Watching your home team play a season in another city (yet alone country) is a pain I don’t wish on any fanbase. So my heart goes out to Raptors fans.
Nonetheless, it should be an exciting game between 2 teams looking to bolster their play-in chances. Before tonight’s game, I went over to Raptors HQ to talk to Daniel Reynolds.
1) How has this Tampa season been for Raptors fans?
Terrible! While obviously attending Raptors games in-person is not something every fan of the team can actually do — for financial or geographical reasons — the bizarre psychic damage that comes from watching your hometown team play all its games in another city is real. That the crowds the Raptors did have (when fans were allowed in the arena at all) were underwhelming or outright hostile just adds insult to injury. It’s hard not to feel like a few more games would have gone the Raptors’ way if there’d been 20,000 people nearby cheering them on. And that it has so clearly taken a toll on the team itself is the worst part. The team sure looks like they miss Toronto as much as we miss them.
2) COVID-19 has ravaged this season for Toronto. Do you see the offseason being a retool around Siakam, FVV, OG, and a lottery pick? Or are there larger rebuild moves on the horizon?
Definitely the former. With Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby under long-term contracts, the Raptors are not about to tank or go into a more serious rebuild mode. The move now for Toronto is to bolster what they have, develop the team’s in-house talent, and keep an eye open for any deals for top-flight players (a la the DeRozan for Kawhi swap) to make a serious run again at the title. There’s a bit of luck in all of that, but obviously, it is not without precedent here in Toronto. And while we admittedly don’t yet know if team president Masai Ujiri will be back next year, GM Bobby Webster certainly will, and he — like his boss — has shown he can succeed in the margins and strike when the time is right.
If nothing else, this team should be able to get back into the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack next season (or better). There’s still a ceiling there in terms of how far they can actually go in the playoffs, but I don’t imagine Toronto will miss the playoffs next season.
3) Yuta Watanabe and Freddie Gillespie had strong runs with the Memphis Hustle. What are your impressions of them, and do you see a future with them on this team?
I think both have impressed in their roles. Watanabe has been up-and-down and it’s taken time for him to be more aggressive on offense, but he slots in quite nicely as a forward off the bench for Toronto. If nothing else, Watanabe is one of those players who keeps a team’s floor high — he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and while there are indeed limitations to his game, he’s usually in the right place at the right time. Gillespie, meanwhile, came out of nowhere for me but has been a nice surprise — especially after the struggles Toronto has had at center. Again, he’s a bit raw and limited in his role right now, but he’s only 23 and has shown he’s got some of the necessary skills and IQ to be a solid rotation center for an NBA team.
As rotation pieces, I’d be happy to see both Yuta and Freddie return to Toronto. They’re not necessarily going to change the Raptors’ big picture fortunes, but they are good guys to have around during a long regular season.
4) Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson get the shine from most people. But outside of those guys, which Grizzlies young guy intrigues you the most?
Does Dillon Brooks count? I know he’s 25 now, which marks him as an old man in the context of the Grizzlies, but I’ve got to root for the Canada guy! In all seriousness, I’m happy to see how quickly the Grizzlies were able to transition from the old Gasol-Conley teams into what they’ve got going on now. That’s a rebuild done right — some luck is involved (e.g. Morant coming to you right then and there), but it’s cool that the team can both sell hope in the future and excitement in the present day. That’s my diplomatic answer: all those young guys are intriguing!
5) Which matchup are you looking forward to the most?
It will never not be fun to watch the Raptors do battle with Jonas Valanciunas. There’s no specific matchup there — unless we get a chance to see Kyle Lowry attack JV on a switch — but it’s still enjoyable nonetheless. Yes, as the years pass the link between JV and Toronto will grow thinner and thinner, but he was such a big part of the We the North era here that it’s always worth commemorating.