With the start of a new NBA season now in full swing, there seems to be a collective gloom among Raptors fans everywhere. Coming off of the thrills of a championship, the end of the NBA’s most recent season left Raptors fans in a state of total joy that supporters had never felt before. Now, the franchise finds itself within a completely different atmosphere.
As eager fans mull over preseason rosters to see which fringe players may be added this season, it is impossible not to shed a tear while pretending resisting the urge to look for a certain Kawhi Leonard. The departure of Kawhi, with all of the tantalizing drama that enthralled fans during the post-championship summer, hurts significantly. When he finally chose to go home to Los Angeles in early July, the collective optimism shared by fans for the upcoming season quickly fleeted. There is a certain bitterness that comes with Kawhi’s move. He now gets to contend for another championship with the new and improved Los Angeles Clippers, while Raps fans can only watch, and close their eyes while thinking about “The Shot”. Watching Clippers highlights this season will be like Instagram-stalking your ex to see how she’s doing with her boyfriend, hoping that it somehow won’t end well.
Yes, it is hard to come to terms with the fact that the Raptors are going to be worse than last year.
Going further, with Leonard gone, and his former associate Danny Green flocking to the City of Angels as well to join the Lakers, it becomes very hard for fans to realistically fantasize about a championship repetition. In addition to a weakened Raptors roster, the power alignment in the NBA has greatly shifted in the offseason, creating new powerhouse franchises that suddenly seem more exciting and promising than the Raptors. The Lakers, Clippers, and Rockets first come to mind, but even looking at the Eastern Conference: a different Sixers squad, a very new (albeit injured) Nets team, and the still dangerous Giannis-led Bucks all pose serious threats for a potential Finals berth.
Yes, it is hard to come to terms with the fact that the Raptors are going to be worse than last year. The franchise is in a different place than it was 4 months ago, as are many other franchises in the league. And it is with this idea that I urge all Raptors fans to approach this season with a different outlook.
Instead of entering a post-championship depression, one should approach the season differently. We won the NBA Finals. We got the Larry O-B, witnessed some franchise-defining plays, and successively and semi-successfully hosted a championship parade that united the city and the country as well. That all is in the past. We are no longer a top-level contender, but that is alright. There are still many positives to watch out for as the season unfolds. This starts with witnessing further growth from our favourite Raptors. Pascal Siakam is poised to have a true breakout season. He will be the number one this season option in terms of scoring, and his rebounding and defensive ability will only improve as he grows stronger and gets more accustomed to guarding opposing superstars (which was Kawhi’s role last year). The parallel development of Steady Freddie, OG, and Canada’s own Chris Boucher all bring respective excitement for what will be a comparatively less exciting season than last.
Instead of entering a post-championship depression, one should approach the season differently. We won the NBA Finals. We got the Larry O-B, witnessed some franchise-defining plays, and successively and semi-successfully hosted a championship parade that united the city and the country as well.
We have to continue our trust in Raptors GM Masai Ujiri. He gambled on Kawhi Leonard for one season and brought in Marc Gasol to help out during the middle of the year, and it worked out. Now, having Ujiri quietly turned down offers from competing franchises trying to poach him, he continues to look ahead and maintain a culture of winning.
Lest we underestimate this team. With an improved Siakam, a hopefully resurgent and now $31-million-dollar-a-year Kyle Lowry, Ibaka, Gasol, and almost all of the Bench Mob still intact, along with juicy additions like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the Raptors are still a solid playoff team. Heck, the Eastern Conference Finals is not an outlandish prediction for this squad.
Even if it all blows up this season, Ujiri has many assets available. I have continued faith in Raptors management, and after delivering what was thought to be undeliverable to a non-desirable free agent destination and a non-American market, I feel fulfilled and am able to look forward to this season without experiencing episodes of championship withdrawal. Do you?