It didn’t matter LeBron James now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was long fed up with this core of players that time and time again proved ineffective when the chips were down. As his competitors reload on talent, the Raptors could not afford to stand idle. The trade for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard pushes all the chips in the middle of the table; if it doesn’t work out then they’ll just rebuild. All this season costs them is a contract many perceived as immovable.
For who on the Raptors is to guard Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, or the non-shooting threat “Point-Forward” Ben Simmons of Philadelphia? Not only does Kawhi Leonard answer that question, the acquisition of fellow Spur shooting guard Danny Green helps. Even though the last three-seasons the 6-6 versatile SG shot just 38.4% from the field, his defense has never wavered when healthy. A lanky 6-10 wingspan gives Green the ability to guard a variety of guards and small-forwards. This is a luxury Toronto’s never had prior.
There are of course many uncertainties that lay in this collection of talented athletes. Can Kyle Lowry, will turn 33 next March, prolong his decline that’s already taken place? His field goal percentage dropped from 46.4 in 2015-16 to 42.7; in the last 39 games of last season Lowry conceivably turned a corner but only raised his shooting percentage 0.1. Points per game down from 22.4 to 16.2, Toronto didn’t have to worry much about that because of dynamic scorer DeMar DeRozan carrying the workload on that end of the floor. New head coach Nick Nurse will have to come to grips that Lowry is not the same player as he was before and that 24-year-old Fred VanVleet is the starting point guard of the future. The sooner he realizes this the better.
Center Serge Ibaka is set to turn 29 in September. Already we’ve seen his decline in block-rate, but I’m more confident in him scrapping together one more quality season than I am in Lowry.
DeMar DeRozan is now a Spur. The most beloved Raptor is gone, thus closing the book on the strongest era of Raptors-basketball to date. This new era isn’t likely to last past this season, but it can be the most fruitful. Toronto’s sights are lower than Boston or Philly’s. All their modest fans want is an NBA Finals game in Canada, doesn’t matter if they are swept by the Warriors in the process. And it’s possible Kawhi gets them there.