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Loads of unknowns for Raptors as staff lastly returns to Toronto

Who’re the Toronto Raptors, and what are they, actually?

That’s what we get to search out out now. That’s one of many small blessings for a staff that has largely been vaccinated in opposition to COVID-19, returning to a metropolis that — because of vaccines and different measures has largely been in a position to fend off the worst of the fourth wave — is ready with open arms to take another cautious step down the street to regular with the return of its NBA staff after 18 months aside.

A lot has occurred. For the primary time in 9 years Kyle Lowry isn’t round to set the tone, to behave because the bellwether for whether or not this staff was going to run sizzling or chilly.

For the primary time in practically that lengthy the staff that’s opening coaching camp on the OVO Centre on Tuesday has extra previous faces than new. Solely 4 returning gamers — Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher — have performed as Raptors in Toronto. For the opposite 16 in camp, all the pieces is new, even when they’ve performed for the Raptors earlier than.

Yuta Watanabe appears delighted that he’s had success find a few of the metropolis’s finest Japanese eating places. Freddie Gillespie was getting a tour of Scotiabank Enviornment for the primary time, eyes huge. Malachi Flynn is taller in particular person — a legit 6-1, perhaps 6-2 — than the guard we’ve watched weave his away round within the land of the giants on TV.

Fortunately the Raptors don’t should cope with any drama another golf equipment are having to handle with high-profile vaccine holdouts like Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn and Andrew Wiggins with Golden State dominating dialog out of media day across the league.

The Raptors haven’t any such points.

Based on common supervisor Bobby Webster, the Raptors are another dose away from having their complete roster absolutely vaccinated. Gamers from opposing groups haven’t obtained their pictures might be allowed to enter Canada and play at Scotiabank Enviornment below the a ‘National Interest Exemption’ however might be topic to testing and have their motion restricted to their staff resort and enviornment, whereas sporting masks.

However rather than drama, the Raptors supply query marks.

With Lowry gone and the disruption of being relocated to Florida for greater than a yr behind them, what the Raptors appear like going ahead is an unknown. They’re not a championship contender, however they aren’t rebuilding both. They’ve some promising leaders, however they’re untested.

We received a way of how difficult the transition was and might be when Siakam gave an interview to the New York Occasions just lately the place he mentioned his struggles to search out his place within the Raptors firmament because the pandemic hit: “Kyle was there, being a degree guard. Kyle was, to me, all the time the best Raptor of all time. I believe he was all the time like, ‘I used to be the man’ [and] I had the contract, however I by no means actually felt like I used to be the man, to be sincere.”

Depart it to level guard and resident sage VanVleet to flesh that thought out a bit:

“Individuals couldn’t perceive, ‘how might you not be the person, you bought the contract, you bought the ball in your fingers on a regular basis, Kyle defers to you, Kyle stated it was your staff,’” stated VanVleet.

“However being ‘the person’ typically is ‘I’m gonna shoot this ball 40 instances and no person higher blink, I higher not see a face, the coach higher not throw his fingers up, a participant can’t get mad.’ It’s a clear-cut distinction.

“I believe my interpretation of what he was saying was that pay attention: ‘I received paid the max and after I received paid the max, all of the followers anticipated me to change into this, this, this and this and with that got here numerous accountability, however in my approach was the best man to ever to that for this franchise and it [Siakam being ‘the man’] wasn’t a clear-cut distinction.’”

“Kyle didn’t simply bow out gracefully, he wouldn’t be Kyle Lowry if he did … he’s not gonna simply again up and let any person else do it.”

Now there’s no alternative. Lowry’s media day was Monday in Miami, the place he signed as a free agent.

The Raptors on this iteration will go so far as Siakam, VanVleet and OG Anunoby can take them, a method difficult considerably as Siakam – recovering from low season shoulder surgical procedure – received’t possible take the ground till late November or early December, with US Thanksgiving as an optimistic goal.

Not that it issues all that a lot. This can be a season about ceilings greater than flooring. If the returning core can’t present indicators of elevating this staff past the center of the pack within the Jap Convention, chances are high adjustments will start in earnest.

However for now, within the first yr after Lowry, it’s a recent alternative to see what is feasible and what will be achieved.

Siakam appears energized by the chance. He’s as keen to place the previous 18 months behind him as anybody else.

“For me, coming in in a yr the place there was COVID and all the pieces occurring, I used to be making an attempt to determine my position and the place I slot in on the staff — realizing when to say one thing or not,” he allowed. “… I believe for me it was simply understanding the place I stand.

“Now clearly with Kyle gone, there’s no query. We had a dialog with Masai [Raptors president Masai Ujiri], and it was me, it was OG and it was Fred. Everybody else is gonna be younger or [new to the team]. ‘We’re gonna go wherever you guys take us.’ I believe that’s the main target. We’re gonna do it collectively. I believe for me, once more, I don’t just like the phrase ‘the man.’ I don’t like utilizing it. I need to be the man who wins. I need to win. That’s all I care about. If it’s enjoying extra defence, if it’s scoring extra factors, if it’s being extra of a vocal chief or somebody who leads by instance, that’s what I need to do. I simply need to determine what my position is. No matter I can do to assist the staff win, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

He’ll have assist. VanVleet has quietly been — odd because it sounds — the staff’s vocal chief for a number of years now. It’s simply that with out Lowry, there’s no security internet.

“There have been some issues alongside the best way that have been out of character [for Siakam],” stated VanVleet, referring to a few blow-ups from the 27-year-old that bubbled into the general public sphere. “But it surely’s all a part of the journey. The one factor we don’t do now as a result of we’ve telephones [in our hands] each day is we don’t give [players) time.

“When [Siakam] comes again and he performs just like the participant all people is aware of he’s and who he is aware of he’s, and higher, I believe that each one of that stuff might be a part of the story the place you say, ‘OK, this was a second of adversity. He broke via on the opposite aspect of it’ and also you received’t bear in mind it …

“We’re all on this collectively. Pascal’s gonna be an enormous, enormous a part of what we do right here, if not the most important key for us. He’s the very best participant on this staff. I’m prepared for him to get wholesome and get again on the courtroom with us.”

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Till then Siakam is engaged on a few of the finer factors of his sport which have little do together with his capacity to slash to the rim, terrorize groups in transition or change throughout 5 positions defensively.

Within the Raptors’ first yr submit Lowry and first full season again in Toronto since they received their championship in 2018-19, Siakam is studying to steer on a staff in want of it.

“I believe it’s gonna be a [process]. I’m rising. I’m positively getting higher and making an attempt to choose my spots,” Siakam stated. “Clearly we’ve Fred and OG, completely different personalities. It’s gonna be a course of. However I’m tremendous enthusiastic about it. I bear in mind once we went for dinner in Vegas [Summer League] in dinner and I’m sitting there and I’m like, ‘Rattling, I really feel like I’m the oldest right here.’ It was bizarre, a bizarre feeling I by no means had earlier than.

“It’s gonna be a course of, however I’m enthusiastic about it.”

It’s new and it’s completely different. And sooner or later this season we’ll all discover out what this staff is all about and what its subsequent period goes to be like.

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