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This was supposed to be a developmental season for the Toronto Raptors. Sure, winning is a key part of that process, but the primary goal of this season has been to get better every single day with as many good reps as possible. It’s why the Raptors have gone all-in on practice this year. They’ve moved away from the rest-first mindset they had in previous seasons with more veteran teams and instead focused on taking as many small steps forward as possible.

But COVID-19 laughs at the best-laid plans.

The rising COVID cases throughout the NBA, Toronto, Canada, and, frankly, the world has forced the Raptors to once again move away from in-person and team workouts. They canceled practice back on December 9 following Masai Ujiri’s positive test. They took last Wednesday off, normally a practice day had the Raptors played the Chicago Bulls last Tuesday in a game that was eventually postponed. Their practice on Sunday was canceled, following Pascal Siakam and Dalano Banton being admitted into Health & Safety protocols and the Raptors are once again taking Monday off, opting instead for individual player workouts with coaches to minimize the chances of COVID-19 spreading.

“We’ve got to be as safe as we can, probably leaning towards not gathering nearly as much as I would like to,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said following Saturday’s victory over the Golden State Warriors. “We're a young growing team that needs to practice. So hopefully we can sneak some in here and there but if we can’t, we’ve got to learn as much as we can on game night.”

The pandemic has forced Toronto to do things differently. Instead of getting in the gym and running through drills as a team, the coaches are meeting virtually or socially distanced in large spaces to go over game plans while players watch tape and work out one on one with coaches. It’s far from perfect, but that’s what it takes to stay safe these days, Nurse said.

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Being in Toronto adds another extra layer of restrictions, said Fred VanVleet. Canada has been more conservative with its COVID restrictions, opting for more stringent measures than its southern neighbors and the Raptors have had to adapt accordingly.

“We learned a lot about the situation being in Tampa last year and here we are, we got to keep plugging away until told otherwise,” VanVleet added.

What’s the cost? Well, that won’t be clear until years down the road. These Raptors rookies and sophomores have never experienced a true traditional NBA season full of games and practices. Last year cost Malachi Flynn a ton of training and he hasn’t taken the step forward this season as had been expected. While Scottie Barnes and Dalano Banton have already exceeded expectations, the Raptors need to do everything in their power to ensure the rookies’ futures are as bright as their pasts because the NBA isn’t stopping, those practices aren’t coming back, and COVID-19 doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Further Reading

Fred VanVleet jokes about Russell Westbrook & Kyle Lowry chasing triple-doubles

Nothing feels the same as Raptors enter new wave of the pandemic with victory over Warriors

Pascal Siakam & Dalano Banton enter the NBA's COVID protocols