TAMPA, Fla. — The Toronto Raptors tried everything. Team president Masai Ujiri said they submitted every possible scenario to the Canadian government, but there was "zero chance" they would play their home games in Canada this season.
So the team chose Tampa as its temporary home. Things started out well, and the Raptors were in a position to make the playoffs near the halfway point of the season. But a COVID-19 outbreak in March stifled the team's roster and derailed the season.
The Raptors went 1-13 in March, ending any playoff hopes by finishing 27-45.
Ujiri said one of the things that stands out most about this season is learning lessons from all of the little things they had to deal with during their relocation.
"It’s the things that happen to you the first time, or you don’t know how to adjust," Ujiri said, from Toronto via video chat. "You don’t know which way to go. That’s the part that’s tough."
He said that despite all of the hurdles this season, he'll only have positive memories of his time in Tampa.
"The people in Tampa were incredible. There’s no hospitality, no welcome we’re going to get that’s better than this," Ujiri said. "I will talk about that experience as a great experience for a long time."
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said he was just happy to get all of their games played.
"This has been one of the most difficult years in NBA history, and we got it done. Somehow, someway," Lowry said. "That’s a testament to the players, the coaches, the organizations, the teams, the media, the operating crews, from top to bottom."
Lowry said he heard a few more boos and saw a few more of the opposing team's jerseys in the Amalie Arena seats, but he doesn't regret making Tampa his temporary home.
"Tampa’s been unbelievable. They showed us love. They showed us a lot of support. They let us come into their city and basically use their city as a home base," Lowry said.
He also joked that the Raptors were responsible for some of the good fortunes that came to their NFL counterparts.
"The most unique thing is that we helped bring a championship here. It wasn’t just Tom Brady, it was us, haha!" Lowry said.
Lowry, 35, is set to become a free agent this summer. Ujiri's contract also expires this offseason.
There is still no confirmation that the Raptors will be able to return to Canada to start next season. But Ujiri said he hopes coronavirus vaccinations bring cases down, and he joked that he'll get Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the phone to help speed up the process.