After a devastating game-seven loss, the Toronto Raptors are now eliminated from the NBA playoffs, leaving the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
The Toronto Raptors, although failing to defend their NBA Championship, finished the regular season with the second seed in the Eastern Conference and made a respectable playoff run.
The emergence of Raptor’s forward Pascal Siakam was in full effect this year. The star forward silenced critics into the All-NBA Second Team ahead of other forwards Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Miami’s Jimmy Butler (beating both by four votes). Siakam did not perform particularly well during the playoffs but arguably came close to becoming the league’s most improved player for the second season in a row.
Fred Vanvleet, after a stellar 2019 playoff run, continued to impress Raptors fans by accumulating 17.6 PPG, 6.6 APG, and coming up big in the closing minutes of games. He’s put himself in position to renegotiate a deal with the team where he is expected to earn upwards of $20 million dollars a year.
Alongside Vanvleet in the backcourt, Kyle Lowry captained the team to the second seed. Whether it was a three-pointer on offense, or a charge on defense, Lowry also came up big during important moments.
So, here’s what went wrong with the Raptors: The lack of shot making and creativity on offense. Defensively, there was not a lot to do against the Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who improved tremendously this year. However, the Raptors were still able to hold the Celtics under their post season average of 108 PPG four times during this series while keeping star guard Kemba Walker (who was battling a knee injury) relatively quiet.
On offence, head coach of the Raptors, Nick Nurse, repeatedly insisted on giving Pascal Siakam the ball, but the forward often failed to get any sort of rhythm going. In the end, the Celtics were more prepared for the series than the Raptors and they played with composure.
Looking into the playoffs now, Miami leads Boston 2-0 going into game three and the Lakers will battle against the Nuggets for the west. Miami looks stronger in these playoffs, with the most depth of any NBA team this year. They can rest their stars without losing much, while the Celtics depend on their starting five to play 45 minutes a game.
I predict this series to go Miami’s way in six games. The Lakers, anchored by Lebron and Anthony Davis, are well rested while the Nuggets come off two back to back seven game series. While Denver is my personal favourite team, I don’t think they will have enough in the tank to beat LA. But I do believe that Jamal Murray will be un-guardable even with playoff Rondo of the Lakers playing at his best.
Back to the Toronto Raptors, the team’s contracts are worth discussing. Fred Vanvleet, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka are in their final years of their contracts, meaning that the Raptors will have $57 million more to spend during free agency. While a big chunk of that will go to Fred Vanvleet’s new contract, another chunk has already been guaranteed to Pascal Siakam.
In my opinion, I don’t think much will change. Gasol and Ibaka have been pivotal to our big men rotation, and I don’t think the team will be able to challenge for the title anytime soon, and definitely not next season. The 2020 NBA free agent class does not look promising. Realistic targets for the Raptors in the free-agent market are Joe Harris of the Brooklyn Nets and Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they won’t push us to be title contenders.
My prediction: We will keep our team as is, remain strong in the East, and make another deep playoff run next season.