There’s no time like the present. This adage holds especially true for the Toronto Raptors of 2016-17.
What does it take in the NBA to win a championship? For LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, it took a nearly perfect playoff performance, including a legendary comeback in the NBA finals against one of the greatest team in NBA history. With LeBron pummeling through the East for 6 consecutive seasons, it almost feels inevitable that they will match-up with the Golden State Warriors, who have pretty much assembled a team that is unbeatable. And yet, there’s a certain hope that the Toronto Raptors have what it takes – this season.
For a little over 5 weeks, the Raptors were without their superstar Kyle Lowry. During that period, the Raptors, headed by their new additions in Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker, as well as an unstoppable DeMar DeRozan, went 14-7 and carried the Raps back to 3rd in the East. They relied on defensive toughness and ball movement – two characteristics lacking since the 13-14 season.
Last night, we saw the return of Lowry, and it was simply magnificent. Kyle sparked a 20 point rally to give the Raptors a much needed win over the Detroit Pistons, putting them in the driver’s seat to finish 3rd and set up a 2nd round match-up with either the 2nd or 7th seed, effectively avoiding LeBron until the Eastern Conference Finals once again. I think all is good right now for the Raptors. This is likely the best team we will ever see from the franchise on paper for a long time. With Lowry, Ibaka, Tucker, and Patterson all coming off the books this offseason, MLSE will have to go very, very deep into the tax to retain all of the aforementioned – something that seems unlikely. Patterson will probably end up as the odd man out, with some other potential tweaks being made to free up space.
The point is that the Raptors have a roster of the caliber which we have never we have never seen in the history of the franchise. After going to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the gradual next step would be the NBA finals. Everything is place – the depth is there, Lowry is in his prime, they are experienced and tough, and the team is clicking on all cylinders at the right time.
Nobody is really giving the Raptors a shot, but I’m willing to bet that we will see an even bigger improvement come playoff time from the team that has gone 15-7 since the All-Star break. With the vulnerability the Cavaliers have shown this season at times, it could be now or never for the Raptors (at least until LeBron retires). Am I saying the Raptors are favorites by any means? No, but neither were Dirk’s Mavericks when they took down LeBron in his first season with Miami. And that was one hell of a story.