WeTheNorth

Game One of the 2019 NBA Finals - Warriors vs Raptors

Source: Fanatics

Source: Fanatics

Tomorrow, the Toronto Raptors will be playing the Golden State Warriors at Scotiabank Arena in a best-of-seven series to decide who wins the NBA Championship. 

After the past 24 years of ups and downs (with more downs than ups), Raptors’ fans waited year after year for the team’s first chance to become number one in the world. Countless new faces, rebuilding efforts, unforgettable sponsorship deals, and we’re finally here. This playoff run has no doubt been the most stressful we have ever had and therefore it’s been the most rewarding. But after all the excitement that unfolded in Game 6 vs Milwaukee, it’s time to straighten up and understand we still need four more wins.

Going up against a team that has won four of the last five NBA Championships is the reason you won’t see many people giving Toronto a chance. Then again, going up against Milwaukee also wasn’t in the Raptors’ favour. And then if you consider the Warriors adding Demarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant into their lineup this is one of the best teams ever constructed playing against a team that was created only a few months ago. I have to add that coming into this season, I was one of those people that questioned what the point of a regular season was if the Warriors were just going to win again. But after watching more basketball this season than I ever have, my mindset changed. 

Source: National Post

Source: National Post

After some time (the past two days) trying to debate with myself, my prediction is that the Raptors will become NBA Champions. You could say there’s a bias and there might be, but I’m still going with it. The energy around the city and understanding of the Raptors playing in the Finals is something unparalleled and I think not only will it resonate with the Raptors, but it will have an effect on the Warriors as well. They’ve normally had home-court advantage and although you can say they have all the Finals’ experience, I believe that coming into a country that just had one of its biggest sports moments will impact the game in more ways than one. 

I’m looking to see Kawhi take advantage on offence and although it’ll be tough with Klay guarding him, I’m thinking that we’ll see a similar offensive game-plan we saw for the past few games. That being, Kawhi facilitating in the first quarter and letting his teammates shoot the ball before taking over in the second half. However, you can say that this game-plan worked vs Milwaukee as he guarded Giannis and had to work much harder defensively than he will likely work against Draymond. If he’s able to rest on the defensive end and not be forced to switch onto Steph and Klay as often than this strategy will likely change moving forward. 

Now, onto the rest of the Raptors. First, Danny Green will be back. Something that was evident these playoffs is the law of averages, and with all of Danny’s experience you know he’s too good for the ball not to go in after all these shots. With Kyle, I’m expecting him to be more aggressive this series, especially if he’s guarded by Steph. He plays much better when he looks to attack and it will definitely open up shots for players like Green and Gasol. I’m expecting Fred, Norm and Ibaka to bring in similar stats they had in Milwaukee, but Fred’s 3-pt% will likely decrease. Someone I am really excited for is OG and although he’s been out of action, his length, defence and ability to stretch the floor is something that can only help the Raptors.

The Raptors will become NBA Champions
— Derek Gomes

Now, with the analysis behind us, there was something else I wanted to address. I was listening to Nick Nurse and he said that he doesn’t like motivating his team as the “underdogs” in this series and this really stuck with me. Whenever I played sports and we played a team higher than us in the standings, there was the extra motivation that came from being the underdogs and we thrived off that title. And then if you add every other typical sports movie the final part usually involves an “underdog” beating the first-place team in the finals.

But if you think about it from a professionals’ standpoint, their job is to beat whatever team is front of them. Does this mean the Raptors should be more motivated to beat Golden State in a 7-game series than Orlando? Does this mean if they were to lose against Golden State they wouldn’t be disappointed because they weren’t supposed to win in the first place? Now that I think about it, Toronto shouldn’t think of themselves as the underdogs. They need to think of themselves as an equal to Golden State, as another NBA team vying for the same title. They can’t disregard their own success this season when they took a nation to a place it’s never been before. The NBA Finals is a place where two of the best basketball teams in the world compete and the Toronto Raptors is one of them. This mindset might not work for every team, but with all the veterans we have, I think it will resonate better than our mentalities the past few years.

