Youth to be served as Raptors close out lost season with thoughts on eventual return to Toronto

The Toronto Raptors took on Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.

As the Raptors continue to play out the string to a season dotted with far more moments of despair than acclaim, three games remain for many residing on basketball’s fence.

It’s not exactly make or break time, but every moment, every minute, provides an opportunity to leave a mark as the franchise moves forward.

“It’s really valuable time here, it’s not just get it over with here in these games,” said head coach Nick Nurse.
“It’s a week of valuable time that we’ve got to be looking towards the future.”

For one night at least, nostalgia filled the air as many looked back on the Raptors’ remarkable seven-year run of playoff basketball, an epic stretched capped off by the 2019 championship.

When Toronto’s depleted roster hooked up with the Clippers, a day after the team was officially eliminated from the post-season, Kawhi Leonard was in the midst of an economical evening, while an injured Serge Ibaka witnessed L.A.’s win in street clothes.

The Raptors sat out Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam.

OG Anunoby was also unavailable, but Anunoby wasn’t exactly a factor during the 2019 run to the Larry O’Brien Trophy because he was recovering from surgery.

For players such as Freddie Gillespie, Khem Birch, Jalen Harris, Chris Boucher, Malachi Flynn and Gary Trent Jr., games against Chicago Thursday, followed by tips against Dallas Friday and finally Indiana in the season finale become meaningful.

While everyone can look back at the many accomplishments the Raptors achieved during its seven-year run, the future isn’t so clear.

Nurse continues to coach the lineup he’s given and nothing is going change in the next few days as the season officially winds down.

“There’s probably a lot more learning and teaching that needs to go on with younger players, maybe that’s what you’re seeing a little bit,” said Nurse.

“Usually the vets are, you know, you tell them one time and they’re gonna make the shift or they’re gonna make it on their own and younger guys just need, again, they don’t see it, they don’t feel it so you’ve got to maybe tell them again or tell them in a different way or draw it out for ’em or whatever it is you just keep looking for the way that they can let it sink in and then take it to the floor and execute it.”

If Nurse had someone on his roster such as Leonard, Toronto’s plight would be much different.

He doesn’t, forcing Nurse to make the most out of a difficult situation.

In 30 minutes against his former team Wednesday night, Leonard put up 20 points, hauled down seven rebounds and dished off five assists, a stat line that bodes well for the Clippers as the playoffs approach.

Just as impressive was Leonard turned the ball over once.

Since 2013, the Raptors won nine post-season series and headed to Tampa having posted five consecutive 50-win seasons.

One of the best developments to emerge from Tampa involves Birch, who, under Nurse, has been allowed to expand his offence.

His familiarity with Nurse as a member of Canada’s national team helped.

“I think now I know what I need to work on and now I know what I’m capable of,” said Birch. “It’s good to know that stuff and to work on it in the summer time and potentially for Team Canada as well.”

Birch is a free agent this summer.

Contractural uncertainty has always been an issue with the national program when it came to recruitment.

By the sounds of it, if Birch is healthy he’s willing to play for Nurse in the Olympic qualifying event late next month in Victoria.

“If I miraculously get hurt or something then I probably won’t, but if I’m healthy by the end of the year then I’m gonna play,” added Birch.


By all accounts, everything was done to make the Raptors feel at home in their unofficial home.

Boucher was doing his best in the fine art of diplomacy when asked about Tampa and any pleasant memories he’ll cherish.

“Maybe when I leave,” he said. “When I go back to Toronto I’ll be good. Honestly, I miss Toronto, like the food and everything. It’s been rough. They did everything for us, the set up and everything was great, but it ain’t Toronto.”

Nurse was asked what he missed about the 6ix.

“I miss the snow, the wind, the cold. I’m from Iowa,” he said, half jokingly. “But I miss the electricity of playing at home, where six hours before a game, you could just feel the vibe in the air. And I guess I miss the change in the seasons a little bit.”

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