The Toronto Raptors are heading to the NBA finals for the first time in their twenty-four year franchise history, and it’s thanks to the huge risk that saw them trade away a favourite son in exchange for an injured superstar.
The trade sent shockwaves through the NBA. DeRozan, a nine year servant of the Raptors, their best player and face of the franchise – traded.
It was a huge call on a star who had been so loyal and crucial to their organisation, and made even bigger when the return investment was relatively unpredictable.
Kawhi Leonard, a two-way superstar for the San Antonio Spurs and 2014 NBA Finals MVP was a great fit for the Raptors, who needed someone who can dominate a playoff series start to finish, but it was far from guaranteed to work.
Leonard had his 2017-18 NBA season cruelled by injury, fell out of favour at the Spurs and was also only one year away from free-agency, where he was due to attract multiple suitors.
They knew they were trading away their best player for someone who was coming off injury, and could very well leave the franchise for nothing at season’s end, almost like a one year rental – the Raptors truly went all in.
They backed themselves in with the notion it could work, and with LeBron James leaving the Eastern Conference to play with the Los Angeles Lakers in the West, it opened the door for them to make a surge to the NBA finals that had been blocked by James previously.
Fast forward to now, and with every playoff win the Raptors have accumulated, their blockbuster trade to acquire Leonard receives more admiration.
From the moment Leonard sunk the 76ers with the game-winner in game seven it was clear he could take them to where they have never been before.
Their win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals saw Leonard hobbling on one leg for the majority of the series, yet he was still dominant, averaging 29.8 points over the six games and leading the Raptors back from an early 0-2 deficit.
Their series win over the Bucks means they’ll play the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, who are looking to add another ring to their ongoing dynasty.
The Raptors will be riding a wave of momentum, on the back of a city that is rejoicing as a result of their Eastern Conference Finals win, and whilst they head into the Finals as underdogs, they have the most dominant player of this year’s playoffs to lead them.
Many NBA pundits predicted Leonard would move on in free agency when the time comes, with Los Angeles teams the Clippers and Lakers heavily linked with the superstar, however, a deep playoff run with the Raptors may change this and Toronto are firmly in contention to retain their superstar small forward.
Regardless of what Kawhi Leonard does in free-agency, Toronto have a shot at their first championship in franchise history as a result of the daring move they made last July.