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Raptors keep it simple in the bubble before the bubble

Raptors keep it simple in the bubble before the bubble
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Dump fewer than 50 Raptors players, coaches and staff members into virtual isolation in a ritzy hotel on the Gulf Coast of Florida — no family, no friends, no gawkers, no tourists, not a ton of staff and a pandemic raging all around — and strange is what you get. But these are strange times for everyone and figuring things out as the inevitable blips come up is the way to survive.

“It’s just been different and not ideal,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said on a conference call Monday morning. “But these are the times that we’re in. I think us getting here was a good thing. Hopefully, going forward, we’ll be ready.”

The Raptors created their own bubble in the Fort Myers-Naples area of Florida to house the team and staff for almost two weeks before joining the rest of the NBA a couple of hours away, outside Orlando, for the resumption of the season late next month.

It was a calculated gamble made well before the number of positive tests for COVID-19 spiked incredibly all over Florida, but it was a process that had to be put in place.

“You have to set things in motion and we decided that this was what we were going to do and it was a safe environment,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. “We continue to think that it’s a safe environment for us ...

“This pandemic has been very unpredictable, especially in the States, but we’re planning to go ahead. We’re all excited about getting into Orlando and moving ahead with the season.”

It has been kind of a “Groundhog Day” existence for the Raptors’ travelling party, especially the players. They took over a previously closed hotel that is still not open to the public and have had full run of the nearby gym at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“We abide by all the rules of COVID-19: wearing masks everywhere in the hotel, doing everything like washing hands, playing by all the hygiene rules, the cleaning of the weight room (and) everything around the hotel,” Ujiri said.

“We did 99 per cent of the homework that we possibly could. Everyone is tested for COVID-19 every other day, players work out in the same small groups at the same time each day. It’s the same old, same old for the time being.”

“There’s not really a whole lot to do,” VanVleet said. “Just trying to get back and ramped up in terms of basketball activity and getting your body ready for what is to come.

“I think even us being here is going be different than being in Orlando. I mean, I know we’re in Florida but I think we still get to control all of our environment here and I don’t know if that will be the case when we go to Orlando.

“There will probably be more rules and things we have to go by with much more people inside the bubble, obviously.”

All of this is being done against a global backdrop of fighting racial injustice, police brutality and trying to affect a greater change in the world. The players are not immune to the societal realities of the times and it was a factor in the decision to join in the restart of the NBA season.

“It sucks, man,” VanVleet said. “It’s terrible timing. But that’s been 2020 for us. We all know the right thing to do is to not play, to take a stand. Morally, yes, that makes sense. But life goes on. We’re all young, Black guys. None of us want to give any money back. I don’t think that we should. I think that money can be used in a number of different ways.

“This is not going to end this summer regardless, or over the next couple of months. This issue, racial injustice, social injustice, police brutality, all these things are not ending anytime soon.”

Until Orlando, it’s a monotonous life.

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“It really was only weird the first day I got here,” VanVleet said. “I think I was the first player here, so there was like five people in the hotel. So, walking around in an empty hotel for a while was weird.

“But now you see familiar faces and it’s nice to see everybody we haven’t seen in a while. So, yeah, I think we’re just keeping it simple. It’s just going to your workout, staying in the room and eating.”
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