The Toronto Raptors had a season for the ages last season. They won the 2019 NBA championship while gambling on a 1 year rental for superstar Kawhi Leonard. It was not only Kawhi who led the six to their first ever NBA championship but the right mix of coach, player and front office. Even with Leonard leaving for the City of Angels, the Raptors are still a potential finals contender
Usually, coaching is a critical part for a good team to become great. In the 2017-18 season, the Raptors had the best record in the Eastern Conference with a 59-23 record to end the season. They took care of the 8th seed Wizards in 6 games but then faced the Cleveland Cavaliers with the seemingly ageless superstar LeBron James. Forever it seemed that Toronto just had no answer. Even after securing home court advantage, there was still no answer and the 1st seed Raptors got swept out by King James.
After that season, the front office decided that head coach Dwane Casey was not the coach to lead the organization to a championship. When Casey departed, the Raptors hired Nick Nurse, the coach of the Raptors G League affiliate, Raptors 905. Nurse coached many of the players on the main roster like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet while they were in the g league. The next season, they finished 58-24 and 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. They went through Orlando in 5 games, Philadelphia in 7 games and then faced the toughest challenge, the Milwaukee Bucks and the upcoming superstar of this generation, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks seemed to have the series already one while taking a 2-0 series lead. Nick Nurse made a few adjustments that changed the outcome of the series. Nurse would put the big men like Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam on Giannis and dare him to shoot the ball. Nurse wanted Giannis to beat them with making perimeter shots than going inside the paint. These simple adjustments led the Raptors to win the next 4 games and go onto the NBA finals to face Golden State. The simple switches was why Dwane Casey got fired and Nick Nurse leading the squad to the finals.
The front office for Toronto made some very risky moves during the 2018 off-season. The GM, Masai Ujiri proposed a trade that sent away franchise star DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Many people questioned the trade, mainly DeRozan. He gave everything he had to the city of Toronto and got traded out of nowhere. Unfortunately though, the NBA is a business and moves have to be made to win championships.
The questions from critics still were aroused because the Raptors would essentially be getting a one year rental of The Claw. Ujiri thought that Leonard was the perfect player to make a finals push and man he was right. Kawhi led the team to a 58-24 record while being the number 1 option on a stacked Raptors team. They encountered very difficult teams but no one can teach being clutch. Leonard seemed to hit clutch shot after shot and series after series which only fueled how good the trade was for Toronto. Not only that, but DeMar and the San Antonio Spurs only got to the first round of the playoffs.
While he was in San Antonio and only getting to the first round, Toronto ended up going to the finals and winning the NBA championship. Although the move was questioned, in the long run Masai Ujiri saw the opportunity to win a championship and took full advantage.
As simple as this topic might seem, the players for this squad during the championship run was truly impeccable. Every man on that roster played their role and did their job probably as good as any team in the league right now. Kawhi was the number one option and making all of the difficult shots while playing stellar lockdown defense on Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. For the series, Leonard averaged 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds while playing 40 minutes a game. It wasn’t only Leonard that played exceptionally, his teammates stepped up big time as well.
Pascal Siakam showed being the second star, averaging about 20 points a game while showing his versatility on the offensive and defensive end. Then the guards showed up to seal the series. Kyle Lowry had a phenomenal playoff series despite the circulation of how he seems to choke in big moments. Lowry did all of the little things, taking charges, playing good defense and being the floor general. He put up 26 points in the close out game to give Toronto their first championship. Fred VanVleet showed how incredible the role player is. Off the bench, he put up 14 points and shot more than 40% from three during the whole series.
The team was extremely well rounded in 2018-19 with players who can make clutch shots and live in the big moments. Now as these players experience what it is like with the bright lights on, the Raptors will use that experience to pursue another NBA championship.