Raptors players preferred Florida to other temporary homes

TAMPA — When the Raptors were surveying potential temporary homes, head coach Nick Nurse reached out to several of his most veteran players and asked them where they’d prefer to play if it couldn’t be Toronto.

Nashville, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa.

One thing was clear. If they couldn’t play in Canada, they’d rather play in Florida, where they could walk outside in a T-shirt and shorts in the winter months. It has made their arrival in Tampa this week, when temperatures have been unseasonably frigid, ironic.

“It’s freezing down here right now,” Nurse joked Wednesday. “So that’s not what I expected. You come here and you think, hey, (it’s going to be warm). You go out yesterday and it’s 39 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Warmer days are ahead for the Raptors as they will spend at least the next three months in Tampa, playing their home games at Amalie Arena. The organization had a choice, and Nurse wanted to survey his players’ opinions before the team made a decision on its temporary home.

“I think being in Florida made Tampa attractive,” said guard Norman Powell, the Raptors’ second-longest-tenured player. “I think it was easy for us. I think any trip to Florida has been our easiest trip when we were coming from Toronto.

“We had a little vote, Nick texted me for sure and I know a few other guys, and just listing what our top options were. Tampa was up there. One day I had it as the first (choice) and another time, I had it as second. Fort Lauderdale was first.”

Before last season resumed inside the Orlando bubble, the Raptors held a brief training camp at Alico Arena on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. So the players have actually spent more time recently in Florida than they have in Toronto since the pandemic began.

“The weather when we were here (before) was good — hot and humid — a little too humid at times,” Powell said.

The Raptors also reportedly had a plan in place to open the season outside Fort Lauderdale, at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

Like Amalie Arena, where the Lightning play, the BB&T Center (home of the Florida Panthers) is primarily a hockey facility. But the proximity to Miami, where the NBA’s Heat play 35 miles south, seemed to play a role in choosing Tampa over the Fort Lauderdale area.

Another attractive benefit of playing home games in the Sunshine State is the fact that there’s no state income tax in Florida. Professional athletes are taxed proportionately based on where they play their games.

The Raptors’ setup in Tampa is well-structured. The team is in the final phases of transforming a ballroom inside the new J.W. Marriott hotel — steps away from Amalie Arena — into their training facility. They are spending their first two weeks holding training camp on Saint Leo University’s cozy and secluded campus in Pasco County.

“I think Coach Nurse did a great job in just getting the voice of the players and where they’d feel most comfortable, and going from there,” Powell said. “But obviously the team had to get it all worked out with the logistics and everything and making it actually materialize. So I don’t know how much the players saying either Fort Lauderdale or Tampa played in what was in play, but they were able to make to make it work and I’m not disappointed being out here.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at [email protected] Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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