For the first 19 years of their existence, the Toronto Raptors were simply making up the numbers in the NBA and were never a threat to win the championship. However, that all changed beginning in 2015 when the franchise notched over 50 regular season victories for the first time. They were a true contender for the crown, making their bow in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Only the brilliance of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers prevented Toronto from reaching their first Finals, losing out by a 4-2 scoreline. The Cavaliers would become their nemesis over the next two years, with LeBron and company sweeping the Raptors out of the post-season at the semi-final stage. Even in the 2017/18 season when Dwane Casey’s men were the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the dominance of LeBron overpowered Toronto on the court, resulting in their exit. A change in the backroom and playing staff would yield success the following season.
Nick Nurse and Kawhi Leonard’s arrival prompted another playoff surge, but on this occasion without LeBron in the East, the Raptors surged their way through to the Finals. Toronto faced off against the imperious Golden State Warriors, who were aiming to secure their third win on the bounce. Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam operated at the peak of their powers to overcome Steve Kerr’s side and claim the Raptors’ first NBA title.
They made a strong bid in the current campaign to defend their crown, reaching the semi-finals without Leonard, only to lose in seven games to the Boston Celtics. The Raptors have put basketball on the map in Toronto, but the question is whether it has the staying power to remain relevant to residents of the city and Canada as a whole? In Nurse, they have one of the best coaches in the NBA, with the 53-year-old claiming the Coach of the Year award in 2020 and he will certainly have Toronto as one of the leading contenders in the NBA odds next season for the Eastern Conference. However, there will be fierce competition from the usual suspects, including the Miami Heat.
The Raptors have already tied down their key player Siakam to a long-term deal – and they will hope that they will be able to retain his services for the long term unlike one of their previous superstars, Chris Bosh. The 25-year-old was their most important player not named Kawhi against the Warriors in their Finals triumph, and he took the next step in his development to become the foundation piece on the court following the departure of Leonard. Siakam was exceptional during the regular season and earned his first All-Star berth, but he will need to match the level of stardom and clutch play in the post-season that Kawhi brought to the Raptors to keep the franchise relevant at the top of the NBA.
The Cameroonian was not at his best in the series against the Celtics, passing the 20-point mark only once. Siakam will not want to build a reputation that his stellar post-season play was due to the excellence of Leonard on the court. Next season, Siakam will be more important than ever to ease the burden on Lowry. Lowry has been the foundation piece and the face of the franchise for almost a decade. The point guard had an excellent season at the age of 34, increasing his levels of production. However, he cannot be expected to remain that that level in the next campaign, especially when Toronto are expected to lose players of the ilk of Fred VanVleet in the off-season.
It’s a crucial point in the history of the Raptors to capitalize on the success of their championship win and to usher in a new era at the franchise with Siakam as the face of the team. It will be on Nurse and the Cameroonian to be ready to deliver as of next season amid a talented Eastern Conference.