The Toronto Raptors will temporarily relocate to Tampa, Florida for the 2020-21 season after their proposal to remain in Toronto was rejected by the Canadian federal government.
“Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement released Friday.
Restrictions at the Canadian border are ongoing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and although the Raptors entered a detailed proposal of how they could keep themselves and the general public safe, it was always an uphill battle. The United States have over 4.6 million active cases, regularly registering over 50,000 new cases per day, and bending restrictions for the NBA just wasn’t feasible.
The Raptors insisted all along that their first choice was always to remain in Toronto. The burden of moving their entire organization — including dozens of staffers — away from family for an extended period is an unsatisfactory outcome, on top of losing home-court advantage and access to their state-of-the-art training facilities. There is also the complicating factor of free agency, as players may be opposed to signing due to the uncertainty of where the Raptors might end up.
The early restart to the 2020-21 season also complicated matters. With training camp starting on Dec. 1, the Raptors had a tight window to negotiate with the Canadian government. Locally, the public health situation in Ontario was also trending downward, with a growing number of new cases in Toronto in November as compared to in September when the Raptors played their last playoff game.
“We want to thank all levels of government and their public health officials for their dedication to this process, and for looking after the health of Canadians. We commit to continuing our work together, planning for a safe return to play in Toronto. As as an organization, we remain committed to doing all we can to promote and demonstrate public health measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Canada,” Ujiri said.
Nearly a dozen mid-sized cities in the United States emerged as potential suitors for the Raptors, but Tampa ultimately won out with its advantages being warm weather, no state income tax, and being in the Eastern time zone. However, adjustments will likely need to be made in the NBA schedule, as the Raptors are no longer geographically located in the Atlantic Division, while squarely being in the Southeast. There is also a break in the season that could theoretically allow the Raptors to return to Toronto, but that is dependent on a drastic improvement in both how the United States and Canada is handling the pandemic.
“So we’ll be away from our home and our fans for now. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’m not sure how that’s possible for us — we live Toronto and Canada, and we know wee have the best fans in the NBA. For now, I’ll ask you to cheer for us from afar, and we’ll look forward to the day we are all together again,” Ujiri concluded.
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