The drama and chaos surrounding the DeMar DeRozan/Kawhi Leonard trade has subsided for now, but speculation about the new-look Toronto Raptors will continue until opening night. Toronto’s drastic roster shake-up could be what finally puts them over the top, or it could be what sends them right back to NBA irrelevancy.
Over the past half-decade, the Toronto Raptors have enjoyed a prolonged period of regular season success, but they’ve still never competed in an NBA final. The closest they got was the conference finals in 2016, when they met the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers, and shocked almost everyone by winning two games against them.
That was the peak of the Lowry/DeRozan era, which, is now officially over. Raptors president Masai Ujiri made one last swing for the fences by trading for Spurs star Kawhi Leonard.
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Acquiring a player of Leonard’s stature is unprecedented in Raptors history. As noted by almost every pundit, big name free-agents don’t sign in Toronto – they just don’t. Superstar players either need to be drafted by the organization, or traded for.
Those who believe that DeMar DeRozan is an exception to this rule are right, but DeRozan has never truly been a superstar. He is a deserving All-Star and an elite NBA player, but not a superstar. Superstars elevate their game in the playoffs, which is something DeRozan has almost never been able to do.
Acquiring stars via trade is risky business, but it’s the only way that the Raptors are able to bring in tested NBA players that have proven they can win.
The Raptors have gotten their hands on former greats in the past as well (Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Oakley), but never have the Raptors landed a former finals MVP and defensive player of the year in their prime.
Not since the Vince Carter days have the Raptors been able to begin a season with a legitimate claim as the team with the best player in the conference. If the last eight seasons are any indication – the team with the best player makes it out of the East.
Any smart NBA fan knows that how a team looks on paper is only half of the puzzle, so we won’t know how good the Raptors are until the fall. Until then, let’s consider the best-case, and worst-case scenario for this upcoming season, knowing Toronto will almost certainly fall somewhere in-between.