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Toronto Raptors sign Canadian Oshae Brissett, unveil camp roster in Florida

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On the Toronto Raptors' first full day in their temporary home away from home, the state of Florida hit an inglorious milestone, surpassing one million COVID-19 cases.

Concern around the pandemic itself is just one of the huge challenges Canada's NBA team faces in Tampa, where the Raptors will host their home games for at least the first part of the season because of Canada's travel restrictions around COVID-19.

The price tag of playing outside their own market is massive. 

"It's something we're going through with the league now," GM Bobby Webster said on a Zoom call Tuesday. "There is a discretionary fund that the NBA has . . . the last time it was invoked for something like this was Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans went to Oklahoma City.

"It's a huge strain on us as an organization, but I think, as you all know, when faced with different challenges or obstacles, we thrive, and we like it, so we're looking at it much more from a really unique experience for our team, for our staff."

The Raptors made their team official on Tuesday. On a positive note, they signed Canadian Oshae Brissett to a multi-year extension. The restricted free agent forward from Mississauga, Ont., who split time between the Raptors and Raptors 905 of the G League last season, averaged 1.9 points in 19 games with the NBA team.

The presence of Terence Davis at camp, however, is a contentious topic. Davis is facing seven charges, including two counts of third-degree assault, after he was arrested in New York on Oct. 27 for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend. 

"We've obviously had our conversations with Terence, done as much due diligence as we can on the situation," Webster said. 

He said the matter is in the hands of the NBA and the players' union and results of their investigation will determine whether Davis might be put on administrative leave.

"I think sometimes that may feel a bit unsatisfying but I think that we need to be respectful of that process as well," he said. 

The Raptors have taken a proactive approach to hiring women, so Webster was asked if their position on Davis is hypocritical. 

"We take this incredibly serious," he said. "There’s no basketball issue that would ever prevent us from doing anything, but we also have to go with our relationship and our understanding of the conversation and what happened."

The Raptors began individual workouts at Saint Leo University on Tuesday. They're still in the process of setting up a practice facility in a downtown hotel — another of the huge hurdles no other team in the league faces. They got the hotel ballroom idea after seeing the league do it in the "bubble" at Walt Disney World. 

"If you can imagine a world-class basketball court, a world-class training room, a world-class weight room, there are challenges in doing that in the equipment but essentially the idea here was to create a world-class practice facility in a place where there isn’t one," Webster said. "That’s been fun and challenging for us."

Webster, a dad of two young kids, isn't sure how many Raptors players and staff might move their families temporarily to Tampa.  

"We’re all in a bit of no-man’s land as we decide. We all wanted to come down here and see what the setup is . . . so see what the setup is here, what the comfort level is, obviously finding housing or living in a hotel is different than living in a place with a routine," he said. "I think over the course of the next few days or weeks we’ll have a better sense of it."

Webster said they learned other lessons from being cooped up in the Disney World bubble for three months they can apply to this unique season.

"You really understand the meaning of being part of a team and relying on each other, not only for playing the games and getting to the arenas, but now it's our collective health, our collective well-being," he said. "I think that sense of belonging and unity is really important for a time like this, where everyone feels like we have each other's back, and we're all looking out for the greater good."

If there is a plus side to playing in Tampa, Webster noted that it snowed Tuesday in Toronto. 

"We are here in nice, sunny Florida with no state income tax," Webster grinned.

The Raptors also announced centre Henry Ellenson signed a multi-year contract. Ellenson played five games for the Brooklyn Nets last season. He has also played for Detroit and New York since entering the league in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Raptors signed first-round pick Malachi Flynn to a rookie-scale contract and second-round pick Jalen Harris to a two-way contract.

Free-agent forwards Alize Johnson and Yuta Watanabe have signed one-year, Exhibit-10 contracts.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press