As the Dec. 22 start date of the 2020-21 NBA season quickly nears, a number of teams have emerged as "favourites" to come out of the Eastern Conference.
While the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers are garnering plenty of headlines, the Toronto Raptors are often an afterthought despite still having a number of key members from their 2019 championship roster, one of which being Fred VanVleet, who recently held a press conference after signing a four-year deal worth $85 million to remain with Toronto.
To the undrafted VanVleet, being counted out is nothing new - for him, or for the Raptors: "We're back where we were pre-Kawhi where people are overlooking us again…" VanVleet said, per Blake Murphy of The Athletic. "…Which isn't a bad place to be … I can't wait to get back to work."
VanVleet, who joined the Raptors in 2016, has now been a part of four separate playoff runs with the franchise - two before the arrival of Kawhi Leonard, the championship run of 2019 and last year's run that came just one win shy of the third Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.
That Toronto was a few bounces shy of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals despite losing the Finals MVP in free agency says all you need to know about the resolve of this team and its leaders. At the top of that list stand VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, who has had an impact that VanVleet told reporters is "hard to put into words."
VanVleet says it's hard to put into words the impact Lowry has had on him. Says he has a lot of brothers and he considers Lowry among them. Lowry didn't have to do what he's done and FVV would have observed from him anyway, but Lowry doing what he did has meant a lot.- Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) November 24, 2020
New challenges face the 2020-21 Raptors, who, in addition to losing two more key players Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to free agency, will also begin the season at the temporary home of Tampa, FL due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
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A native of Rockford, IL, VanVleet spoke on the move, saying that he misses Toronto, which has become a second home for him, adding that the silver lining in the team's inability to play in Canada is that they chose a warm locale.
"Once we knew Toronto was up in the air, I'm just happy it was somewhere warm," VanVleet says of playing in Tampa. Looks forward to getting back to Toronto when it's safe.- (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) November 24, 2020
Despite some of the offseason losses, the Raptors have looked to re-tool by signing centres Aron Baynes and Alex Len, wing DeAndre' Bembry and re-signing Canadian Chris Boucher, who stands to have an increased role in the upcoming season.
The aforementioned four, along with the team's core four of Lowry, Siakam, VanVleet and OG Anunoby, will look to put everyone who makes the mistake of overlooking this team on notice.
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