Of the 22 franchises in the National Basketball Association slated to head to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort for the resumption of the 2019–20 campaign, the Raptors have the toughest hurdles by far. For instance, cross-border considerations — significant under normal circumstances and downright restrictive in light of the pandemic — have compelled them to set their assimilation schedule even ahead of the players union’s efforts to come up with a consensus on participation in the bubble.
And so the Raptors find themselves already in Florida, a full week and a half before the other playoff hopefuls arrive in the state to gather for the culmination of the season. Prepping for the resumption of their title defense in their Toronto home base wound have been complicated at best, with quarantine protocols requiring them to first isolate themselves for 14 days upon their arrival in Canada. Instead, they opted to adopt the Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers as their temporary headquarters before pushing forward to Orlando early next month.
If nothing else, the Raptors’ willingness to be subject to extraordinary measures just to be among those casting moist eyes on the hardware speaks volumes of their confidence in repeating as champions. Pundits have pointed to the Bucks, Lakers, Clippers, and even Celtics as the most likely contenders, but no matter. As far as they’re concerned, they remain first among equals until they’re dethroned; everybody else has to come through them. And, to their credit, they’ve proven their capacity to exceed expectations; for all the discounting being done to their chances following the departure of Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard, they’ve remained focused, confident, and eminently capable of going all the way anew.
To be sure, they’ve benefited from excellent planning, not to mention experience. Having been there and done that, they continue to be wholly committed to the cause. And, Leonard’s absence aside, continuity isn’t a problem at all. Chief bench tactician Nick Nurse, prime candidate for Coach of the Year, not only knows how to make the most of what he has; his charges have responded in turn. Which is to say they’re right where they want to be: written off, but in excellent position to thrive.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.