VANCOUVER, B.C – The window is wide open for the Toronto Raptors to contend for an NBA championship, the back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan is among the best in the NBA and Toronto’s high scoring duo will once again be asked to carry the offense for Toronto. Jonas Valančiūnas will hope to stay healthy this season as Toronto will be depending on the big Lithuanian centre for dominance at both ends of the court. President and General Manager, Masai Ujiri didn’t tinker too much with his team during the off-season. Toronto’s core group is back and joined by free agent Jared Sullinger from Boston.
The 24 year-old Sullinger will be slotted in at power forward this season as he hopes to turn around what was an up and down four seasons with the Celtics. Sullinger’s immense talent on the court was often overshadowed by his ballooning weight totals. At one point, he topped the scales at 300 pound last season. It is hoped that a one-year contract with Toronto will help motivate Sullinger to have his best NBA season yet. His off-season work regiment consisted of an unusual under water activity.
“I don’t really run on the court,” admitted Sullinger. “I rarely ran on the court, I rarely ran on the treadmill. I did a lot of hydro work, underwater treadmill, and a lot of sprinting under water just to take the pounding off the knees and the joints because it’s a long season. You’ve got to keep the body right. I didn’t want to come into the season and be a little banged up. I was on the hydro works a lot. Also, just lifting, I did a lot of circuit lifting, a lot of conditioning, lifting, and getting the heart rate up.”
The Toronto Raptors will tip-off the season on Wednesday, October 26 vs Detroit. Sullinger is in top fitness form right now, but admits that there is still room for improvement. That’s music to the ears of Raptors fans who will be expecting big things.
“My fitness is great, it’s great,” said Sullinger. “It’s the highest it’s been in a long time. Things are moving gradually in the right direction. I don’t have to be perfect today, but I do have to be perfect on our first regular season game.”
Coming into training camp at Fortius Sport and Health in Burnaby, B.C., – Sullinger is listed at 6-foot-9 and weighing 260 pounds. If he can find a playing weight that he can produce at, and stay competitive, that will be his preferred playing weight as long as he can pound the glass and get up and down the court. What that magic number is, remains to be determined
“I’m at a good playing weight now, but my goal is to get better,” said Sullinger. “Once I find that place were my game is excelled with the conditioning, the weight, and the right aspect, I feel that will be the perfect playing weight for me.”
The former Ohio State standout picked the Toronto Raptors because he knows that this is a team on the rise. Toronto is going places and proving to be a dominate force with talent for years to come. Coach Dwane Casey personally reached out to Sullinger and recruited him. Seeing Toronto playing in the NBA eastern conference finals also helped sway him to Canada.
“You know, Masai (Ujiri), Coach Casey, a lot of guys reached out to me,” revealed Sullinger. “(They) wanted me to come here, and said that I could be a helping factor. If you look at it, they were essentially two games from making it to the NBA finals. When you see that opportunity that opens up for you, and they have pretty much the same core guys still here. You want to take advantage of that. At the end of the day, you could have a lot of money and but you might not win, it could be a miserable season. I just like where I’m at, I’m very comfortable, and everyday I’m getting better.”
The 56 wins the Raptors picked up last season not only captured sports fans in throughout the GTA, but also right across the country. From coast to coast, the Raptors audience grew with each and every playoff victory. Being the only NBA team in Canada was also a strong factor in Sullinger turning down contracts from other teams for a chance to take his talents to ‘The Six’.
“When you play in Toronto, you’ve got the whole country behind you,” a passionate Sullinger shared. “It’s almost like playing for the national team. It’s really, really a blessing, and it’s a lot of fun to know that wherever you go, everybody has your back.”
While Sullinger is protecting the rim, picking up double doubles, posting up, and saying unhealthy foods. He will be helping Toronto take one step closer to the ultimate prize. It won’t be enough just to make the NBA finals. The Raptors want an NBA championship title. With Sullinger in the fold, he could be that missing piece to the puzzle that adds just want Toronto needs.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the championship,” said Sullinger. “Everyday we strap them up, it’s a step closer. As a competitor you want to win every game you play.”
Fans will be watching with excitement as the window remains wide open for the Toronto Raptors to take flight to a championship.