Say hello to the Tampa Raptors! The Toronto Raptors will begin the 72-game 2020-21 NBA season in Tampa Bay, Florida. The Canadian government installed travel restrictions during the pandemic, forcing the Raptors to scramble to find a temporary home base in the United States.
Canada requires all traveling parties to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the country.
“Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida,” said Raptors president Masai Ujiri.
The Raptors hope that Canada will lift travel restrictions during the season so they can play home games in Toronto at the Scotiabank Arena. The team last played a game in Canada on Feb. 28. The Raptors were in the middle of a road trip when Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus and the league shuttered the next day.
“They’re our Raptors, and Tampa Bay shouldn’t get any ideas in that regard,” joked Toronto mayor John Tory.
The Raptors will share Amalie Arena with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Toronto Raptors considered Buffalo, Hartford, Seattle, Louisville, Newark, Nashville, and Providence as potential temporary homes.
Members of the Raptors voted and Tampa Bay won with the most votes.
“They say absence makes the heart grow fonder,” said Ujiri. “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.”
Raptors Still Contenders in Tampa Bay?
The Raptors won the NBA championship last year. They were knocked off in the Eastern Conference semifinals this past season after Kawhi Leonard departed from the team and signed a free-agent deal with the LA Clippers.
Fred VanVleet recently resigned with the Raptors, despite the fact the New York Knicks heavily courted the shooting guard. VanVleet signed a four-year deal worth $84 million.
The Raptors recently plugged holes at the center position after Marc Gasol departed in free agency. Gasol signed with the Lakers, where his older brother once played.
Toronto signed Aron Baynes to a two-year deal worth $14.3 million. They also added backup center Alex Len for $2.3 million a season.
According to a recent update by the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, the Raptors are 20/1 odds to win the next NBA championship. They are the fifth-highest team from the Eastern Conference on the futures board.
The Milwaukee Bucks are the second favorite overall and highest team from the east at 11/2 odds. The Brooklyn Nets are 6/1 odds to win the title, followed by the Boston Celtics at 13/1 odds and Miami Heat at 15/1 odds.
How About the NHL, Eh?
North American sports leagues are in a pinch right now to find alternative locations in America for Canadian franchises.
There’s no official word yet on the future of the NHL season. The NHL restart occurred with two bubble cities in secure zones. The Eastern Conference played its postseason in Toronto. The Western Conference played the NHL postseason in Edmonton. The Stanley Cup Finals were also hosted in Edmonton.
Just before the MLB restarted in August, Canadian health officials denied the Toronto Blue Jays and their opponents the ability to fly in and out of Canada to complete the baseball season. The Blue Jays tried to find an alternative ballpark and considered sharing a stadium with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Blue Jays settled on Buffalo, which is the closest US city in proximity to Toronto.
The NHL would like to start the next season on January 1 with its annual outdoor winter game.