Raptors: Paper Champions No More



            Toronto Raptors Performing at a High Level in the NBA Finals.

Basketball Going through Hoop ( Generic Picture)

(Pittsburgh,Pa) Definition of a Paper Champion:

“A team that only looks like a champion on paper, but not in the game.”

For years I have called them this, because they’ve had a tendency of having good regular-season games, but always falling short in the post-season. For years, I’ve also said that they weren’t real champions, they just play one ‘one TV.’ But after the way they’ve played this season, I do believe its officially time to stop calling the Eastern Conference Champion Toronto Raptors ‘Paper Champions.’ They have earned it.

Why? Because for the first time in their 24-year history, they are in the NBA Finals. And they’ve also made history as the first Canadian team to advance to the Finals. Yes, I know they’re theonly Canadian team in the NBA, but when they debuted in 1995, there were 2 NBA Teams: The Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies, who eventually moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 2001. Who know? Maybe the Raptors success will open the expansion door for more Canadian teams in Montreal, maybe?

But the Raptors have finally arrived, and they can thank one player for getting to this point: F Kwahi Leonard. Last offseason, the Raptors made a low-key trade with the San Antonio Spurs to get Leonard’s services and let’s be honest: No one thought much of this trade except that it would give Leonard the exit that he wanted from the Spurs and present him with a fresh start.

Well, it was a fresh start for Leonard And the Raptors. It’s been proven that contenders who fall short in the playoffs are usually one player (Or coach) short from contending for a championship. In 1988, the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers signed OF Kirk Gibson and they won the World Series and Gibson won the National League MVP. Go back 11 years before, the NY Yankees signed OF Reggie Jackson and they won World Series in 1977 and ’78. In the NHL, it was the NY Rangers signing C Mark Messier and they won the Stanley Cup in 1994. And in the NBA, it was the LA Lakers, who had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, but needed to add head coach Phil Jackson to win 3 NBA titles that began in 2000.

And now the Raptors, who went for it and traded for Leonard and now they will face defending NBA Champion Golden State for the NBA Title. The Raptors stunned me when they pulled off upsets against Philadelphia (thanks to a buzzer-beater by Leonard) and Milwaukee and MVP candidate Gianna Antetokounmpo and proved that they’re for real. Against the Bucks, they rebounded from an 0-2 deficit to claim the Eastern Conference trophy.

With the Spurs, Leonard won an NBA Title in 2014 as well as the Finals MVP. The Raptors needed a champion in their locker room and Leonard fit that bill. He also had his best season as he averaged 26.6 points/game in the regular season and 7.3 rebounds. And he should earn some NBA MVP votes as well, unless he pulls off the upset and wins it.

The question is, will this be Leonard’s only season in Toronto? Because he’s due to become a free agent in the offseason. I hope not, because the Raptors are now cool to watch for the first time since the Vince Carter era because of Leonard who will command a max salary in the free agent market (there is the smallest of chances he opts into his player option, set at $21.3 million). Will the Raptors pony up? Time will tell. If not, teams like the NY Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, LA Clippers and the Lakers could come calling.

The next question is, can Leonard lead the Raptors past the Warriors for the NBA Title? That would be a miracle if they did, but I don’t think that will happen. The Warriors are just that good, winning 3 championships in the past 4 years, with All-Stars Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins. And although Durant and Thompson are still recuperating from injuries (and are game-time decisions), this Warriors team still beat the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs. I though they would be too much for a team with Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, and Jonas Valanciunas. But that’s why you play the game.

Truthfully, it won’t be disappointing if the Raptors lose in the Finals. But hopefully they will continue to  fight like they have during their playoff run. If they fall short, they are far from losers, and even further from Paper Champions.

Notes: Game 4 of the NBA Finals is Friday June 7th at 9pm in Oakland,Ca…The Toronto Raptors are up 2 games to one over the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are looking for their injured players (Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant )  to return to help defend their NBA Crown.

Please e-mail Ray at Ray@urbanmediatoday.com

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Sources: cbssports.com