In the era of player power, the Raptors’ NBA dynasty may be over before it begins

Toronto brought in Kawhi Leonard to win a title quickly, and he could be gone by the end of the summer. Other teams will be willing to take similar risks

It took titanic performances from Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, and Kawhi Leonard doing Kawhi Leonard things, for the Toronto Raptors to seal their first-ever NBA championship, when they beat Golden State 114-110 in Game 6 of the finals on Thursday night.

The great Golden State were far from their peak, thanks to injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, but Leonards place as the modern dynasty-slayer is assured. First, it was LeBron Jamess Miami Heat in 2014, now he has beaten the Curry-Thompson-Green Warriors in 2019.

This is the most significant NBA title in modern history. Every team in the league will now be emboldened to chase a star who is available via trade, as the Raptors did with Leonard last summer. Leonard, who may well leave Toronto this summer, has shown it doesnt even matter if a star stays beyond 12 months. They can win it all in one year. And thats the whole point of this enterprise.

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From Charlotte to Boston, Brooklyn to LA, and Memphis to Indiana, teams will be discussing whether its worth taking a one-year gamble on Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans star rooted in trade rumors. It will be someone else the year after that, and another player the year after that. Teams will miss and make deals for the wrong guys on one-year deals, but that doesnt mean the league wont keep swinging. Thats the impact of Leonards sensational postseason run with the Raptors.

The Raptors were ready to take a risk on getting Leonard for just one year. They had suffered playoff disappointment three years in a row, and many thought they were perennial chokers great in the regular season but unable to deliver when it mattered in the playoffs. The teams general manager, Masai Ujiri, was ready for change. He fired Dwayne Casey, who had just been named NBA coach of the year, and was considering bottoming out and slowly rebuilding the team.

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Adding Leonard changed the calculus for everyone. Leonard is one of thebest players on the planet, if not the best. He is now one of only three players to have been named NBA finals MVP for two different teams. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James are the other two, if you want to get a sense of where that achievement puts him. Only Leonard earned that second finals MVP award in his first year with his new team. Toronto brought him in to deliver a quick championship, and it worked. That will be this years lasting legacy.

Where the Raptors go from here is fascinating. They ended Canadas long wait for an NBA championship, but whether they can sustain the success or not comes down to Leonards free-agent decision this summer. Before being traded from San Antonio to Toronto, it was long rumored that Leonard would wind up in LA, where he grew up, be it with the Clippers or the Lakers. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer, meaning he can pack up his bags and move to whichever team he likes.

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Leonard may decide to become a true mercenary, signing whats known as a one-plus-one deal (a one-year contract with a player option to extend for a further year), bouncing from title contender to title contender. If Leonard decides to move, Toronto will enter rebuild mode. The rest of their best players, besides Siakam, are aging veterans on inflated contracts. All of them will be shipped out as the team rebuilds.

And the architect of this most improbable of championship sides might be on his way out the door, too. Ujiri reportedly has an offer from the Washington Wizards that will pay him around $10m per year to save a team that has been stumbling for years. It would seem silly on the surface to leave Toronto, but if Leonard moves on then Ujiri is looking at a significant overhaul in Toronto. Why not head to the nations capital and take up a similar challenge with the Wizards, while earning one of the most lucrative contracts for an executive in sports.

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Stephen Currys Warriors must face up to serious injuries. Photograph: Ben Margot/AP

But those questions are nothing compared to what comes next for Golden State. Building a dynasty is a long, hard slog. The championships are magical. The fall is often precipitous. The Warriors still have the makings of a championship contender among their core, but the injuries sustained in these finals cloud everything.

It is a brutal end to an all-time run. In the last week, they lost two of their three most important cogs to long-term injuries. Kevin Durant tore his achilles in Game 5 after missing a month of the playoffs with a calf strain. Klay Thompson, a crucial part of the Warriors string of titles, tore his ACL late in Game 6. Thompson finished Game 6 with 30 points on 12 shots in 32 minutes. Had he stayed healthy, we would more than likely be heading to a Game 7.

Both Durant and Thompson are pending free agents. Even if the Warriors are able to hold onto Durant in free agency, and they can hash out a deal with Thompson, they face the prospect of having neither star for much of the 2020 season. Making the playoffs alone will be difficult. Durant and Thompson both gobble up salary cap space, making it hard to build a functioning team around only Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Its hard to think of any injury in NBA finals history that has had a bigger impact on its team, the coming summer, and the league as a whole. And the Warriors sustained two such injuries in the same series.

The end of this championship run represents a crossroads for both franchises. We havent seen anything quite like this before, such is the fallout of the player empowerment era and shorter contracts. The league feels more year-to-year than ever before. Toronto could either be contenders or rebuilding next year. The Warriors could be struggling to the playoffs or looking to reboot their waning dynasty from their new home in San Francisco. The range of possible outcomes makes it all the more intriguing.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

This post was curated & Posted using : RealSpecific

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