The Toronto Raptors will be going into the 2019/20 season a very different team after winning their very first NBA championship last term.
Led to championship gold by the enigmatic Kawhi Leonard in the most thrilling campaign a fan could ask for, the defending champs will be competing in an Eastern Conference made even more competitive given the movement of certain superstars, as well as Leonard’s switch to the West, without their rock.
The victory celebrations were surreal and fans will never forget just how amazing of a ride it was, but the burning question on everyone’s mind during it all was whether their newfound hero would remain with them or part ways.
For a while, it looked like he might stay put. The NBA, and possibly most of the world, waited with bated breath as the star forward took his time. The likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis made their moves early, immediately tipping the balance of the league. But the seemingly unreadable Leonard wouldn’t be forced into making a decision. When it was finally announced that he was going back home (not to the Lakers) another All-Star was surprisingly part of the deal that managed to reset the dynamic yet again, making the Los Angeles Clippers immediate favorites for the title next year.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri had thrown all his chips at the man he believed would lead his team to a title despite knowing that it was highly likely his partnership with the former San Antonio Spurs man would be a one-year rental. And there’s no doubt he would do it all again in hindsight.
Of course, the fact that the Golden State Warriors were sorely depleted in the Finals helped. Does it diminish what Toronto achieved? Most definitely not.
The Raptors chances of retaining their championship are the only thing that’s diminished and Bet365 is offering odds of +3300.00 on them winning the title next year. A bet on Raptors coming out of the Eastern Conference could be had with William Hill, who has odds of +1400.00 on Toronto winning the East.
Having landed the top free agent on the market this summer, the Clippers are now the favorites to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy next season, with Paddy Power now offering odds of +320.00 on their chances.
The Lakers, who have paired Davis with LeBron James, while adding Danny Green and DeMarcus Cousins, are +450.00 to become champions with Betfair but Ladbrokes has the Milwaukee Bucks to win at +500.00.
Green’s departure also came as a big loss for Toronto. The veteran sharpshooter was key all of last season and his contributions in the postseason were just as crucial. While losing him is certainly nothing compared to suddenly being bereft of a star such as Kawhi, it’s bound to affect their production.
Ujiri, though, still plans to have a team that can contend in the East even without Leonard. According to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg (per CBS), the president won’t be engaging in trade discussions over Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol although they are all on expiring deals. He will give them an opportunity to “sink or swim” before making a decision for the future.
The team also boasts the NBA’s Most Improved Player in Pascal Siakam. The Cameroonian star will find himself with an opportunity to elevate his worth even further with Leonard gone and it remains to be seen just how good he could be for Nick Nurse next season.
Either way, it’s set to be a campaign for the ages. The Raptors simply want to remain part of the conversation.