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Ujiri: Raptors honoured by host-city bids, but ‘main goal is to stay home’ – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors face some significant questions with regards to free agency and the upcoming draft, but there’s an even bigger question looming over everything they do this off-season: with the second wave of COVID-19 in full swing and border restrictions still in effect, will the Raptors be permitted to play in Toronto?

“That’s what we’re hoping. That’s our goal, is to play here in Toronto,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said during an appearance on CBC Radio’s The Current Thursday morning. “We understand how difficult this is, we understand that we have to be very sensitive to the pandemic and we respect public health. But we’re also a team that is passionate about our community. We’re passionate about where we come from, we’re passionate about our fans. We’re passionate about winning, we’re passionate about giving people a sense of hope, and that’s what the game does. That’s what the Raptors have done the last couple years, and we feel we are somewhat therapeutic to the community.”

The Raptors last played on their home court on Feb. 28. The NBA’s season stoppage shortly after came during a road trip for the Raptors, and the continuation of the season after a long hiatus took place in a quarantined bubble in Orlando. Every NBA club faced those same hurdles of being away from home, but now with the 2020-21 season on the horizon and the league preparing to have teams in their own (empty) stadiums, the Raptors face a unique set of challenges as the only team north of the border — a border that remains closed to non-essential traffic, with a 14-day quarantine awaiting those who are permitted to cross.

The Toronto Blue Jays were barred by the federal government from hosting home games in Toronto over the summer, as a rotation of visiting teams from the United States (including several COVID-19 hot spots) was deemed too high-risk to lift border restrictions for the league, even with visiting teams bubbling-up upon entry.

Asked Thursday if he believes the NBA and its athletes should be exempt from the ongoing border restrictions, Ujiri pointed to the NBA’s responsible track record and leadership during the pandemic — “We were the first to set the example for the world,” he said — and a strong desire to lead the way into the new normal we’re all facing.

“There’s a sense of responsibility for us. Public health and the safety of every individual in this world matters to us. So, I don’t think it’s a case of athletes or privilege or anything like that. We are trying to lead. We are trying to beat this pandemic. We are trying to come back in the best possible way because there’s going to be a new normal one way or the other,” he explained.

“We want to set an example that gives people a sense of hope. We don’t want to take our team to another city, carry families, carry workers, carry other people to another place,” Ujiri continued. “Let us learn here, let us figure it out here. Yes, we are very sensitive to the pandemic. Trust me — we play by the rules we have, and we will establish those rules, those protocols, I think that will be safe for the public first.”

Time is tight, as the 2020-21 season is set to begin Dec. 22, with training camps opening Dec. 1. That leaves limited time for the Raptors to sort out their home court, while also wading into free agency — a tough task already in these unprecedented times, and that’s without the added uncertainty of where they’ll call home.

According to the latest from Sportsnet’s Michael Grange, who noted Wednesday that the Raptors’ decision-makers had already descended upon Toronto in preparation for Draft Day on Nov. 18, Tampa Bay has emerged as “the most likely temporary home” if it’s determined the Raptors cannot play in Canada.

“Ideally, the Raptors are able to play their upcoming season in Toronto,” Rob Higgins, executive director of Tampa Bay Sports Commission, told Grange via email Wednesday. “But should that not be possible, we would have a strong interest in working to successfully meet and exceed their expectations as an alternative host. We’ve enjoyed our preliminary conversations with their organization and stand ready to assist if needed.”

Ujiri addressed that possibility Thursday, indicating the organization has “many options.”

“We have many options, to be honest. We’re lucky that the Raptors have become a darling, I think — hopefully — globally. We’re proud of that. You can name them, whether it’s Tampa, Nashville, Louisville, Kansas City, Buffalo, Newark, Fort Lauderdale. Everybody wants us to come play,” Ujiri said. “And we are honoured, we are humbled, and we are appreciative that everybody wants us to come play in their city, but honestly our main goal is to stay home. We really want to stay home.”

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Report: Raptors reach deal with C Len – TSN

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The Toronto Raptors have reached a deal with free agent centre Alex Len, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

ESPN reports the one-year deal is worth $2.3 million.

Len was traded in February from the Atlanta Hawks to the Sacramento Kings. He averaged eight points, 5.8 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 60 games between the two teams.

The 27-year-old was selected fifth overall by the Phoenix Suns in 2013 NBA Draft out of Maryland. He spent the first five seasons of his career with the Suns before joining the Hawks in 2018.

A veteran of 467 NBA games, Len has a career average of eight points and 6.3 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game.

The move helps to boost the frontcourt of the Raptors after the team lost Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol in free agency over the weekend.

Len is coming off of a two-year, $8.5 million deal signed with the Hawks.

The Antratsyt, Ukraine native becomes the third addition to the Raptors’ frontcourt in the past 48 hours with the team also signing free agent centre Aron Baynes and forward DeAndre Bembry.

The Dinos also agreed to terms on a two-year, $13.5 million deal with restricted free agent and Montreal native Chris Boucher to return to the club.

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NBPA delegation meets with Pope Francis to discuss social justice issues – Sportsnet.ca

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While much of the basketball world’s attention may be fixed on last week’s free-agent frenzy, players haven’t lost sight of the social issues that prompted them to bring the league to a standstill over the summer.

On Monday, a delegation from the National Basketball Player Association — consisting of Marco Belinelli, Sterling Brown, Jonathan Isaac, Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver — met with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss efforts to address social and economic injustice and inequality in their communities.

“We are extremely honoured to have had this opportunity to come to the Vatican and share our experiences with Pope Francis,” said Korver in a press release.

“His openness and eagerness to discuss these issues was inspiring and a reminder that our work has had a global impact and must continue moving forward.”

Korver has been outspoken in his desire to help fight anti-Black racism and was part of the Milwaukee Bucks team that sat out a post-season game to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis., prompting strikes in solidarity across the NBA and other major sports leagues.

Earlier this month, Brown, who was also on that Bucks team but has since signed with the Houston Rockets, agreed to a $750,000 settlement of a lawsuit filed against Milwaukee police after getting taken to the ground, shocked with a Taser and arrested during a 2018 encounter.

Pope Francis, who has gained a reputation for being progressive and modernizing the Vatican, spoke out after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May, saying, “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

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Report: Raptors agree to deal with free-agent centre Alex Len – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors have agreed to a deal with free-agent centre Alex Len, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Len, 27, finished the 2019-20 season with the Sacramento Kings after a trade sent him and Jabari Parker to California from Atlanta in exchange for Dewayne Dedmon.

The Antratsit, Ukraine native averaged 5.9 points and 6.1 rebounds with the Kings — over the course of the 2019-20 season as a whole, he averaged eight points and 5.8 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game.

Prior to his brief 15-game spell in Sacramento, Len spent a season and a half in Atlanta, and five seasons with the Phoenix Suns, who drafted him fifth overall back in 2013.

Len’s reported agreement with the Raptors comes a day after the team was linked to Aron Baynes, reportedly signing the fellow centre to a two-year, $14.3-million deal. The moves come after Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka both departed Toronto as free agents, the former joining the Los Angeles Lakers and the latter reuniting with Kawhi Leonard on the Los Angeles Clippers.

More to come.

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