Nick Nurse has no problem letting one of his players duck out of a meeting to take a call from one of his children.
The Toronto Raptors are two weeks into what could be an unprecedented three-and-a-half-month road trip, and Nurse knows that some of the most difficult challenges his players will face are loneliness and boredom.
Nurse knows family time is precious.
“It’s really another part of the puzzle, and it’s a big one,” the Raptors coach said on a Zoom call Tuesday from Naples, Fla. ”It starts with conversation, when you’re bumping into Fred (VanVleet) or Kyle (Lowry), and you’re asking them how are the wife and kids, and what are they doing, and when was the last time you talked to them.
“There’s a lot more of that going on than I would say normally would happen… a lot more now because we’re all showing pictures and whatever. It’s another one of those things you’d be more lenient on.
“We’re getting ready to start a meeting and somebody says ‘Oh, man, my kid’s FaceTiming me,’ and you say ‘Take it, go out in the hall and take it, and we’ll wait for you.’”
The 22 teams playing in the NBA restart began moving into the NBA’s quasi-bubble at Disney World in Orlando on Tuesday. The Raptors, who convened in Naples rather than have to spend 14 days self-isolating in Canada, move to Disney World on Thursday.
If the NBA can keep COVID-19 at bay, and the Raptors go on another extended post-season run, they could be there until mid-October. Family members aren’t allowed to join the team until the second round of the playoffs, and plenty of players, plus coach Nurse, have young children.
When Nurse left his Toronto house for Florida, his three-year-old son Leo said he’d wait for him by the door.
“He didn’t quite understand how long I’m going to be gone,” said Nurse, who has another son Rocky born during last year’s thrilling post-season run. ”I told him I’m going to coach some games, and he said ‘Well, I’m going to wait right here for ya.’ I hope he’s moved from that spot because it’s going to be a while.”
The league has said it will provide health and wellness resources to players upon arrival.
The NBA has to hope it doesn’t face the same issues that have plagued Major League Soccer’s restart. Two teams have had several players test positive for COVID-19 since arriving in Orlando. FC Dallas pulled out of the tournament entirely after 10 players and a coach tested positive for the coronavirus, while five members of Nashville SC tested positive and another four produced inconclusive tests.
Florida is a coronavirus hot spot, reporting another 7,300-plus cases on Tuesday. The state now has more than 213,000 cases.
Nurse said he feels safe with the NBA’s coronavirus protocols.
“We are going a long ways out of our way to make it extra safe as we should. We really are in the hotel. We are confined. We are away from everything. There is cleaning all over the place. Everyone is wearing masks. We go to the gym and there’s cleaning and we come back. It feels really safe,” Nurse said.
“I think the early stages or days of the Disney thing are critical. Getting a whole bunch of testing done and getting kind of to a point there. I think it will all be done at a really high level and remain fairly safe. I hope I’m right.”
The Raptors haven’t practised together since COVID-19 shut down the league on March 11. They’re still permitted just four players on the floor at one time, and only one player per basket. No one-on-one drills.
Pascal Siakam said he went two months without playing basketball, while Matt Thomas didn’t shoot a ball for almost that long. Both Raptors said it was the longest layoffs of their careers.
But you wouldn’t know it to see them, said Nurse.
“I look at what those two guys have been doing in their workouts and they both look great,” Nurse said. “I would imagine with everybody there’ll be a little bit of rhythm adjustment from the game, conditioning, rhythm and remembering sets and all that kind of stuff, that’ll take some time as well.
“But I wouldn’t have known — look, if you walked in the gym this morning and watched them work out, you wouldn’t have known they missed two months without touching a ball, I don’t think.”
All-star point guard Kyle Lowry hasn’t spoken with the media since the team gathered, and his absence from photos and video in Naples had Raptors fans wondering on Twitter if he was even there.
Thomas stomped on those rumours though when he said he’d been golfing with Lowry.
And Nurse said Lowry is “looking awesome” during workouts.
“I mean like really awesome. He is really working hard,” he said. “He comes into camp always in great shape, full of energy and feisty and all that stuff and he is. He’s going at it. He’s working extremely hard very early in the morning in all facets — his conditioning, his shooting. He looks good and his workouts have been excellent.”
The Raptors are scheduled for their first of three scrimmages against the Houston Rockets on July 24. They open the eight-game seeding round on Aug. 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2020.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press