Raptors' Kyle Lowry says COVID-19 cases among players is inevitable

Despite the NBA's precautions, Kyle Lowry said it's virtually a given that players will contract COVID-19. This means flexibility is key for the Toronto Raptors.

Toronto closes out pre-season Friday against Miami

Kyle Lowry says this season's Toronto Raptors roster has the opportunity to surprise some people. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Despite the countless precautions the NBA has put into place ahead of this bizarre season, include twice-daily testing, Kyle Lowry said it's virtually a given that players will contract COVID-19.

And so, flexibility is key.

The Toronto Raptors' six-time all-star played a key role the league's successful restart at Walt Disney World last summer, but the safety net of the bubble is gone. Teams will be criss-crossing the U.S., where the virus continues to rage.

"It's going to happen and we have to adjust, and when it happens, no-one's going to know how guys get it, or coaches get it, or whoever gets it. No-one's going to understand how it happened . . . it's going to be like, 'Damn, OK,"' Lowry said.

"But the players, the team, the coaches, the league, will have to go on, make adjustments and figure it out as we go and it will be a different year. It's going to be a tough year, but we got some of the best people in the world working with us, working for us."

Lowry added players need to comply 100 per cent by wearing their masks and not venturing places where it's not safe.

"Because at the end of the day, this is our job, right, and we have to do it at a high level," he said.

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The 34-year-old spoke to reporters on a Zoom call Thursday, his first appearance since the team gathering in their temporary home in Tampa a couple of weeks ago. Lowry said the adjustment has been "fine," and he and his family have found a "nice place" to live.

He predictably sparred with reporters, telling them one of the best things about Tampa is that "you guys aren't here."

Since the Raptors were ousted from the bubble in late August, beaten in seven games by Boston in the second round of the playoffs, he's spent time with his two sons, and played a lot of golf.

Any good golf courses, someone asked.

"Yeah, all of 'em. I don't play bad courses, man," Lowry said.

Lowry in tremendous shape, says Nick Nurse

He said he hasn't spoken to the team about his contract status. Lowry becomes a free agent next summer.

"My goal is to stay focused on trying to win a championship with the Toronto Raptors. That has always been my goal," he said. "I will let the other stuff play itself out. Right now it's all about just getting ourselves going here in Tampa and be in a good spot."

The veteran guard didn't travel to Charlotte for Toronto's first two pre-season games for load management reasons. Coach Nick Nurse said Lowry is in tremendous shape, and "doing his leadership, impacting the game the way he plays, that sort of thing."

But coming off a shortened summer, and heading into a condensed regular season, Nurse said he might continue to monitor Lowry's playing time, although it's a fine line between getting in game shape and overdoing it early on.

"Coach will always say he's going to monitor our minutes and then play us 42 in the first game, that's what he does," Lowry said with a laugh. "Myself and coach will always consistently have an open line of communication when it comes to minutes and games played . . . I'm here to a job and y'all know I'm going to do it at the best level I can possibly do it at."

Lowry will quarterback a new roster that's missing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. He was disappointed to see Ibaka go, he said, but happy for the veteran forward.

Asked whether the Raptors are better or different, he said definitely different. He's impressed with new centre Aron Baynes, and said Canadian backup Chris Boucher will have to "step up."

"There will be a lot more small ball, I believe," Lowry said. "I think we have an opportunity to surprise some people but at the end of the day you still got to go out there and lace `em up and put the ball in the hole and play defence."

Lowry is also impressed with point guard Malachi Flynn, the Raptors' No. 29 pick in last month's draft who's been compared to Fred VanVleet.

"I got a chance to work out with him before the draft and I liked him. He's a good kid," Lowry said.

After Lowry answered his final question Thursday — but with another player still on deck to speak — he inadvertently ended the entire Zoom availability, bending over to click on the "Leave" prompt.

"I'm leaving this meeting," he said.

The Raptors close out the pre-season Friday against Miami in their first game in Amalie Arena, their home until COVID-19 restrictions are loosened in Toronto and Canada.

They host New Orleans in their regular-season opener on Wednesday.

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