With the dust having settled on the 2018-19 season, the draft having taken place and free-agency about to tip off Sunday night, let’s take a look back at our season previews and whether each was a slam dunk, a mid-range jumper or an airball.
Today, the NBA champion Toronto Raptors.
Season Outlook: This much is clear — these are not your father’s Toronto Raptors. Heck, they may not even be those of your brother. If nothing else, Masai Ujiri has some brass basketballs in his trophy case as he’s swung for the fences since the Raptors’ most-recent annual flameout against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs? Coach of the Year Dwane Casey? Later, dude. All-Star, Face-of-the-Franchise guard DeMar DeRozan? Hope you like Texas, pilgrim (apologies to John Wayne). That, NBA fans, is what we call a makeover. Casey was given the gate by Ujiri after leading Toronto to its best regular-season in franchise history, a team-record 59 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. All of which meant nothing to James, the East’s Great White Shark, whose Cavaliers sunk their teeth into Toronto and turned them into chum… again, sweeping them quicker than stuff through a goose, concluding with a 35-point Game 4 embarrassment. Now, though, two-time first-team All-NBA player Kawhi Leonard, acquired along with sage veteran swingman Danny Green in exchange for DeRozan and talented young big guy Jakob Poeltl, will attempt to restart his career and salvage his tattered reputation after playing only nine games in a bizarre, drama-filled 2017-18 season with the Spurs. This shapes up to be a case of the Raptors and Leonard — which could be a one-year arrangement with Leonard headed toward unrestricted free agency come July — needing each other. Both Toronto and Leonard are in reputation-rebuild mode. Whether either or both succeed or fail, it should be interesting to watch, starting opening night against the Cavaliers, who lost their Raptor-devouring teeth when James skipped town for a second time and headed to Hollywood.
The Season: It went just the way Ujiri drew it up. Leonard restored his reputation as one of the game’s elite players and led the Raptors to not only their first NBA Finals appearance, but also their first championship. Nurse earned his stripes, validating Ujiri’s decision to jettison Casey, who was the NBA Coach of the Year the previous season, Lowry thrived playing alongside the steady Green in the backcourt, while Siakam established himself as one of the league’s rising stars. Now, all eyes will be casting their glances north. Can the defending champions convince Leonard, an unrestricted free agent, to re-up and make a run at another brass ring? Regardless, Ujiri’s all-in gamble proved to be a sage decision.
Our Effort: This one goes down as a mid-range jumper. We pointed out the massive risks Ujiri was taking, but to his credit, the team he put together won the whole ball of wax.