While Thursday night cannot come soon enough, I’m enjoying this five-day break because I know it’s exactly what the Raptors needed. The city hasn’t had this excitement since the Jays in the 90s and everyone on the team can feel it in the air. As soon as the ball is tossed up at 9pm, all of Canada will be watching and it’s incredible that we’re here to witness the Raptors’ greatest season. We thought the past few series were wild, but it will be nothing compared to what we see in these next seven games. 

I can’t imagine what emotions we’ll feel when the Raptors win their first championship and I can’t imagine how Toronto and Canada will react. But it’s time to stop imagining and start watching because the Toronto Raptors are four wins away from an NBA Championship.

You can follow Derek on Twitter @dgomes_11 and you can check out more of his content on Medium: https://medium.com/@derekgomes97

Best and Worst Trades - Toronto Raptors

Source: Canadian Press

Source: Canadian Press

Welcome to my first article in a series that will examine the best and worst trades of a certain team or league. This article is obviously focused around the Toronto Raptors. I know I'm not the first to do this, and won't be the last, but now is perfect timing to examine this while we wait for the draft, free agency, trades, and the start of the new season.

While Masai Ujiri has pulled off some franchise altering trades, there were trades before his arrival that were deemed...terrible, to say the least. Below is a list of some great and not so great trades over the Raptors 22 year history (in no particular order).

Best - Andrea Bargnani Trade

Source: Canadian Press

Source: Canadian Press

On July 10th, 2013, Masai Ujiri make his first impact move, trading away shunned Toronto athlete Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks in exchange for (get this) Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, and THREE draft picks (two 2nd round picks and the Knicks 2016 first round pick). For a player that was deemed to have zero value, Ujiri was able to not only unload his contract and get him out of Toronto, but accumulate three draft picks for him. Camby and Richardson were waived before the season began and Novak didn't really accomplish much as a bench player for the Raptors, so the value lied within the draft picks. The cake was getting Bargnani out of Toronto, and the delicious icing was the draft picks.


Worst - Hakeem Olajuwon Trade

Source: AP

Source: AP

To me, this is like the NBA's version of a Mats Sundin scenario. A player who should have never left his original team, but did so late in his career only to play at a significantly reduced level and be plagued with injuries. Insert Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon. If Hakeem had played to his Hall of Fame career potential in Toronto, this trade would be in a different category, however we know this was not the case. A beast in the paint, Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game during his illustrious career, but could not replicate that success in Toronto, averaging single season career lows of 7.1 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game. Riddled with back injuries, he was forced to retire after his completing only one of his three years he signed on with the Raptors back in 2001 after being traded for a first and second round pick.


Best - Norman Powell Trade

Source: ESPN

Source: ESPN

The high flyer. "King of the Norm". In the 2015 draft, he was overlooked by every team except for two. The Milwaukee Bucks had drafted Norman Powell with the 46th pick, and it seemed as though Toronto had his eye on him too. The two sides were able to orchestrate a trade, with the Raptors sending Greivis Vasquez to the Bucks for Powell and the LA Clippers 2017 first round draft pick. What a steal for the Raptors. Not only were they able to get Powell for Vasquez, but were able to secure a first round draft pick too! Vasquez, who played an integral role in the 2014 and 2015 Raptors playoff runs, only played for the Bucks for one season and was waived by the Brooklyn Nets last season (when you are waived by the Nets, you should probably retire...). Powell has played an important role for the Raptors, filling in for injured starters and making a strong case to start next season. It's only the beginning for Norm and his potential in this league.


Worst - Rudy Gay Trade (to Toronto)

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

On paper, this seemed like the move that the Raptors needed. The Raptors acquired Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Jose Calderon, Ed Davis and Toronto's 2013 second round draft pick. Haddadi was traded at the deadline that season and never played a role, while Gay was brought in to be a catalyst and leader around a young DeRozan and unproven Lowry. After ending the 2012-13 season with a 34-48 record, the Rudy Gay-led Raptors started the 2013-14 season off with a 6-12 start, which leads right into my next trade discussion...


