Having run his troops through mostly individual workouts the past week at Florida Gulf Coast University, Nick Nurse says he is pleasantly surprised by both their approach and their conditioning.
The Raptors head coach admitted he wasn’t sure what to expect from his team after a near four-month layoff.
“I think I would say I kind of came in here open-minded,” Nurse told reporters on a conference call from the team hotel in Naples, Florida where the team convened and will remain until the NBA campus opens in Walt Disney World just over a week from now.
“I didn’t know if we were going to be not really in the right frame of mind or whatever and whatever it was I was going to kind of deal with it, but I would say 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,” Nurse said. “They love to play, they are guys that are concerned about getting better individually, about their own careers, and 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.”
And in a season that was going along rather nicely for the Raptors before the world was stopped in its tracks by the Coronavirus pandemic, that should bode well for the team going forward.
In fact Nurse sounded very much like a guy still waiting to see the best from his team, and for obvious reasons.
“We went into this last season obviously missing a couple of really key pieces to our team (Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green), so you were kind of selling an opportunity to a few guys, there’s some opportunities for some growth and even usage and chances and stuff like that, but you’re not sure how that’s going to turn out,” Nurse said. “Could this guy go to there and this guy go to there? Fortunately Pascal (Siakam) took a jump, Fred (VanVleet), Norm (Powell), Serge (Ibaka) is playing amazing, OG (Anunoby) has been fabulous, so that opportunity there in the middle, the 3-4 spot, there’s a lot of guys that have taken it. I expect to kind of come back into this and see what we are going to look like coming back here but we have a little cheat sheet to know there is a place we’ve been with this group. So I think if it isn’t all holding hands and skipping rope at the beginning we just have to stick with it and see if we can get back to that level. I think there’s another level this group can go.”
Health will certainly be a factor and that’s before anyone even begins to consider the possibility of the Coronavirus overcoming all the precautionary steps the league has taken inside the Disney bubble.
For starters the Raptors were on pace for 60 wins this season pre-pandemic and that was with just about every regular missing a month or more save for Anunoby.
The near four month break has brought everyone back fully healthy, including Marc Gasol, who looks like he went back to Spain and lived in his gym eating nothing but the healthiest of foods.
Powell confirmed on Tuesday during his call that Gasol, in fact, is the envy of all his teammates these days.
“He looks great, man, he’s moving great. He’s feeling great, in talking to him,” Powell said. “I’m supposed to be playing tennis with him either tomorrow or the next day, so hopefully I’ll still be able to give him a run for his money.”
Now granted these are still early days in the re-start. The Raptors haven’t had and won’t have a full team workout until they get to Disney but all indications point to the defending champs having weathered this pandemic rather well and sit in a nice position to make a real run at repeating.
It’s only been a week but Nurse doesn’t sense or feel any angst within the team that could be at the beginning of a four and a half month road trip, albeit one minus any real travel.
“The days go by pretty quickly,” Nurse said of his initial assessment of this elongated road trip. “We’re trying to mix in some days off. We’re trying to mix in a lot of different activities, as much as we can do under the conditions. We had a barbecue the other day. It was kind of nice. It takes an evening. It was good. There’s ping-pong. There’s 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. The language has been positive.”
It all has to sound almost too good to the Raptors fan at home anxiously awaiting that first game on Aug. 1. But then who among us doesn’t deserve a little good news given how these past four months have unfolded?