BLOGTABLE: What's next for the champion Raptors?
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 19, 2019 02:06 PM
FILE - Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka, left, guard Kyle Lowry, center, and guard Danny Green, third from right, celebrate with teammates after the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, June 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
NBA Philippines blogtable
It's almost been a week since the Toronto Raptors changed the landscape of the NBA by winning the 2019 Finals at the expense of the Golden State Warriors. In the wake of such a historic occasion, the NBA Philippines bloggers share their thoughts on how it happened, and what's next for Canada's club.
1) Who are you happiest for on the Raptors?
Migs Bustos: Cliche as it may sound, I'm happiest for the city. Us in Manila may not grasp the hype in Toronto about what the championship means, but I can relate this to the run of the UP Fighting Maroons in Season 81. What it took, what it meant, why it matters is all that blood, sweat, and many tears were shed in achieving the highest honor in their respective leagues. With that, the story of destiny of the Toronto Raptors was well-deserved.
Marco Benitez: Without a doubt, Kyle Lowry. The longest-tenured Raptor on the squad, he figured in the yearly heartbreak of losing to LeBron in the East. Signed long-term, he lost his coach (Dwane Casey) and running mate (DeRozan) leading into this season. To finally ditch the bridesmaid label and win the first-ever championship for the franchise must be more than surreal for him.
Enzo Flojo: I'm happiest for Masai Ujiri, mainly because of how he got so much flak for trading away DeMar DeRozan and pretty much putting all his eggs in the Kawhi Leonard basket. It was, objectively speaking, not exactly the "smart play" before this season began, but I'm extremely happy it paid off for him and the franchise in an historic way. Sometimes when you take huge risks, you crash and burn, but this will be a stark example of how, sometimes, you also win BIG.
Anton Roxas: I feel the happiest for Marc Gasol. It’s been quite a long journey for him to become an NBA Champion. He was on that grit and grind life with the Grizzlies for over ten years. Finally, the three-time All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year can add NBA Champion to his resume.
2) Would the Warriors have won a potential Game 7 had Klay stayed healthy?
Migs Bustos: Yes. Momentum was on their side and the Warriors were finally getting to run their offense smoothly without Kevin Durant. But it was not really for them.
Marco Benitez: With a healthy Klay, I’d still have run with Golden State in 7 games. You can never underestimate the heart of a champion, a three-time NBA champion at that; and the Warriors have shown that they are capable of coming back from almost insurmountable odds. Unfortunately, losing their second all-star in Thompson was just too much to overcome, against a Raptors squad with a 3-1 series lead.
Enzo Flojo: I'm confident they would have, given their championship experience and poise. I've always felt that the Warriors get more dangerous as a series gets longer, and I had the same feeling here. That ACL injury in Game 6 was really just an unfortunate incident on top of all the unfortunate incidents the Warriors had to deal with in the Playoffs. It doesn't diminish Toronto's achievement, but my belief is had Klay been healthy, it would've been a series-changer.
Anton Roxas: Yes. Game 6 Klay was in full effect before he went down. He would’ve finished with at least 40 to force a Game 7, which I think the Warriors would’ve won as well.
3) Having won a title and Finals MVP, does this make Toronto the best place for Kawhi?
Migs Bustos: Yes. This is the perfect team for Kawhi, him being the focal point of the offense, at the same time getting significant help from his teammates. Kawhi was a product of a system under Coach Pop, and he improved because of that system. Now that he's spreading his wings, the system now runs through him and he flows through the system.
Marco Benitez: Any player, having won a championship and Finals MVP with a team would think twice about bolting for elsewhere. Even Hall of Famers (ask Charles Barkley) spend their whole careers in search of a championship to no avail, because it takes so effort, and luck for it to happen, that one would be foolhardy to walk away from. Not only do the Raptors have the talent, depth, and continuity to win again, but financially, they can offer Kawhi the most money ($190-million over 5 years while the most any other team can offer is $140-million over 4 years according to Fansided) out of all the other teams in the league.
Enzo Flojo: I certainly believe so. I don't think there's any use for him to go to the Lakers and join a super team when he has already proven he and this Raptors squad can beat one. I think winning the first title for Toronto has enough pull to keep Kawhi in the team, albeit maybe not for the maximum number of years available to him. That would also heavily depend on how far the development/growth of his supporting cast will go -- Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell -- if these guys are able to stay and continue developing to surround Kawhi with a consistently good crew, they should be long-term title contenders.
Anton Roxas: Well, if he wants to keep himself in position to win more championships, then, yes, Toronto is the best place for him. They are a complete team with the support of not only one excellent organization but an entire country. But, since Kawhi is from Los Angeles and has an opportunity to play close to home with a gigantic paycheck, he has a tough decision to make.
4) Assuming the Raptors keep Kawhi, where would you put their chances of repeating next season?
Migs Bustos: I can't predict as of this moment. With the Lakers making big moves, the Rockets, Thunder, Warriors are certain to seek vengeance, so it might not be a sure thing for them to repeat. If they go #1 in the East and get homecourt advantage in the Finals (if they do get in), then there may be a big chance.
Marco Benitez: I’d say their chances of repeating next season would definitely skyrocket should they be able to keep Kawhi. In the East, only Milwaukee and Philly are real threats at this point with Kyrie potentially bolting out of Boston in free agency, although the former has its own pending free agencies (Middleton and Butler respectively) looming. With Durant out potentially an entire year, and Klay out til at least January or March 2020, the Raptors would definitely be confident against any other team coming out of the West (even a Lebron and AD-led Laker squad).
Enzo Flojo: I'd place them in the top tier of contenders alongside Golden State (assuming at least either KD or Klay stays), Milwaukee, Denver, and Houston. I'm still not too sold on the Lakers being a top tier contender. I need to see what they do with their second unit. Kawhi's staying in Toronto, however, would certainly cement their spot at the top, and they should have a strong enough unit to threaten to go back-to-back.
Anton Roxas: I put them right there at the top. They will surely win the East again because the Sixers are (potentially) splitting up and Boston is imploding. Unless Giannis develops a jump shot, the Bucks will be stopped. Over in the West, the Warriors won’t have Klay and KD at 100% while the Lakers still lack the personnel to be recognized as legitimate contenders. LeBron and AD still need one more star to contend for the crown. Unless somebody like Kemba Walker or even Kyrie Irving comes to Tinseltown, the Kings of the North will continue to rule the league.
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