There is no place like home but the Raptors have been left with no choice but to do without Toronto for at least the start of the 2020-21 NBA season. They will instead look to make the best of Tampa, Florida after also considering Nashville, Buffalo, New Jersey, and Kansas City.
Toronto’s front office executives worked right down to the buzzer with public health officials at Canada’s local, provincial, and federal levels to devise a plan that could keep them home, but unfortunately, the current COVID-19 situation was deemed too much of a risk to warrant a return.
“We’ll be away from our home and our fans for now,” team president Masai Ujiri said via a statement. “They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’m not sure that’s possible for us—we love Toronto and Canada, and we know we have the best fans in the NBA. For now, I’ll ask you to cheer for us from afar, and we’ll look forward to the day we are all together again.”
Ujiri emphasized his thanks to everyone involved in the process to try and make things work and stressed that the work will continue until the Raptors can make a return to Toronto. With free agency beginning Friday evening and teams returning to training camps Dec. 1, it was imperative that the Raptors announce a home as soon as possible. That undoubtedly dealt a blow to playing in Toronto, but clarity on the matter is all that matters going forward.
As far as factors that went into the decision to choose Tampa, GM Bobby Webster pointed to everything that was either basketball related or what the players desired if they were going to be away from Toronto.
“What is first and foremost? The players,” Webster said. “What does the practice facility look like? What would be the accommodations around the medical facilities, the medical treatment? Obviously, you need to have an arena that fits NBA standards. There’s a tonne of broadcast issues. There’s health and safety. There’s availability for arena dates. There’s a ton of stuff there.
“I think, at some point, we’re asking people here to uproot their lives and go to a place that, you know, they may potentially be away from their families for six to seven months.”
Home court advantage has been significant for the Raptors over the years and the comforts of Scotiabank Arena will be sorely missed, but the bright side is the team did get a taste of life without Toronto in the Orlando bubble to finish last season, and were pretty successful with a 7-1 record during the seeding games before bowing out of the playoffs in seven games to the Celtics.
Boston will still be a division rival as reports confirm that although Toronto is moving, they will remain in the Atlantic division along with the Sixers, Nets, and Knicks, as opposed to initial rumours that they could be re-aligned to the Southeast Division along with other Florida teams such as the Heat and Magic.
The soonest the Raptors could potentially move back to Toronto would the All-Star break from March 5-10. There will be no game this year, and so that break in the schedule will allow the team a window to return if the COVID-19 situation has sufficiently improved by then.