We've become accustomed to a certain level of basketball in Toronto and the cycle of outstanding regular seasons and embarrassing playoff exits has become commonplace. The fact is, the Raptors have not been able to show up when it really mattered. No matter the content of the bench or noticeable leaps from their stars this team had found its place as playoff fodder for any of the "real deal" teams of the east. That, however is over.
We find ourselves staring at the product of a transformation. No, Nick Nurse hasn't reinvented the team and yes their supporting cast looks much the same but this team is everything it needed to become. This team could be one of the best the East has seen in almost a decade. I write this a two days after they slaughtered LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers and one day after overcoming the steady Utah Jazz on their way to a 10-1 record to start the season. In this tough back to back they absolutely dismantled a confused Laker defence and sprinted out to a 42-17 lead after only the first quarter and ultimately ended the game 13 points ahead of the Jazz. Oh, yeah I nearly forgot, Kawhi Leonard wasn't even in uniform. While adding a former DPOY and finals MVP does have it's benefits, their huge step seems to go beyond that.
This Raptor squad seems to have a swagger and a sure footedness to them. Or maybe it's confidence. The kind of confidence that comes with knowing you have a guy who's been to the big show and got the job done. One thing is for sure, the culture has changed. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard bring a toughness and an element of "been there, done that" that this inexperienced Toronto franchise severely lacked. This team has always been good but now they have a guy who can put the nails in the coffin at the highest level and that is something you can't say for most of the league.
It's true, losing the heart and soul of the team is hard on a fanbase, Ujiri understood that, but he took a gamble with an upside higher than this franchise has ever seen before, the kind of upside, that if reached would immediately help them forgive and forget (which they have). This is the kind of swing that only few players bring. It's early and he still looks a little rusty at times but it's safe to say Masai's gamble paid off. Kawhi is back.
The Raptors, like most of the league, are playing at the fastest pace in franchise history, pair that with the teams best offensive rating ever and you begin to see the evidence pile up. These dinosaurs are different. The sudden exchange of meandering mid range isolation plays at the end of the shot clock from DeRozan for quick and decisive player movement and constant defensive effort is huge but it feels a little deeper than that. It seems the collective attitude of this team is just where it needs to be.
Yes, we're only 11 games into the 2018-19 season but the Raps have me convinced. Pascal Siakam has taken a leap, Serge Ibaka is dominating at center, Kyle Lowry no longer has tunnel vision for DeMar, Kawhi is Kawhi, JV's role has been appropriately adjusted and everything about this team resembles a well oiled machine. In case my excitement isn't already evident, this team just feels so damn good. So I suggest you treat yourself. The next time you see the Raptors on your TV guide, tune in. You'll be watching a team that almost seems destined for the franchises first ever NBA finals appearance.