Twice this season the Toronto Raptors have welcomed former icons back into Scotiabank Arena only to play in front of 19,000 empty seats.
It was a strange moment the first time, when Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka stepped out onto the court. There was no applause, no show of gratitude, nothing to say thanks for his four seasons in Toronto. When the Raptors played a tribute video to honor Ibaka, he didn't even look up to acknowledge it or wave his hand in appreciation. I mean, who was there to even wave to?
Two weeks later, Jonas Valanciunas made his long-awaited return to Toronto with the New Orleans Pelicans. This time, the Raptors didn't even bother with a tribute video. The only celebration for Valanciunas came from his former teammates who showed support for the former Raptors big during pre-game warmups.
Sunday could mark the first time Norman Powell has been back in Toronto since being traded to the Portland Trail Blazers last season. It'll be contingent on the personal issues he's been dealing with that have kept him away from the team for the past few days.
If he can't play, Fred VanVleet said that'll be just fine with him.
"It’s bittersweet because you want these guys to come back and get the reception that everybody is looking for," VanVleet said Friday.
That may be the situation next month when Kyle Lowry and the Miami Heat are scheduled to come to Toronto on Feb. 1. It'll be the second night of a back-to-back for Miami and with Scotiabank Arena expected to still be under lockdown until at least late February, it might be better off having Lowry sit out against the Raptors and wait for the proper welcome when he returns on April 3.
"We need these guys to come back to a warm welcome in a packed house," VanVleet added. "Whenever that may be, I think that’s the proper welcome back for any of our guys.”