Unbalanced logo

How the '19 Raptors Championship Changed the League

Canada's first title was made possible through unprecedented aggression by the GM, changing the league forever.

By JD LloydPublished about a year ago 4 min read

The 2019 Toronto Raptors championship run was one for the ages. Led by the steady hand of Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors overcame a 2-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to defeat the heavily favored Golden State Warriors in six games. But what many people forget is that the championship run was set in motion by a controversial trade that took place the previous offseason.

That trade was the sending of fan favorite DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard. At the time, many fans and analysts were outraged that the Raptors would trade away their all-time leading scorer for an injured player with an uncertain future. But as we know now, that trade turned out to be a stroke of genius.

DeMar DeRozan was a beloved figure in Toronto before he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs. He was drafted by the Raptors in 2009 and spent his first nine seasons with the team, establishing himself as one of the best players in franchise history. DeRozan was a four-time NBA All-Star and the team's all-time leading scorer, averaging over 20 points per game during his tenure with the team. He was also a fan favorite, known for his loyalty to the city of Toronto and his commitment to the team. DeRozan's impact on the Raptors went beyond just his on-court performance, as he helped to establish a winning culture and a strong connection between the team and the city.

The trade for Leonard was made by Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri, and it was a move that would change the NBA landscape forever. Prior to the trade, most NBA teams were hesitant to make bold moves, content to build through the draft and free agency. But Ujiri's bold move to acquire Leonard showed that teams could win championships by taking risks and making big trades.

This was so risky due to Kawhi Leonard's relationship with the San Antonio Spurs which had become increasingly fractured in the years leading up to his trade to the Toronto Raptors. Leonard had been a key player for the team, winning the NBA Finals MVP in 2014 and being named to the All-NBA First Team in 2016 and 2017. However, in the 2017-2018 season, Leonard was limited to just nine games due to a quad injury and there were disagreements between the team and Leonard's camp on the management and handling of the injury.

The situation continued to deteriorate, with Leonard sitting out the majority of the 2018-2019 season despite being cleared to return by the team's medical staff. The relationship between Leonard and the organization became so strained that Leonard requested a trade, leading to him being traded to the Toronto Raptors. The situation with Leonard and the Spurs was one of the most publicized and talked about during that time, as it was unusual for a player of Leonard's caliber to have such a public falling out with his team.

Indeed, the impact of Ujiri's trade for Leonard can be seen in the way other GMs in the NBA have leveraged huge amount of assets to acquire top-level talent in an attempt to push for a title. The Brooklyn Nets, for example, made a big move in the 2019 offseason to acquire All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Durant via sign-and-trade deal, sacrificing a huge amount of future assets such as draft picks and players. Similarly, the Houston Rockets also made a big move in the same offseason to acquire All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook via trade, also giving up a huge amount of assets.

These moves by other teams in the league, show that GMs are no longer afraid to make bold moves and take risks in order to put their teams in a position to win a championship. They have learned from Ujiri's example that sometimes it takes a bold move to acquire a superstar in order to compete at the highest level. This new aggressive approach in the league has also led to more player movement and more exciting off-seasons as teams try to put themselves in a position to win a title.

But what made Ujiri's move even more impressive was the fact that he was able to get maximum value out of a player who had made it clear that he had no intention of re-signing with the team. Many teams in the past had been stuck with unhappy players who didn't want to be there, but Ujiri was able to flip Leonard for a player who would become the face of the franchise for the next decade.

In conclusion, the 2019 Raptors championship run will always be remembered for Kawhi Leonard's heroics and the team's incredible journey to the top of the NBA. But it's important to remember that the run was made possible by a bold trade made by one of the league's most innovative and aggressive GMs, Masai Ujiri. His willingness to take risks and make big moves has changed the way the NBA operates and has inspired many other teams to follow in his footsteps.


About the Creator

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.