The Toronto Raptors have entered uncharted waters.
For the first time this season, the Raptors are amid some serious COVID-19 problems. At first, it was Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse, and five assistant coaches who were forced to miss last Friday's game against the Houston Rockets. But now, the problems have spread, and Toronto will be without a significant chunk of its roster including three starters who have entered the NBA's Health and Safety protocols and will be ineligible to play when the ball tips off against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night in Tampa.
The Raptors announced Tuesday that OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw, Malachi Flynn, one unnamed staff member, along with Siakam, Nurse, and the five other assistant coaches who missed Friday's game will all be out against the Pistons.
In their place, the Raptors have called up rookie Jalen Harris and Donta Hall from the Raptors 905 and have tasked Sergio Scariolo with once again captaining the undermanned ship.
"Whatever the circumstance is we have to go on the floor and compete and try to get the boat into the harbour," Scariolo said Tuesday night. "We got a little damage, but we have to try to stay floating and bring it to the harbour, and then we’ll have a few days to repair it and to start over, obviously with the break and renewed energy and trying to continue what we’ve been doing the last few weeks."
The Raptors are fortunate in the sense that the COVID-19 issues may only interrupt two games before the All-Star break. It sounds as though the players who have been ruled out for Wednesday night will not be able to play on Thursday against the Boston Celtics in the pre-All-Star break finale, according to general manager Bobby Webster. But the Raptors have a week off before returning on March 11 in Atlanta and it's likely any close contacts within the organization who continues to test negative for COVID-19 will be eligible to return.
As for right now, Toronto is going to have to make do with a 12-man roster led primarily by Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell. Scariolo and the team held a nighttime practice on Tuesday after the team received its test results and things went pretty smoothly all things considered.
"I think everybody is ready," Scariolo said. "Of course, you have a feeling that people who are not always into the rotation have that kind of a good vibe that they definitely will be into the rotation. Having that attitude, bringing in a desire to do things, a desire to be vocal on the floor."
It's helpful having some experienced leaders to guide the way. In Scariolo, the Raptors have a head coach with over 25 years of head coaching experience overseas who has seen almost everything there is to see in basketball.
"I had a lot, so many games, [I] have been through every kind of situation, I had even seven players," Scariolo said. "My experience is good in this kind of situation."
Then there's Lowry, the 34-year-old point guard who has probably seen everything there is to see in basketball except this. Much like on Friday when Scariolo got some coaching assistance from Lowry, the Raptors veteran should help over the next few days.
"Kyle’s been great," Scariolo said. "Even tonight he was excellent leading by voice, leading by example. He’s the most veteran player, he’s a franchise player. We know him, I personally admire him during these three years – his commitment, his competitiveness."
Unfortunately, while this might be new to the Raptors, it's nothing new for the league. Tuesday's postponement of the original Pistons-Raptors game was the 31st postponed game this season due to COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols, according to Marc Stein. So once enough Raptors players were cleared from COVID-19 contact tracing protocols, the league was eager to work with Toronto to ensure Wednesday night's game could be played as scheduled.
Now, Toronto will be tested in ways like never before. They've responded to a 2-8 start and clawed back to .500 thanks to a 15-9 run, but now these COVID-19 issues have created uncertainty for the organization for at least the next few games.