Will the Toronto Raptors see Kawhi Leonard and Masai Ujiri again after an unbelievable NBA Finals victory?
The Toronto Raptors have been a team that has caught the eye of several NBA enthusiast since the beginning of the 2018 off-season. After a year in which the organization's former head coach earned "coach of the year" accolades, many believed that the new direction of change for the organization had already begun. At the end of the 2017-2018 season, the Toronto Raptors finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Their 59-23 record was a testament to how great the talent of DeMar DeRozan truly was. The first seeded Raptors were seen as a huge threat to other teams in the Eastern Conference until the Eastern semifinals. It was then when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers swept Toronto and sent them home packing with new focuses on the upcoming season. After studying his team and the current reconstruction of the eastern conference, the Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was determined to push the Raptors into a season of cleansing.
During the 2018 offseason, the Raptors organization began to engage in reshaping their Canadian franchise. This included firing their head coach Dwane Casey and hiring their assistant coach Nick Nurse. Nurse was new to the role of an NBA head coach but he was not new to the game of basketball. With years of experience from different organizations, it was clear that Masai Ujiri had enough faith to name Nurse the head coach of an already impressive Raptors club. In order to give the Raptors roster another upgrade, the organization decided to make another pivotal decision. In June of 2018, DeMar DeRozan was traded to the San Antonio Spurs along with Jakob Poeltl and a protected first round pick for Kawhi Leonard. At the time of the trade, Kawhi Leonard had only played nine games the previous season due to an on the court injury. As a result, many NBA analysts were unsure if the Raptors were going to be able to receive an equal payoff.
The 2018-2019 NBA season showed the harvest that Masai Ujiri was anticipating. The Raptors were not only able to maintain their previous benchmark of winning fifty-five games in a regular NBA season, but they were also able to make it back to the NBA playoffs. Unlike years in the past, the team would not have to venture through a journey that included beating King James before the Eastern Conference Finals. For the first time in a while, the Eastern Conference was truly up for grabs and the most mentally fit team would claim the title as the best team.
The Raptors pushed their way through the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. The Philadelphia 76ers and were ultimately the team's toughest challenge. After falling behind in the eastern conference semifinals 2-1, the Raptors had to dig deep within inside themselves. In a series that defined the heart of the Toronto team, the Raptors were able to show the world that they are a group that remains even keel in pressured situations. During their only series that lasted seven games, the Toronto Raptors were able to persevere in order to advance to the NBA Finals.
Some fans may believe that the Toronto Raptors had an easy road to winning the 2018-2019 NBA Finals. With an injury-riddled Warriors team on the other side of the court, one could say that the task at hand was a lot less to ask of a Raptors team that had skill at every position as well. Without the help of Kevin Durant, the Warriors fell behind 3-1 in the last series that mattered of the year. As Durant tried to help his team fend off the Raptors of the North, he injured his Achilles and was considered out for the rest of the series. In game six, Toronto was determined to crush the spirits of the fans in Oracle Arena. Unfortunately, the torn ACL of Klay Thompson did most of that for Kahwi and company. With Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson out because of injury, all the Raptors had to do was contain Stephen Curry. When the final buzzer sounded, the Warriors were no longer the champions of the National Basketball Association. That title belonged to the Raptors of the North.
After the confetti fell for the opposite team in Oracle Arena, it was time for the Raptors to start thinking about the future. The resilience of Masai Ujiri as a general manager was much appreciated by a fan base that had experienced their first finals win in franchise history. With so many questions concerning Kawhi Leonard's future, it is hard to see where the big star forward will end up for the 2019-2020 NBA season. With a championship team already around him, will Masai and Kawhi make magic happen again in the upcoming NBA season?