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Jared Sullinger may not be ready for season opener

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Well, this is a little concerning.

According to tweets from Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star and Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, Jared Sullinger may not be ready when the Toronto Raptors open the 2016-17 season on Wednesday.

As a refresher, Sullinger injured his left foot when it was stepped on in the preseason opener against the Golden State Warriors. After trying to practice through it but experiencing setbacks, Sullinger was pulled from practices and relegated to conditioning work and trying to learn the team’s systems from the sidelines. The Raptors have maintained optimism that Sullinger would be back in short order – he’s basically been day-to-day since getting hurt – and the team isn’t panicking as the issue lingers, correctly opting to play it cautious here in October.

Sullinger is still dealing with pain in the foot despite the rest, and it sounds as if he could be set for additional testing to make sure nothing is structurally wrong.

I’ll refer you to the piece linked above for reaction to Sullinger’s continued absence, but obviously the longer it persists, the more concerning it becomes. It’s still too early for too much worry, given how little is at stake here early in the season, though I’d understand if anyone is waiting eagerly for word that another MRI (or whatever) came back clean. The team has every reason to play it safe if Sullinger is feeling even an inkling of discomfort, and with foot injuries being notoriously difficult and inconsistent person-to-person, it’s far more preferable for the team to go without Sullinger for a bit now than risk the problem flaring up again later.

And before you jump to any jokes – the team has been adamant that Sullinger’s conditioning remains at a high level. He spent a lot of time in Vancouver this summer preparing for the season with a focus on conditioning, and he’s been able to do non-practice activities to try to maintain it while on the shelf (he was drenched when I saw him Tuesday and looked about identical to how he looked on media day, for whatever that’s worth).

If Sullinger can’t go in the opener, it would appear that Pascal Siakam may draw the start at power forward. While Patrick Patterson would be an obvious fit alongside the starters – let’s just all agree to holster our “Patterson should start over Sullinger, anyway” takes for a few games, however justified – Siakam has drawn the start in preseason games, and the team has long preferred Patterson in his sixth man role. Siakam has shown some nice energy and hustle, defending actively and leaking out in transition, and the fact that he’d be tasked with a minimal role alongside the starters could help limit some of the mistakes that come with a rookie learning curve.

Personally, I’d be starting Patterson until Sullinger’s ready to go, but head coach Dwane Casey has always seemed hesitant to go that route. The Sullinger injury would theoretically mean a bit more small ball with DeMarre Carroll at the four to start the year, freeing up additional minutes for Terrence Ross and Norman Powell in the process. I’m skeptical the Lucas Noguiera-at-power forward experiment would continue into the regular season.

The other question that comes up is whether Sullinger’s health and a desire to keep Carroll’s workload reasonable may shift the battle for the 15th roster spot, pushing the team to keep Drew Crawford for additional wing/forward depth over the presumed favorite Fred VanVleet, who fills a need as an interim third point guard and whom the team is very high on. That decision doesn’t have to be made until Monday, so the team can at least wait for any test results on Sullinger to come back.

In other news, Cory Joseph will sit tonight with the flu and Terrence Ross will return from his minor knee injury. We’ll have more in the usual pre-game news and notes, but I thought the Sullinger item was important enough to pass along early.

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