supporting the players and staff in relocating.

“As the leader of the organization you try as hard as you can to make your staff, your players, everybody feel as comfortable as you can,” he said. “That’s why you always want to be in the environment that they are in too so that you are experiencing it with them.”

The global pandemic will determine whether the Raptors will be home before the end of the season.

“Whether we are in Naples (Toronto’s pre-bubble camp), whether we are in a bubble in Orlando, whether we’re here, whether we’re coming back, we play sports to win,” he said. “You are going to have adversity … wherever we end up, home in Toronto, we love you guys there and we will do everything for you guys.”

Whether fans will be allowed at Amalie Arena for the 18 home games scheduled so far — the league has released only the first half of the season schedule — is still a question mark. Florida had over 10,000 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, and recently surpassed the one-million mark in total cases.

“We’re in the process of working all these things (out), and I don’t have definite answer for you, but the health and safety protocols are going to be important to us,” said Ujiri, who thanked the Orlando Magic for allowing the Raptors to play within the same market.

READ MORE: ‘I am one of yours forever,’ departing Serge Ibaka tells Toronto Raptors fans

Uncertainty around where they’d play pushed the renegotiation of staff contracts to the back-burner, but Ujiri said GM Bobby Webster’s new contract is virtually a done deal.

There remains roster uncertainly around the future of Terence Davis, who faces seven charges, including assault and harassment after allegedly striking his girlfriend. Davis, who is with the team in Tampa, appears in court Dec. 11, a day before the Raptors tip off the pre-season at Charlotte.

Ujiri said the team must respect the process of the players’ association and the league’s investigation.

“We made a decision as an organization with all the information we had with us. I will say this: We don’t condone anything that resembles what was alleged to have happened … we’ve done as much due diligence in talking to Terence, in talking to our organization,” Ujiri said. “We went as far as even talking to all the women in our organization and getting their point of view.”

The Raptors revamped their front court in free agency after losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. With so much riding on the 2021 off-season and free agency, Ujiri said that limited “term and years” the Raptors could offer their former big men.

“Marc and Serge were incredible for our organization, and all of us have the same exact feelings about them,” he said. “Hard to see, but sometimes we have to move on from these things.”

The Raptors added Aron Baynes, a “guy that you don’t like on the other team and you love on your team,” Ujiri said, and Alex Len to fill the void.

The NBA’s developmental G League is also in limbo, and when — or if — it does tip off this season, Raptors 905, which runs out of Mississauga, Ont., faces the same travel restrictions as its parent club. That doesn’t mean they won’t figure out a way to play.

“I will say this, whatever the G League is doing, the Toronto Raptors and 905 will participate,” Ujiri said.

A CBC “kid reporter” posed the Zoom call’s final question to Ujiri, asking how young fans can follow the team while they’re not playing at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.

“We’re here! We’re on TV! You can see us — we’re not going anywhere,” Ujiri said the young reporter. “We’re right here with you guys. And we’ll be back. We’ll be back soon enough. We’re going to give it our all, we’re going to try and play our best … this goes fast. A couple days ago we were in the bubble. We’re right here now.”

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

NBA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Robert Dale Stanton of Clinton was last heard from on Jan. 9, and police are asking for the public’s assistance in locating him. (Photo credit: RCMP)
Police ask for help in locating missing Clinton man

Robert Dale Stanton was last heard from on Jan. 9 and is believed to be in the Clinton/70 Mile area

Williams Lake is beginning to freeze over and with temperatures expected to remain below zero beginning Tuesday evening the ice may get thick enough for residents to recreate. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake could freeze enough for outdoor recreation activities

Overnight lows anticipated to dip below -13C beginning Wednesday

From the peak of Mica Mountain in the scenic Cariboo Mountain Range, which has a view of the distant mountains in the Clearwater area, including Raft and Trophy mountains.
Teen snowmobiler says South Cariboo SAR ‘real heroes’

Youth built a snow cave after getting separated from his friends, family

Laura Ball (from left), Simone Groundwater and Steve Carpenter curling during the final bonspiel of the 2020 season, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. With uncertainty regarding what the future holds surrounding gatherings and organized sporting events, the Williams Lake Curling Club has made the decision to cancel the rest of its 2020/21 season. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake Curling Club ends season amid pandemic uncertainty

WLCC will now look to the resumption of curling in the fall

B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth (Black Press files)
B.C. watchdog says mentally ill children and youth retraumatized in hospital

The number of children held under the Mental Health Act has increased an alarming 162 per cent in past decade

A new video from NCCIH and BC Northern Health titled ‘Healing in Pandemic Times: Indigenous Peoples, Stigma and COVID-19’ was animated by Joanne Gervais. (Photo Provided By: NCCIH Archives)
VIDEO: Stigma against Indigenous people is a ‘social sickness’

A new short animated video is aiming to educate the public on the stigmatization

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A pinniped was attacked by an unseen predator off the shores of Dallas Road Monday night. (Courtesy of Steffani Cameron)
VIDEO: Seal hunting, not being hunted in video shot off Victoria waterfront

Victoria woman captures footage of pinniped activity off Dallas Road

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

The British Columbia Hotel Association (BCHA) sent out a sharply worded release late last week, in which it noted that the Tourism Industry Association of BC recently obtained a ‘legal opinion’ on the matter (Alex Passini photo)
Hotel associations push back against any potential ban on inter-provincial, non-essential travel restrictions

B.C. Premier John Horgan is seeking legal advice on banning non-essential travel

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
COVID rapid tests in long-term care key during vaccine rollout: B.C. care providers

‘Getting kits into the hands of care providers should be a top priority,’ says former Health Minister

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. turns to second doses of COVID-19 vaccine as supplies slow

Pfizer shipments down until February, to be made up in March

B.C.’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training announced funding to train community mental health workers at four B.C. post-secondary institutions. (Stock photo)
B.C. funding training of mental health workers at four post-secondary institutions

Provincial government says pandemic has intensified need for mental health supports

Most Read