Kings of the North; Toronto the Championship City

The Raptors have done what we in Toronto have waited 26 years to do: Toronto is finally a winner again. Not since the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays has The Big Smoke been the winner of a major sports trophy, until now.

Fuelled by star power, supported by elite talent, and defined by hard work, the Raptors have set the new standard for Toronto sports teams. So what can the Leafs and Blue Jays learn from this never-back-down, no-quit team?

Patience.

Patience to develop your team and build a winning culture before playing the first minute of game one.

Masai Ujiri said it best, “championships aren’t built in one year.” Despite adding Danny a Green, Marc Gasol, and oh yeah Kawhi Leonard all this season, the backbone has been in place for years. Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet are all long term Raptors and have massively impacted this team’s developed culture far beyond this season.

Can the Leafs take a page out of the 2019 Raptors playbook?

The Leafs are deep into the process of making their team into a championship squad. All the pieces are here: generational drafted talent, world-class free agent signing, recent playoff experience. So what lesson can they take from this season’s Raptors?

Sometimes you need to bet on yourself and take some risks to take the next step. Moving on from DeMar DeRozan was a massive risk, not to mention mortgaging the future with a first your draft pick to get a better return on the player, too. At the time of the deal it was a heavily criticized move, I mean Kawhi barely played last season!

Hindsight is 20/20 and now with a franchise-first Championship secured, the deal was a home run even if Kawhi doesn’t stay. The Leafs don’t need to make this much of a massive deal with the talent already on the roster, but moving out players and picks to push your chances over the top could be that next step for the Maple Leafs’ search for a cup.

Culture, culture, culture, for the Blue Jays now

The less glamorous lesson the Blue Jays can learn from the Raptors is to invest in creating a winning culture in the locker room now. This Blue Jays team is loaded with young talent, but without motivation and leadership, it could be wasted.

Kyle Lowry, that type of talented leader is what the Blue Jays need… to keep because the equivalent is Marcus Stroman and he’s already here. Yes he’s loud, yes he’s polarizing, but more than anything he’s talented and he hates losing. If that winning mentality can rub off onto the young core entering the league now, it can only have positive results.

Ken Giles, Freddie Galvis, Justin Smoak. All of these players are being brought up in trade talks but all of them play an integral role in the team’s development. Galvis’ Latin leadership role, Giles’ intensity and winning mentality, and Smoak’s even-keeled mindset are all assets to this team.

These players aren’t superstars but they lead by example and they are currently trying to hold the young players on the team to a higher standard of play. Invest in more players like this and the team culture will continue to develop alongside the players.

Now is the time for celebration, Toronto. The only city with a non-US NBA team has lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy. As unlikely as it was to happen the blueprint is there for the other big Toronto sports teams to follow. Boiled down: don’t be afraid to bet on yourself, and a winning culture breeds success.

Is Jake Gardiner the DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Maple Leafs?

A star of a different iteration of the current, better team. A proposed team leader. Offensive upside but inconsistent. Failure to take the next step towards a championship caliber team, and eventually forcing the team to move on from them. There are a lot of similarities between Jake Gardiner and DeMar DeRozan.

Recently, amidst questions of his role in the current Raptors success, DeRozen stated that he was the “sacrificial lamb” for their success this season. And while the statement was extremely self-righteous, it is fair, if not disrespectful to the greatness of Kawhi Leonard.

Masai Ujiri made the extremely difficult decision to go all-in on the 2018/19 season, moving on from the star player, face-of-the-franchise talent that DeRozan was. It was a gamble, but it wasn’t underthought or done half-heartedly.

Dubas isn’t looking to trade Gardiner as Ujiri did with DeRozan, though. No, instead Dubas has to decide whether bringing back the polarizing defenseman is the right move. Or, perhaps letting him go will provide a fresh start for both parties.

