Toronto Raptors are back in Canada after 600 days: Here's what to expect from them in the 2021-22 NBA season

Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with teammates Justin Champagnie #11 and Malachi Flynn #22
Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with teammates Justin Champagnie #11 and Malachi Flynn #22
Rahul Goyal

The Toronto Raptors played their last NBA regular season home game at Scotiabank Arena on February 28th, 2020. Covid swept through the world after that and everything shut down. The season was completed inside a bio-bubble at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

In the following 2020-21 season, although 29 of 30 NBA teams returned to their home markets, travel restrictions to and from Canada forced the Toronto Raptors to relocate to Tampa. They played all their "home" games that season at the Amalie Arena.

Now, with the relaxation of covid-related rules in Canada, and after 600 days away from home, the Raptors are set to play their first NBA regular season game against the Washington Wizards on October 20th, 2021 at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto. Here's what we can expect from Nick Nurse's men going forward.

A new identity for the Toronto Raptors

This year's Raptors team has little resemblance to the one that played the championship match in 2019. Out of the starting five that featured in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, only one player remains and that is Pascal Siakam. Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Danny Green and Kyle Lowry – who is considered the greatest Raptor of all time – have all left.

Of the three players who came off the bench, only one remains – Fred VanVleet. The enigmatic Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell have also left and joined other teams.

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Siakam is expected to lead the current team with support from VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. and Khem Birch. The bench will be led by Goran Dragic, Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa and the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft pick, Scottie Barnes. Complicating matters is the fact that Siakam is not expected to be fit until late November as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

A source of pride and excitement for fans this year will be the induction of Dalano Banton, the first Canadian ever to be drafted by the Raptors. Banton is a Toronto native from the western parts of the city, Rexdale, and his minutes on the court will be cheered wildly.

A bleak forecast

Pundits in Las Vegas have given a dire projection for the Toronto Raptors this season. Forecasting a long, dark and cold winter for the Raptors, their over/under is set at 35.5 games for the season. That’s out of 82 games. So, the Raptors are expected to lose roughly 46 games.

They are being projected to finish last in the Atlantic Division and possibly 23rd out of the 30 NBA teams overall. These are indeed bleak numbers.

Hope Springs Eternal

However, it would be a mistake to underestimate the formidable pair of Masai Ujiri, the charismatic Vice-chairman and President of the Toronto Raptors and the head coach and former NBA Coach of the Year, Nick Nurse.

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

The Raptors are in rebuilding mode and there will be changes to the team during the year. Nick Nurse has a young team with great potential and he knows a lot about player chemistry and how to get the best out of them. Expect the franchise to perform far better than the dire projections. Also worth remembering is what Masai Ujiri said at the end of last season:

"This is all about winning a championship again. Everybody has forgotten what happened 2 years ago. Yes, we won. Nobody cares anymore. We want to win another one. Not play in the play-in game, not play in the playoffs. You want to win a championship."

Toronto fans understand this. They support their team with passion. They're willing to wait. The duo of Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse delivered a championship in 2019 and the Raptors fans have faith in them. And, for the time being, they're ready to just enjoy having their team back home.

With capacity restrictions lifted, Scotiabank Arena will be packed to the rafters, and the shouts of β€œLet's go Raptors, Let's go!” will fill the air again this month. Wins and losses aside, get ready to experience the Toronto Raptors in the quintessential Canadian way once again.

Edited by Raunak J


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