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Could this be the Raptors’ year?
Fans of the Toronto-based club have been asking themselves that question for the last five years, but each season has ended with feelings of disappointment and underachievement.
The Raptors fan base has grown enormously over the past decade as the team has gone from a consistent lottery team to playoff contenders. The accumulation of recent winning and being the only basketball team in the country has made the Toronto Raptors Canada’s team.
But this wasn’t always the case.
For many years, hoop heads in Vancouver were bitter about the Grizzlies leaving in 2001, and didn’t care for the pathetic, struggling Raptors. Why would anyone from Vancouver cheer for a Toronto team?
After the Grizzles moved to Memphis, many devout basketball fans in Vancouver (myself included!) either adopted the neighbouring Seattle Supersonics, the Steve Nash Suns or followed individual players like Kobe or LeBron.
But times have changed and more people have embraced this iteration of the Raptors than ever before.
The team gained legitimacy when Masai Ujiri became the general manger in 2013 (he’s now team president with Bobby Webster serving as the GM). Ujiri helped adopt the “We the North” campaign to promote the team across Canada. On behalf of this campaign, the Raptors have played numerous sold-out preseason games across Canada and have seen a rapid growth in national TV ratings.
But with increased fanfare comes greater expectations. The Raptors have enjoyed great regular-season success as of late, but now fans are desperately craving an NBA Finals appearance.
Every year, the team’s performance and style of play has drastically differed in the playoffs, and with that, each season has had the same disappointing result. Despite consistently finishing with a high seeding in the regular season, fans and experts always knew that the same old Raptors would flame out in the playoffs.
But this season feels different than those of the past for two main reasons: the addition of Kawhi Leonard and the subtraction of LeBron James from the Eastern Conference.
LeBron had been singlehandedly destroying the Raptors for years, but now he is out of the playoffs and focused on learning his lines for Space Jam 2 (Oscar-nominated LeBron?). Leonard—brought over in an offseason trade for former star player DeMar DeRozan—is the type of player that the Raptors have never had before. He’s a former champion (with the San Antonio Spurs) and a two-time defensive player of the year who can take over games and put the team on his back when all else fails.
And wait, there’s more!
Over the course of the season, the Raptors also added three-point specialist Danny Green (in the Leonard trade) and veteran defensive guru Marc Gasol. The team has also seen seen a drastic improvement by young stud Pascal Siakam. All of which has carried the Raptors to an Eastern Conference Finals matchup versus the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
All of which leads me to ask…could this be the Raptors’ year?
The answer will be known by the end of June. It will either be another postseason of misery and disappointment, or one filled with champagne, confetti and a happy Drake.