The Raptors used the inked DeRozan (plus a late first round pick) to leverage the return of Kawhi Leonard to Toronto. It’s now clear that the Raps have never had a player of Leonard’s level before. And while originally a heavily criticized move, the Raps underpaid for him. The Leafs aren’t going to b bringing in a generational player of Leonard’s caliber, but Gardiner moving on could free up the cap space to resign Mitch Marner, a uniquely talented generational player.

The situations aren’t mirrors of each other, but the sentiments really are similar. Jake Gardiner is a very skillful offensive defenseman, and if he the exact same player was available on the free agent market the Leafs would be going after him 100%. However, Gardiner’s contribution to recent playoff failure has not gone unnoticed. Are his past transgressions too great to overcome in the mentality of Leafs nation?

Yes, Gardiner is a great skater with poise on the puck and a sense for the net. He can chip in with plentiful assists and can skate himself out of a tough situation most times. Is his time up in Toronto, though? Yes, and just like DeMar DeRozan, his team needs to move on from him to take the next step forward.

Blowout or Bust… Can the Raptors Bounce Back?

By Kimberly Daniels

The Raptors game one versus the Cavs was an incredibly hard game to watch. The last seven seconds of regulation saw a desperate team trying to win, and missing every single shot they were handed. (Hey guys, it’s okay to use the backboard) However, the mental breakdown and mistakes of the Raptors as a whole was the most disappointing; their plays after timeouts were sloppy, the turnovers were high and at most points it looked like Korver couldn’t even be touched on the three-point line.

For long-time Raptor fans it becomes really difficult to escape the feeling that we are seeing the same old tired mistakes that ultimately busted our Championship dreams in the past.

Does one bad game mean the Raptors are falling back into who they used to be? Are the Raptors doomed to their ghosts of playoff past?

Well, only time will tell. But tonight is do or die.

The Raptors will have to beat the Cavs before they hit the road and play two games in Cleveland and they will have to do so in blowout fashion if they’re to convince anyone, including themselves. Setting the tone early in this series and showing that they are capable of stopping LeBron and Co. is the biggest statement they need to make.

The Raptors pulling out a big win tonight will mean digging deep on defense and understanding how to guard the inside, continuing to challenge LeBron every possession while also ensuring no one is left alone to hit corner three’s. This will take more communication between the Raps and also means not giving the Cavs any second chance points opportunities.

But most of all the Raptors will have to showcase mental toughness tonight. They need to be alive with confidence and the fierceness we know they have. It is time for the Raps to show everyone why they are an opponent to fear and it’s also about damn time they put these playoff ghosts to rest.

Can the Raptors Close Out in 6?

By: Kimberly Daniels

After going up two games against the Wizards, Raptor fans felt unstoppable… then Capitol One Arena happened and all of a sudden, we were questioning who was to blame for back-to-back losses. Questions like “Can Ibaka play like he did in Game 1 again?”, “Does the second unit need VanVleet to really get going?” and “Are we seeing the same Raptors playoff fails from the past?” started dancing around in our heads.

But it was just two bad games, right?

The Raptors came back game five with a crucial (and heart-stopping) win. A double-double from Valanciunas and 18 points from Wright added to DeRozans 32 points in 39 minutes, sealing the deal in the fourth-quarter.

Being on home court with the best fans in the league and Drake on the sidelines talking trash to Wall is just so much more comfortable for the Raptors. A win at home almost seems inevitable at this point. So, the real question becomes – can the Raps close out the series on the road tonight?

According to Wizards Oubre he doesn’t think so, throwing some shade at Wright stating “Delon doesn’t play well anywhere else, you know, other than at home.” Wright has stated that he is saving his comments for Oubre after the Raptors win, but this game will come down to much more than just trash-talk for a W.

The Raptors will have to figure out how to get a handle on their turnovers leading to Wizard points and do a better job at protecting the boards. Watching the Wizards second-chance point opportunities this series has been frustrating, to say the least. Controlling Wall and Beal with determination on defense will also be a major key to finishing up this series.

