Can any NBA team match what the Raptors have just done?
Very few pundits were giving the Toronto Raptors a sniff before the postseason kicked off. The sports betting odds may not have been unkind, given that they finished second in the Eastern Conference, but many doubted their credentials to come out on top.
After all, the Milwaukee Bucks had just delivered their most successful regular season in decades, and had Giannis Antetokounmpo powering his way through the conference.
There were also the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers to consider, both of whom had been touted as contenders at some point during the season.
However, what brought the Raptors through in the end was their team drive, and this was something that no other side had. Kawhi Leonard may have been the one with the plaudits at the end, scoring solid numbers in almost every game in which he played, but those around him had just as much to contribute, even off the bench.
Toronto had been in the wilderness for years when a plan was hatched to try to get them towards the top of the league and give themselves a chance of winning big. Getting Leonard was important, but it turned out that keeping Kyle Lowry may have been even more essential to their chances. He was dismissed at the time, but their analytics team told them he was a top-ten point guard just waiting to emerge. His breakout postseason finally vindicated their push to keep him in the line-up.
In many ways, there are similarities between this NBA Championship-winning team and the Houston Rockets. Both sides have been wily in their trade dealings, and have not been lumbered with expensive stars on long contracts whose age is not helping to keep any value.
The push to keep the squad filled with hungry players always wanting to take the step up means that they did not have to sell anyone on a big contract when they needed to get someone like Leonard in. Piling up draft picks was a huge asset in the end, and they used ones way down the line to great advantage.
With a summer of turbulent trade ahead, and many key futures up for debate, the Raptors have earned themselves a rest. Inside the boardrooms, business plans are being hatched as several NBA sides set their eyes on becoming the next Toronto.
Words: Noah Hart