The Toronto Raptors players are paid millions of dollars, but at heart, they remain gym rats playing a kids’ game.
“The guys were raring to go. It was a super-energetic morning,” said head coach Nick Nurse, as the Raptors NBA training camp opened Tuesday at CARSA Gymnasium on the University of Victoria campus.
That includes six-foot-eight NBA veteran forwards Thaddeus Young and Otto Porter Jr., who have been around NBA courts more than a few times, but seemed just as excited as the rookies.
Young, acquired last mid-season in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs, is in his 16th NBA season. Porter, acquired in the off-season and signed to a two-year $12.4-million US contract, is in his ninth season after winning the NBA championship last spring as a member of the Golden State Warriors. The duo are expected to be sustaining influences for the younger, developing Raptors players.
“In my mind, I always wanted to come back here and it not be a one-year thing,” said Young, 34, the 12th overall selection in the 2007 NBA draft, and now joining his seventh NBA team.
“We can all continue to grow together. Otto and I are in the latter parts of our careers and stabilizing forces. We are both team-first guys. Otto is one of my better friends in the league and one of the first things he did is reach out. There is a lot of fam love here. We are ready to rock and roll. We can facilitate things like not giving up leads and not letting games get out of hand.”
It’s not a veterans-know-best approach, however.
“It’s not about us barking,” said Young.
“It’s about approaching everyone as individuals because everybody is different. This team is super deep with a lot of younger guys who can play basketball.
“Otto [Porter] is the perfect second-unit guy. He is coming off a championship and is a great person and guys respect his voice.”
Porter, 29, was the third overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft and is in his 12th season with his fifth team.
“These are a bunch of young guys who are hungry and ready to do what it takes. They can pick our brains. Our job is to pass along information,” he said.
In that vein, what is the most important thing a life in the NBA has taught him?
“It’s about working hard every day and being a true professional,” said Porter.
Nurse labelled Porter the key off-season addition: “Adding Otto was the big one. He is a multi-faceted, multi-positional player who has produced in this league.”
This is the 12th time the Raptors have held their training camp outside Toronto and the second time in Victoria, following 2017, and seventh time overall in B.C.
The Raptors, Canada’s lone NBA franchise, will play five pre-season games this fall, including Oct. 2 against the Utah Jazz at Rogers Place in Edmonton and Oct. 14 against the Boston Celtics at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“This team has a national following that is very unique. I’ve never been a part of that before. It’s a blessing,” said Porter.
“This is a high-class organization that takes pride in what they do.”
The training camp portion at UVic this week is closed to the public. The intra-squad game Friday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre is sold out.
OFF THE RIM: There are three Canadian players among the 20 in Raptors training camp, not two as reported in Tuesday’s edition. Joining Chris Boucher from Montreal and Khem Birch of Russell, Ont., is sophomore Raptors pro and Toronto-native Dalano Banton, the team’s second-round selection in the 2021 NBA draft. It speaks to the so-called Golden Generation of 18 Canadian players who played in the NBA last season, leading to great hopes of Canada qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics under Nurse, and for the first time since Canada was captained at the 2000 Sydney Olympics by two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash of Victoria.