After being locked in Disney World for the better part of two months, the Toronto Raptors might be headed right back to Florida for the 2020-21 season.
Tampa Bay has emerged as the most likely host for the Raptors if Canadian border restrictions due to COVID-19 keep them from playing in Toronto, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.
Their preference remains staying in Toronto, as that would preserve access to their world-class training facilities, in addition to keeping staff in their local market. However, there is currently a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for anyone entering Canada, and previous bids by the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto FC to stay in market were rejected by the government.
How would it work in Tampa Bay?
The Raptors would play in Amalie Arena, which currently hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning. The arena was built in 1996 and has previously hosted NBA exhibition games in addition to NCAA games and other events. Due to COVID-19, the arena has not been in use since March.
“Ideally the Raptors are able to play their upcoming season in Toronto, 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,” Tampa Bay Sports Commission executive director Rob Higgins said.
There are several advantages to playing in Tampa Bay. For one, there is no state income tax, which might matter more in a year when the NBA is asking players to forfeit upwards of 20 percent of their salaries. Second, the Raptors would remain on the East Coast so games can still be televised in their usual time slot. Third, the weather is tropical throughout the winter, and Tampa Bay is a short flight away from the five teams in the Southeast Division.
Fred VanVleet has pushed for Tampa Bay as a temporary host, according to his recent appearance on the Old Man and the Three Podcast. VanVleet is a free agent and not a sure bet to re-sign, but he is one of the most influential voices on the team.
Another viable location would be Newark, which would keep the Raptors in the Atlantic Division and minimize travel. Kansas City, Louisville and Nashville are among other possible destinations.
Time is running out to stay in Canada
The Raptors want to stay in Toronto, but time is against them. With training camp starting on Dec. 1, the Raptors need to make a firm decision on where they will play because they will not switch locations midway through. Their plan to stay in market will need to be approved at all three levels of government.
Risk can be minimized if the NBA follows strict guidelines. If travelling parties can all produce negative tests before crossing the border and stay disciplined in minimizing contact outside of the airport, hotel and arena, then there shouldn’t be a huge health risk. However, it could be a difficult sell politically to open the border for professional athletes, while keeping it closed to most citizens.
There is also the possibility of changes to the current border restrictions. The federal government purchased over eight million rapid tests in October, with hopes that on-site testing at airports could replace the mandated 14-day quarantine. However, current travel restrictions were extended until Nov. 21, which leaves a very small window to implement a change in policy in time for the Raptors to start their season.
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