Most of all the Raptors have to prove to everyone why they are the first seed team in the East. We will need the crew to buckle-down, stay focused on the game plan and play with the heart and strength the whole city of Toronto displayed this week #TorontoStrong

The Raptors may not have gotten the sweep Drake was telling Wall about, but it sure would be sweet to take the series in Washington and see what Wright has to say to Oubre.

Too Soon To Take Out The Broom?

By Kimberly Daniels

After a thrilling win in game two which saw all 13 players on the Raps roster hit the hardwood and DeRozan tie a playoff career high of 37 points in 37 minutes, it’s hard to deny the sense of pride Raptors fans are feeling.

We’ve never been here before: up two games in post season before hitting the road and damn, does it feel good to make our way to Washington with confidence rather than fear.

The last time we played the Wizards in playoffs it was a completely different story. So what’s the difference now?

Lowry says “he got slimmer and got more hair” but all jokes aside, we are watching a Raptors squad that is playing some of the best team ball we’ve ever seen.

Our starting unit found an offensive rhythm that produced 44 points in the first quarter of game two. The Raptors had a strong 20 point lead and when John Wall and the Wizards made a fourth-quarter surge, team members like C.J Miles and Delon Wright were there to help with some key plays to revive the lead and stop the Raptor fans’ heart-attacks.

Dwayne Casey is known for mixing up his lines and trying different player combinations but at any point that a player is called to the court, they’re ready to play with passion and energy. This series has seen our crew playing unselfish basketball, taking chargers, diving on the floor for loose balls and attacking the glass for defensive rebounds. Playoffs have come with the team mindset that every game is a game 7 and we need to do whatever it takes to win.

And while some team members are not as productive as others in this series – Normal Powell has struggled all season and Fred VanVleet only saw 3 minutes in game two before being taken off still not fully recovered from his shoulder injury – we know they don’t lack heart. Powell has promised fans “you may see me struggle but you won’t see me quit.”

If the Raptors can continue to build off of this electric team momentum they have worked so hard to create, all while being told by most that they’d never make it, you can guarantee fans will be seeing more wins.

The Raptors are clearly looking for revenge; DeRozan told the press post game two that he was feeling like Neo from the Matrix. So, how do we pull off a sweep? In the words of Morpheus “You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind…don’t think you are know you are.”

Or DeRozan and the Raps can just stick to his game plan and #ProveEm

Raptors look to Silence the Haters

By Kimberly Daniels

What a time for Raptors fans across the country! Visions of a championship are dancing in their dreams and the buzz of playoff season is in the air.

The Raptors finished the regular season with a franchise record 59 wins putting them 1st overall in the East, their “bench mob” won respect from many and Head Coach Dwayne Casey is in talks for Coach of the Year. They undoubtedly had their best season yet.

But can the Raptors do it?

Can the Raptors silence the haters, earn the respect of the league and win a championship?

Well, the short answer is yes and as DeRozan recently reminded everyone that while the Raptors “swag is at an all time high” it’s going to take a few more things than swag to crown them champs.

The Raptors will have to come out in Game 1 against the Washington Wizards with grit. Locking down early on offensive rebounds, and controlling the paint will set the tone for this matchup.

While the Raptors added C.J Miles this season who is known for his 3-point shooting ability and DeRozan is taking and making more 3-point shots than any other season, they will have to understand  that they are much more productive as a team feeding their bigs inside. The Raptors have a tendency to take some unnecessary long range shots and post-season doesn’t have time for that.

The old saying goes “offence wins games but defence wins championships.” Washington Wizards Bradley Beal will need to be controlled and overall the Raptors will need to focus on perimeter defence to ensure success in this series. A true championship team shows up with heart on the defensive end creates momentum from forced turnovers and steals.

I mean surely if it was up to Drake – Gods Plan is for the Raptors to break the game one curse and sail through the first round, but it wouldn’t be tradition unless the Raptors gave their fans a few mini heart-attacks along the way.

Prediction: Raptors in 5