TORONTO – Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was in familiar surroundings Sunday morning, and it’s not just because he was conducting a rare practice on the Scotiabank Arena floor.

No, instead it was the gathered crowd of about 600 coaches in the Scotiabank Arena seats eagerly taking in what a practice run by an NBA champion coach looks like.

“It’s alright, it’s good,” Nurse said of the coaches’ open house the Raptors were holding Sunday. “Players seem to have a little more pep in their step and it’s good to get on the main floor, too and get some shots up. We don’t get to do that very often on non-game days, so it’s good.”

Nurse was pretty happy to be getting the opportunity to coach and speak in front of a collection of his peers because he was once like the crowd gathered in the seats before, too.

“Probably a lot,” Nurse said of how often he’d attend clinics. “Yeah, back in the day it was probably a little bit more popular back then than it is today. Coaches’ clinics was going on a lot, especially in the fall. …

“I think the biggest thing, and I’m not sure if it happens much anymore, we used to spend the whole summer doing this stuff. I went to one camp after the next, after the next, after the next where coaches were holding clinics just about every night of the week in the summertime, so that was a good education way back when – back in the 80s.”

The loose atmosphere was also likely because the Raptors got back to their winning ways Saturday night, shooting 35 per cent from three-point range after only shooting 27.2 per cent from outside over their past five games.

“I think it was certainly nice to come out and hit a bunch of those early,” Nurse said. “I think we fed off the energy from that, and were a little bit more like we used to. Coming down and playing and making open shots.”

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With that said, given the crowd he was in front of Sunday, not everything could be hunky dory in the Raptors’ performance Saturday for Nurse – he’s a coach after all.

“I think we had a couple of dry spells where I just didn’t think we had great shot selection and were going a little too quick, and maybe not the right opportunity, and we’ve gotta clean that up,” he said. “You just can’t afford not to be a little bit more consistent over your 48 minutes. … There’s some things to clean up, there’s some guys who need to play a little bit better.”

But on a day for the Raptors where the minutia of the on-court happenings was in full focus — with discussion of the previous night’s game and the team practicing in front of a collection of the most hardcore basketball observers you’re likely going to possibly find — this day, on the greater NBA calendar, had very little to do with pick-and-rolls, zone defences or much of anything at all connected to the sport of basketball.

Instead, Dec. 15 is a big day for the business of basketball.

This is because Dec. 15 is the annual date when trade restrictions get lifted on players who signed as free agents during the previous off-season — something that accounts for close to 30 per cent of the entire league, meaning approximately 90 per cent of the NBA is now trade-eligible.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean 90 per cent of the league will be traded, and that deals will immediately start flying all over, but it is treated as the unofficial start to the NBA’s very active trade rumour season and now the countdown to the Feb. 6 trade deadline.

In the Raptors’ case, no matter how infeasible things may sound, they are a team that will probably pop up in rumours because of their contender status – meaning they could be buyers at the deadline.

Beyond that, though, they have as many as five players currently on their roster whose contracts are slated to expire at season’s end — one of them being Stanley Johnson, who has a player-option for next season — and two more players set to become restricted free agents.

But despite this potential rush of buzz to come, the Raptors aren’t thinking much about it right now.

“That doesn’t help you on your day-to-day,” said Raptors centre Marc Gasol of the beginning of trade season. “I’m 100 per cent committed to this team and this season, and everything else that I can control. It’s always fun to talk about, and it’s always cool, and it fills a lot of papers, but for us it’s about Cleveland right now, tomorrow, and that’s about it.”

Gasol, of course, is a player whom the Raptors traded for last season to try to help them get over the hump. He’s one of the players on an expiring deal, but, as he said, he’s not worrying about it right now — perhaps because, despite the date, it still might actually to be too early from a player’s perspective to be thinking about trades right now.

“I know it’s date that a lot of guys have on their contract that they’re now tradable,” said Nurse. “But I think it’s a little bit early to get into the trade worries and all that stuff.”

With 53 days left until the deadline, it just might be too early for those in the thick of it on a daily basis. For the rest of us, however, it’s the rumour mill’s opening day.

Let’s have some fun.

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