Raptors to Play Home Games in Tampa After Being Denied Access to Toronto

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2020

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) looks to pass against the Boston Celtics during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Toronto Raptors announced Friday that they will begin the 2020-21 NBA season playing their home games in Tampa, Florida.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri released a statement regarding the decision:

Per Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, the Raptors will play their home games at Amalie Arena, which is the home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Canadian government and health officials shot down plans for the Raptors to play at their regular home venue of Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, according to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has had restrictions in place regarding who can enter the country and for what purposes. A similar decision was handed down before the start of the 2020 MLB season, which forced the Toronto Blue Jays to play their home games in Buffalo, New York.

The NBA and NBPA recently agreed to start the 2020-21 NBA regular season Dec. 22 despite the fact that the 2020 NBA Finals didn't end until Oct. 11.

One of the biggest reasons behind the push for a quick turnaround was the uncertainty regarding when fans will be allowed to attend games. Since fans won't be permitted in the immediate future, the NBA had fewer reasons to delay the start of the season.

Also, even though players will have to deal with a truncated offseason and less rest than they are accustomed to, the Dec. 22 start allows for a 72-game season and won't result in significant salary cuts. The season will also end before the Olympics in Tokyo in July.

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The hope is that fans will be allowed to attend games at some point during the season. Perhaps by that point, the Raptors will be able to resume playing at Scotiabank Arena, though that will ultimately be determined by whether Canadian officials allow teams traveling from the U.S. to enter the country.

The Raptors are just two seasons removed from winning their first championship thanks largely to the play of Kawhi Leonard, who subsequently signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Last season, Toronto went 53-19 before getting eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs.

Aside from their arena situation, the Raptors face a great deal of uncertainty ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry are expected to return as the team's top two stars, but guard Fred VanVleet, forward Serge Ibaka and center Marc Gasol are free agents.

If the Raptors are unable to re-sign any of them or replace them with comparable players, their seven-year run as Eastern Conference contenders could be in jeopardy.