Best - Rudy Gay Trade (to Sacramento)

Source: The Canadian Press

Source: The Canadian Press

We were going to blow the team up.
— Jeff Weltman on the Raptor's mind set after the 6-12 start

It's extremely rare to find the same person on any team's best AND worst trade list, but here we are. After that 6-12 start I just spoke of, Masai Ujiri knew that change was needed to this club. Remember, this was the draft year for local boy Andrew Wiggins, and the #TankForWiggins movement was only gaining more and more traction as the losses piled up. After Jeff Weltman made the move to Orlando as their new President, he admitted that the Raptors were planning on blowing the team up. With this decision made, they traded Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons. Not only did this trade ignite the team, but it altered the landscape of the franchise for the better. With Gay gone they had the ability to play more as a team, hand the keys of the team to Lowry and DeRozan and the rest is history.


Worst: Hedo Turkoglu Trade

Source: Sportsnet

Source: Sportsnet

Good old Turkoglu. The Masked Man. Just like all of the other "worst" trades, this one appeared to be a home run on paper, but in reality it was just one big strikeout. After making an appearance in the finals for the Magic the season before, the Raptors thought they had found the missing piece to compliment Chris Bosh. The Raptors traded Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai and Toronto's 2016 second round draft pick to the Magic in a four-team trade for Hedo Turkoglu, Devean George and Antoine Wright. The Raptors got sold a bill of goods that never delivered, and when it was realized that Turkoglu would never been the same catalyst that played for the Magic, he was shipped out of town. But it wasn't all bad for the Big Turk's time in Toronto, as he produced super awkward post-game interview gems just like this.


Best - Vince Carter Trade (to Toronto)

Source: imageslides.com

Source: imageslides.com

Ahh, the trade that may be the reason why basketball in Toronto is not only alive, but thriving. What most new fans and some old fans forget is that VC was not originally drafted by the Raptors. The Raptors had the fourth pick in the 1998 draft, and traded that pick to Golden State for the fifth pick and cash. The Warriors had their sights set on Antawn Jamison and were afraid that the Raptors would draft him before they even had a chance to. The Raptors did in fact take Jamison with the fourth overall pick, and the Warriors then selected Vince Carter with the fifth overall pick, but they were quickly swapped. While Jamison went on to have a great career in the NBA, his college teammate Carter became a legend in the NBA. A sure Hall of Famer, Carter created a passion for basketball in Canada with his dynamic style of play, high flying dunks and love for the game. I love watching his highlights, and I'll never forget dunk #1 from this dunk highlights clip.


Worst - Vince Carter Trade (to New Jersey)

Source: UPI

Source: UPI

There was no way I was going to leave this trade off the list. There's no argument when it comes to what the worst trade in Raptors history was. The Raptors traded a superstar Carter in his prime and got the equivalent of a bag of balls. Then acting General Manager Rob Babcock had the audacity to send Vince Carter to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Alonzo Mourning, Philadelphia's 2005 conditional first round pick and Denver's 2006 conditional first round pick. Here's where it gets even better (aka worse). Mourning, the highlight of the terrible low ball offer from the Nets, refused to report to Toronto, meaning that Babcock had an opportunity to negate the trade and start from scratch. But even at that, he still couldn't figure out how to say no. It was a get out of jail free card handed to him on a silver platter, and he burned it. Anyways, its a no-brainer as to why Babcock has never held a job of any similar ilk, as he was essentially laughed out of the league.


There are obviously more trades that have impacted Toronto's history, positively and negatively. There's the Kyle Lowry trade from Houston that paid massive dividends, and the Jermaine O'Neal trade from Indiana that was another swing and a miss for the Raptors. Either way, all trades and transactions have led to this current Raptors squad, and I am thankful for the way things have panned out, for better or for worse.