Toronto Raptors fans won’t be forgetting the 2018/19 NBA campaign in a hurry. For the first time in franchise history, Toronto were crowned NBA champions after a 4-2 series win over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Celebrations went long into the night across the city and Raptors supporters will be hoping to emulate that success in 2019/20.
It has been all change for Toronto in the offseason. Continuity is always important following a major success but you cannot afford to move sideways. In some ways, the Raptors have moved forwards but a couple of transactions will almost certainly have a negative impact on Toronto’s aspirations this year.
Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard decided to jump ship following last year’s NBA Finals win and Toronto will miss both players this season. Both men have moved to Los Angeles, with Green joining the Lakers while Leonard is now a key cog for the Los Angeles Clippers. For what it’s worth, the Clippers are early favourites to win the NBA title.
You cannot really blame either player for wanting to leave. The opportunity for Leonard to play for his hometown team was simply too tempting to turn down while Green was offered a lucrative contract to join the Lakers. In theory, both Los Angeles teams are primed to shine in 2019/20 but it doesn’t always pan out that way of course.
Home form is going to be central to Toronto’s chances of glory this year. Scotiabank Arena was an absolute fortress last season and the Raptors faithful will be expecting more of the same this year. A positive run of results at home could be the difference between reaching the playoffs and falling short for Toronto in 2019/20.
With Nurse staying put at Scotiabank Arena, the Raptors have one of the NBA’s top coaches and he could make the difference as Toronto look to secure a playoff berth. He hasn’t shied away from criticising some of the new additions ahead of 2019/20 but this is his team and players need to buy into his philosophy. With the right mindset, Toronto can enjoy success this year.
Getting off to a fast start is essential for Nurse’s side this campaign; perhaps more so than in any other year. As defending champions, fans almost expect success and the mood around the franchise could turn quickly if Toronto start slowly. Nobody is expecting the Raptors to go and string a record-breaking run of wins together but starting well is important.
Can Pascal Siakam step into Leonard’s shoes? Only time will tell. Selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft, Siakam has been with the Raptors ever since but he will need to up his game. Averaging just 16.9 points per game for Toronto in 2018/19, Raptors fans will be expecting Siakam to take that average up to at least 25 points per game.
This is part of the problem for Toronto ahead of 2019/20. It is all ifs and buts at this moment in time. Nobody quite knows whether everything is going to go to plan or if the Raptors will fall short – Nurse doesn’t have much choice but to trust in the players at his disposal. The Toronto roster could be stronger but confidence is reasonably high ahead of the opening game.
Expecting the Raptors to repeat in 2019/20 would be foolish to say the least – the departure of Kawhi Leonard will hinder Toronto’s chances of going all the way for the second season in a row. The Raptors should still be right in the mix when it comes to the playoffs but backing Nick Nurse’s side to prevail might be a stretch too far at this moment in time.
At the time of writing, Betfair are going 40/1 for the Raptors to win the NBA title in 2019/20. Toronto will be quietly confident of retaining the Atlantic Division crown but there are a few rivals who deserve lots of respect. The Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets are all capable of dethroning the Raptors in the division – so watch this space.
Most basketball fans will be expecting the Milwaukee Bucks to finish as the top ranked side in the Eastern Conference ahead of the postseason. The Raptors defeated Milwaukee in the playoffs last year but the Bucks will be determined to avenge that series loss and this could be their time to shine. Milwaukee will take some stopping in the East this season…
But for the Raptors, simply being in the conversation will suffice. Toronto cannot afford to fail in their pursuit of reaching the playoffs but expectations are relatively low and that may benefit Nurse’s side. Toronto fans won’t stop dreaming of another NBA Finals success but even the most ardent Raptors supporter won’t be getting too caught up in those dreams.