By: John McCormack
The Toronto Raptors, the team up north, Canada’s team, Drake’s team, and now Eastern Conference Champions. On Saturday, the Raptors accomplished something that no other Raptors team has done before, and that is making it to the NBA Finals. The Raptors will face the two-time defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, and will be heavy underdogs throughout this series. As they should be.
But who are the Toronto Raptors? Why is this team different than previous Raptors teams? Can they win this series? Can they even win a game? The Raptors were overlooked pretty much all year despite them being the two seed in the East. This is solely because of their past playoff history and new head coach. However, the Raptors changed their franchise forever on July 18, 2018 when they traded the beloved DeMar DeRozan for a quiet, “overrated,” “selfish” player in Kawhi Leonard.
Raptors’ President Masai Ujiri made a basketball decision that left many fans and non-fans of the Raptors angry. People all over the NBA were upset at the trade of DeRozan for Leonard, because no one knew if Kawhi was even going to play for Toronto. But he did, and oh boy did it pay off.
Pre-Kawhi Talent and Post Season Struggles
The Raptors are a kind of quiet organization when it comes to big market signings and winning culture in general. They have had their fair share of talented players come and go, but mostly go. They’ve had talented players such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Muggsy Bogues, Chris Bosh, and DeRozan. But none of these players could bring Toronto a championship, or even make it to one.
The Raptors, like any team, went through a rebuild that brought them DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. From 2013-2018, the Raptors were East powerhouses, but only made it to the Conference Final one time, where they were swept by LeBron and the Cavs. They were constantly subjected to the “Can this team beat LeBron” category, and they proved they couldn’t. But LeBron left for the Lakers, and Raptors fans cheered for DeRozan and Lowry to bring them a title, but one wouldn’t be able to have that opportunity.
Kawhi Leonard Era
Kawhi Leonard. Who? Well, not exactly. He was the 2014 Finals MVP, but because of his quiet personality and playing for Popovich and the Spurs he was overlooked. Leonard became the “star” of the Spurs once Tim Duncan retired, and just from looking at Kawhi’s personality you’d think he’d be happy in quiet San Antonio. But that wasn’t the case apparently. Kawhi much like any great NBA player, wanted to be a star. But he couldn’t get that in San Antonio. Kawhi was famously scrutinized for sitting out majority of the 2017-2018 season due to “injury.” After that season, Kawhi requested a trade in which everyone thought he’d be traded to LA, where he’s from, but Toronto stepped in and proposed a trade that benefited both teams.
So now, imagine being a “star” player who was scrutinized for quitting on your old team, and now you have to play a full season in Toronto which no one wants. But the best thing for Kawhi and the Raptors are each other. They are a match made in heaven, and they are four wins away from winning the franchise’s first championship. A championship that is in reach, especially if Durant can’t play.
Kawhi Leonard has been the best player in these playoffs. He has emerged into that star that he already was, but he’s now doing it in spit of A LOT of haters, including me. I was a hater of Kawhi before these playoffs. I didn’t think he was that good and that he was a system player, but boy was I wrong. Kawhi is a top 5 player in the league, and if you disagree then you are delusional.
The pure joy in Toronto when Kawhi made those free throws 🔥 pic.twitter.com/NePOCjdTeO
— ESPN (@espn) May 26, 2019
This Finals isn’t just for the Raptors, but it’s also for Kawhi. Many people think he’s gone after this season regardless of the outcome. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think these two are meant for one another, and they both can do big big big things in the future. The Raptors can be a title contender for years to come if they win this and resign Kawhi this summer.
The Raptors not only have home court advantage, but they also have country advantage. No one is rooting for Golden State besides their fans, but a whole country is rooting for the Raptors. Unfortunately I haven’t picked a correct series since the first round. So I hope I don’t jinx Toronto, but I am picking them to win the NBA Championship. Go Raptors! Go get that first one!
John McCormack (Uncle_Mac4)