Sports Raptors coach Nurse says despite layoff, his players 'look fantastic'
Raptors' Nurse: Gasol has 'fully healed' from earlier injuries
Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol has apparently overcome his injury woes from earlier in the 2019-20 season. "As far as I'm aware, he's fully healed," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said, according to Sportsnet's Michael Grange. "And as you know he looks great. His skills look fantastic as well. He looks like he's in good shape. I don't see any issues." Gasol has appeared in just 36 of the Raptors' 64 games so far this season, averaging 7.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game when in the lineup.
In the more than three months since the Toronto Raptors stepped off the court, the players have been scattered abroad.
Besides regular weight checks and virtual workouts, it's been on them to stay in shape in less than ideal conditions. In these unprecedented times, many players said it's been the longest they've gone without playing.
Coach Nick Nurse — who had noticed a few weeks ago how fit Marc Gasol appeared on team Zoom calls — still didn't know what to expect when his team convened last week in Naples, Fla., to hopefully resume their quest for a second consecutive NBA championship.
Raptors' Nurse: 'I feel really safe' training in Florida
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse isn't concerned about the growing number of coronavirus cases in Florida, where the team is holding its training camp. "I feel really safe here. We've got a great setup, and I feel good, man," Nurse told ESPN's Tim Bontemps. The Raptors are the first of the 22 teams involved in the NBA's return next month to participate in basketball activities in Florida. The team chose to travel to Florida Gulf Coast University on June 22 rather than attempt to reenter Canada.
"Players look fantastic, I mean absolutely," Nurse said on a conference call Tuesday. "When you see them with the eyeball test they look great.
"I came in here open-minded. I didn't know if we were going to be not really in the right frame of mind or whatever. . . But I am pleasantly surprised with the frame of mind, I am pleasantly surprised with the conditioning, and I just think you have a bunch of guys who have a high care factor.
"They love to play, they're concerned about getting better individually, about their own careers, it just seems like they are doing a really professional job. I just think there is a strong love of the game there for a lot of these guys."
Gasol, who missed 28 games this season with a hamstring injury, and veteran guard Kyle Lowry have looked noticeably leaner in recent photos circulating on social media.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse knows attention to family will be key for players
Nick Nurse has no problem letting one of his players duck out of a meeting to take a call from one of his children. The Toronto Raptors are two weeks into what could be an unprecedented three-and-a-half-month road trip, and Nurse knows that some of the most difficult challenges his players will face are loneliness and boredom. Nurse knows family time is precious. "It's really another part of the puzzle, and it's a big one," the Raptors coachThe Toronto Raptors are two weeks into what could be an unprecedented three-and-a-half-month road trip, and Nurse knows that some of the most difficult challenges his players will face are loneliness and boredom.
"The chiselled Marc. Cut up. He looks great," Nurse said of the big Spaniard.
Nurse said as highly as he already thinks of the cerebral Gasol, his improved fitness is motivating for Raptors teammates, might get him a few more rebounds a night and could give his legs more life down the stretch of games.
"If his conditioning improves him as a player it's going to be a super added bonus for us," Nurse said.
Raptors guard/forward Norm Powell called the physical change in Gasol "drastic."
"I make fun of him all the time, looking like a soccer player in Barcelona," Powell laughed. "He looks great, man, he's moving great, he's feeling great."
Powell and Gasol have a tennis match scheduled for the next couple of days.
"Hopefully I'll still be able to give him a run for his money," Powell said.
Because of Canada's requirement of a 14-day quarantine period for people entering the country, the Raptors were the first team to arrive in Florida ahead of next month's restart at Disney World.
Siakam feels safe despite Florida's surge in COVID-19 cases
Toronto Raptors star Pascal Siakam feels as comfortable as possible given the unique circumstances he and his teammates are currently training under. "Obviously Florida is one of (the states) that's pretty high at the moment, but the team has been doing a fantastic job in terms of making sure we're kind of isolated," Siakam told reporters Friday, including Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press. "Obviously, you're kind of scared seeing the cases rise but you trust the team's going to do everything, the NBA is going to do everything to make sure we're safe.
Despite the Raptors' positive mindset, Powell said there was some trepidation travelling to Florida, which has seen a startling surge in COVID-19 cases. The more than 6,000 new cases reported Tuesday pushed the total over 150,000 in the Sunshine State. Deaths have climbed past 3,500.
More than 8,500 new cases were recorded on three consecutive days late last week.
The NBA announced last week that 16 players had tested positive for the coronavirus. ESPN reported Tuesday that the Nuggets had closed their practice facility after positive tests within Denver's group travelling to Orlando.
Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan have also tested positive. Jordan won't be with the team when it resumes play while Dinwiddie is still experiencing symptoms, so his status is uncertain.
Powell said he's not particularly concerned about his well-being or that of his teammates, because the Raptors are following coronavirus safety guidelines "to a T."
"I'm concerned about it just from a general standpoint of numbers increasing," Powell said. "Outside (the NBA's planned quasi-bubble), I'm very concerned about just how dangerous it is. I'm more concerned about my family members that are out, having to deal with going out in public, going back to work and putting themselves in danger of catching the virus."
NBA teams on the cusp of having real practices again
Practice facilities in the NBA have been open for a couple of months, with one major element missing from them. No team has had an actual practice yet. Most of the work that has gone on in those buildings during the NBA’s shutdown has been voluntary, and all of it has been of the individual variety — one player working at one basket with one ball. That changes starting Thursday, when the first handful of teams at the Disney complex will be permitted to have full-fledged practices again.
A week into what could be three months in Florida, Nurse said the Raptors have managed to stave off homesickness and boredom.
"The first week has gone by in a snap of a finger. That's a really good sign," he said.
The coaches are up early, and spend all day in the gym, with players arriving in staggered groups of four to practise — one player and two coaches per net.
"The days go by pretty quickly, we're trying to mix in some days off, we're trying to mix in a lot of different activities," he said.
The team had a barbecue recently. They play ping-pong and pool.
"There are a few other things we're trying to mix in, too. I don't really sense much anxiety or people worrying about, 'Man, this is going to be a long time,'" he said. "They seem really good. You can ask me that again in a month if you want. I've said that a lot, how much I've missed coaching these guys. I just sense that these guys like being around each other and like to play."
The Raptors were 46-18 and second in the East when the league shuttered on March 11. They tip off the restart on Aug. 1 versus the Los Angeles Lakers, and face among the toughest eight-game seeding schedule of the 22 teams that will be in Orlando.
"I like the schedule, I think it's great to see the Lakers again, (No. 1) Milwaukee again, just to get a feel for them again," he said. "We're playing really quality teams, I think every team we've got is a playoff team, so that's going to be obviously those are good teams, so I like it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2020.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Toronto Raptors fly south for Florida, will prepare in Fort Myers to resume play .
TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors are headed south to prepare for the resumption of the NBA season. The team was scheduled to depart Monday for Florida where it will train in the Fort Myers area. Reports suggest the club will continues its voluntary individual workouts at Florida Gulf Coast University, although that has not been confirmed. Players and staff will move to the "NBA campus" at the Disney complex in the Orlando area in early July to start the remainder of the season.