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Toronto Raptors 2018-19 Season Preview: It's Now Or Never

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Representing Canada in the NBA The Toronto Raptors have made exciting changes during the off-season. It looks like the organization decided to go all in in the pursuit of the title. Of course, the timing is not the best with GSW still going strong with their 5 all-stars, but all the circumstances can never be perfect. I used to like Raptors with Vince Carter, but I was not the fan of the team; I simply enjoyed the greatness of Vince Carter and his power dunks. However, when the Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas, a big guy from my country, in 2011, I started paying much more attention to the whole organization. To be completely honest, I did not enjoy the Raptors style last couple of years, and I believe Valanciunas could have been used much better by coach Casey. However, that is all in the past now.

I believe that this Raptors squad is ready to win the Eastern Conference. I am quite sure that fans would be disappointed with anything less because with Kawhi probably leaving next year, it is now or never. Summer Signings Img Source (Are you happy to see Kawhi in Toronto?) Dwane Casey is gone (am I the only one happy about it?) at last. I could never understand Casey’s ideas and plans. To be honest, it looked like Casey only knew one tactic – give the ball to DeRozan or Lowry and expect them to score points on their own. Nick Nurse, previously assistant coach of the Raptors, is taking over the wheel and we might expect some serious changes. It will be Nurse’s first season as a head coach of the NBA team, but he has plenty of experience coaching at the lower level. Nurse prioritizes offense so we might finally see Raptors playing some new schemes on the offensive end of the floor. However, big guys like Valanciunas and Ibaka might expect to play less as Nurse relies on modern basketball and doesn’t usually have a big role for big guys. It is a little sad to me as I am a huge Valanciunas fan, but I guess everything will do as long as the team wins.

However, Nurse taking over as the Raptors head coach was completely overshadowed by a controversial trade between the Raptors and the Spurs. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green joined the Canadian side. In return, DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, a 2019 first round pick moved to California. There are a lot of different opinions about this trade, but in my eyes, Raptors walked out as the winners. Spurs also got the best out of Kawhi’s contract which is about to end next year. Of course, I don’t expect Kawhi to sign with Raptors after the 2018-19 season, and I understand that it will probably be the last season while we see Raptors on top. However, I like this risk to bet everything on one season with Kawhi as a leader rather than to be mediocre for years with DeRozan. I have no doubts that Kawhi will be fully fit to start the season and help Raptors win the regular season just like always. However, things should change in the playoffs – DeRozan and Lowry used to choke every single year, especially when facing LeBron James. This year, LeBron has moved to the Western Conference, and Raptors fans won’t have to look at DeRozan shooting bricks.

This year, Kawhi will dominate the weak Eastern Conference and will have a chance to prove his worth against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. The only other team that is capable to surprise is the 76ers, but with all due respect, they are yet too young and inexperienced to defeat the Toronto Raptors or the Boston Celtics. All other teams don’t even deserve a mention. Biggest Weaknesses Img Source (Ibaka’s and Lowry’s contracts are painful to see) The biggest weaknesses of the Toronto Raptors are contracts of Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, and Norman Powell. Next season, with Kawhi Leonard leading the team, should be fine but what will happen when Kawhi leaves, and Raptors stay with a team full of trash and no money? I bet the Raptors already know that they will tank the 2019-20 season to get a high pick and start rebuilding the team. I would be open for other suggestions and ideas but believe me, no one in their right mind would take Ibaka’s, Lowry’s, and Powell’s contracts. The Raptors hands are tied, and we can only pray that the upcoming season will bring victories because dreadful times are coming after. On the court, the biggest weakness of this Raptors team used to be lack of ideas on the offensive end. However, I blame Casey for that and have a lot of trust in Nurse to turn things around.

On the defensive end, the Raptors were always powerful, and DeRozan’s trade for Kawhi can only make things better. Players To Watch There is no doubt that Kawhi Leonard will be the leader of the team. However, there are a few players that will be essential if this Toronto Raptors team want to have a shot at the superfinal. Jonas Valanciunas has finally matured as a player. He adapted to the game by learning how to shoot 3’s and his defense also improved exponentially. Even though is not exactly the type of player that you can see thriving in Nurse’s schemes, I still expect Valanciunas to finally come out of his shell and start dominating the paint. Img Source (Valanciunas can be a real dominant player in the paint) Kyle Lowry had a terrible season last year but he will remain the second most important player for the Raptors. There are no doubts about Lowry’s abilities on both ends of the court but he has to find some rhythm, especially when it matters the most. Sadly, for the last couple of years, Lowry’s talent had left his body during the playoffs. Hopefully, that won’t happen again. Final Prediction I believe that the Toronto Raptors are ready to finally achieve some significant victories next season. The Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers will be the main competitors in the Eastern Conference and both teams are definitely beatable, especially if Kawhi Leonard manages to get his pre-Zaza form. Regular Season: 1st place in the Eastern Conference Playoffs: Win over Celtic in 7 in the Eastern Conference final only to lose to GSW (or hopefully Lakers)

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