After a long and successful season but a tragic summer, the Raptors prepare to gear up without Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green
Last night, the NBA season began; the Raptors collected their rings, raised their banner, and defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 130-122. Now calls for a good time to look back on the team’s history, the last season, and see what there is to look forward to.
It took 24 years, but on June 14, 2019, the Toronto Raptors finally captured an NBA championship. The road to the championship was neither short nor easy. Last season was something of a long time coming, especially when looking at the foundation of the Raptors. In some ways, the history of the team is poetically reflective of its reputation as a team.
The team started out playing in the Rogers Centre baseball stadium (that had to be converted to a basketball court every game) for four years until the sports stadium now known as the Scotiabank Arena was finished. Being the only Canadian team, the Raptors lacked respect from fans across the league and a tiny market hindered their ability to find a franchise player or the ability to keep one once they’d signed him. Not even the once-beloved and very promising Vince Carter stayed after 2004.
After years of darkness, it wasn’t until 2016 that the Raptors, led by a backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry began to make deep playoff runs consistently, only to be stopped by Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The same team would stop them, two more years in a row.
In the summer of 2018, President Masi Ujiri traded DeRozan – and others – to the San Antonio Spurs for Green and Leonard. The first of many major trades that would help put together a new playoff-worthy team who finally delivered the city a championship in Game 6 of the NBA finals, defeating the two-time reigning champs the Golden State Warriors.
The summer of 2019 was one of ground-breaking trades across the league, but it was not so friendly to the Raptors. Both Green and Leonard left Toronto, each for a different Los Angeles team.
Green joined forces with James on the Lakers, alongside Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans in a more star-studded trade. For Davis, the Lakers sent over their core of young future stars to go alongside the Pelicans new draft pick up Zion Williamson, a player believed to be a generational talent. This leaves New Orleans with an inexperienced, but very athletic group of guys with unimaginable potential if they’re well directed by staff veterans. This is the potential that the Raptors almost lost to last night.
Leonard and All-Star Paul George from Oklahoma City are now heading the already defence heavy Clippers. Other major trades in the Western Conference include explosive triple-double averaging guard Russell Westbrook joining James Harden in Houston, playing on the same team for the first time since 2012.
Meanwhile, former Warrior Kevin Durant came to the Eastern Conference to play with Kyrie Irving for the Brooklyn Nets and where the Boston Celtics lost him, they picked up Kemba Walker, formerly of the Charlotte Hornets. Many believe that Walker’s pass-first play style, in combination with his solo scoring ability, will allow him to gel into Boston’s rotation a lot easier than Kyrie did, meaning more possible success for a young team that’s already seen playoff time.
The Raptors two other biggest competitors – the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelipha 76ers – are relatively untouched as teams, which means they’ll likely be just as good as last year. But the Raptors aren’t.
Why do these trades matter? Because for the first time in five years, there is no definite finals team.
The Warriors have lost one of their mightiest in Durant and Thompson, meaning a vital part of their offence is likely to be out for the entire season with an injury. The Warriors have won titles before Durant joined them, but never without Thompson.
On the other hand, after five straight finals appearances, James couldn’t even make the playoffs last season. This season the Western Conference will be tougher than it’s been in years, so just because the Lakers have signed some stars, it doesn’t mean it’ll be easy for them. Over here in the Eastern Conference? It was already very competitive and not much has changed conference-wide. So what does that mean for the Raptors?
When the fun guy leaves, that usually means the party is over.
It’s amazing news that Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, Marc Gasol and many of the others resigned with the Raptors, but the Raptors have lost a lot in Green and even more in Leonard.
This time, there is no Kawhi to hit the historic Game 7 buzzer-beater to send Philly back home. Nor is there a direct defensive answer to guarding the Buck’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and his freakish ability to score from almost anywhere on the floor. Though the Warriors don’t have Durant or Thompson, if the Raptors can’t win in the earlier rounds, that makes the Warriors almost irrelevant.
I think the Raptors will not advance past the second round of the playoffs. If by some miracle they do, they will not make it through the Eastern Conference finals.
I hope I’m wrong.