Raptors star Pascal Siakam underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and expected recovery and rehabilitation time for this procedure is five months.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 11, 2021
Last week, word leaked out that the NBA plans to get back on its normal schedule. It was not a shock, given that part of the reason for starting the 2020-21 season in December instead of January was to allow for a return to normalcy, but it was news nonetheless. You might recall that before the pandemic, some league insiders were publicly considering the merits of starting the regular season around Christmas, allowing them to use their annual Dec. 25 ratings bonanza as a launching pad, and avoid crossing over with the NFL for more of its calendar. The relatively poor summertime ratings for the playoff bubble likely ended those thoughts.
The news gives the Raptors a timeline. If the regular season is going to start in October, then that is when they will need to know whether the government will allow them and their opponents to enter and leave the country regularly, which likely means that is when the border between Canada and the United States will need to be open. As Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro recently noted, the border closure is the major impediment to the baseball team returning to Rogers Centre.
“What I’ve come to recognize is, until the border is open, any proposal would have to deal with that and create a set of circumstances that allowed cross-border travel for players, families and visiting teams and that is not an easy thing to do, it’s not impossible, but it’s not an easy thing to do,” Shapiro said earlier this month. “Until the border is open, there are significant challenges with us returning to Toronto to play.”
There are reasons to be optimistic, though. Even with the Delta variant of COVID-19 lingering as a danger, potentially portending a fourth wave, Canada is vaccinating more people every day, while Ontario’s positive tests are trending favourably. Live basketball at Scotiabank Arena in front of at least a modest crowd in late October: Cautiously, it seems more likely than not at this point, on the precipice of summer.
Sooner or later, NBA basketball will return to Toronto. It will have been at least 20 months since the last time. It will be glorious. Here are a few ways the Raptors can make it special.
Who steps up in his absence?
Anunoby is the player to watch here, without much question. His offensive growth was maybe the highlight of this past season, and he’ll now have a chance to carry that larger load over into more… normal lineups.
Anunoby’s spike in usage wasn’t just a product of the Raptors’ resting a lot of pieces, mind you. His overall season usage rate jumped from 14.3 percent to 19.3 percent this year, and that only nudged up to 20.6 percent when Siakam wasn’t on the court. In other words, he was doing this alongside Siakam, too. Where things change is that Anunoby could now find himself getting those opportunities higher up the offensive decision chain, working as maybe a second or third option instead of a play-finisher only.
How that shakes out exactly will depend in part on the roster changes ahead. Siakam, Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn are the only players with guaranteed deals for next season, so things could look quite different. If there’s roster stability, though, it’s Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. who stand to soak up the bulk of Siakam’s possessions, as VanVleet is already carrying a heavy scoring and playmaking load and the projected roster remains a little thin on self-creation.
A day after a ridiculously easy 101-41 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada was pressed by Brazil right until the final half-minute. But when the game got close and big plays were needed, Canada got them, holding the 15th-ranked opposition without a point in the final two minutes.
And as they prepare for their third straight Olympics, going into Tokyo as the No. 4-ranked team in the world, all learning experiences are significant.
“I think a lot,” coach Lisa Thomaidis said when asked what she learned about her team over the weekend. “Just different lineups bring different things to the table. We really had to buckle down in today’s game to get this one in the win column, and that was great to see.
“We held our composure, we made shots when we needed to and we got stops when we needed to. These are the ones we love to be in before we move on; these are the ones we learn the most from.”
What the AmeriCup tournament is doing is forcing Thomaidis into some tough roster decisions heading into the Olympics next month.
Four key players — WNBAers Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton, Natalie Achonwa and veteran Kim Gaucher — are not in Puerto Rico, and the relative newcomers to the scene have been solid.