With NBA training camps set to get underway in less than three weeks and the regular season scheduled to tip off in less than six weeks, the Raptors don’t have much time to figure out where they’ll be playing in 2020/21.
The franchise’s strong preference is still to spend the season in Toronto, with one team executive telling Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca, “If we can get it done in Toronto, we’d to it tomorrow.” However, restrictions on travel between the U.S. and Canada due to the coronavirus pandemic will make it impractical for teams to be going back and forth across the border for the next several months.
As such, the Tampa Bay area has emerged as the most likely temporary home for the Raptors, team and league sources tell Grange. Tampa had been one of several rumored options the club was considering, along with along with Nashville, Newark, and Kansas City, among others. Now, it sounds like Tampa has the upper hand on those other locations.
“Ideally, the Raptors are able to play their upcoming season in Toronto,” Rob Higgins, executive director of Tampa Bay Sports Commission, said in an email to Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday. “But should that not be possible, we would have a strong interest in working to successfully meet and exceed their expectations as an alternative host. We’ve enjoyed our preliminary conversations with their organization and stand ready to assist if needed.”
The Raptors have reportedly engaged in discussions with Canadian government officials in the hopes of figuring out a plan that will allow them to play their games in Toronto. However, it might be a tough sell, with COVID-19 case numbers increasing in recent weeks on both sides of the border.
While the organization is willing to take the decision down to the wire, it wants to have some clarity before the start of training camp, according to Grange, who says the Raps don’t want to conduct their camp in Toronto and then play elsewhere during the season, like the Blue Jays did earlier this year.
“If we’re here for training camp, we’re here for the season,” an insider told Sportsnet. “We’re not going to come back and then have to find another place to play.”