There is something to be said for watching the NBA playoffs through a completely neutral lens. Since the Toronto Raptors were eliminated by the Brooklyn Nets in a riveting yet maddening seven-game series (and knowing that the T-wolves aren’t in a place to give fans sustainable optimism), I have been able to sit back and watch the games with a vested interest only in searching for a repeatable blueprint that other teams should follow to increase their chances for similar success.
Of course that all sounds very analytical and deep, but LeBron James still transcends scheme and plan, nearly all by himself, and I fully expect that James and the Miami Heat will win their third consecutive NBA title. It hardly seems like a runaway, though, and it is still very interesting to look at teams like the San Antonio Spurs, who I write off every season with some measure of ageist sarcasm, continue to do the things that they do. I still contend that they don’t have a group of unusually good players. I wonder how someone like Danny Green would do on a different team. Either way, whatever they do works, and that is the model for which all other franchises should strive.
But even since the Raptors were eliminated by a more experienced Nets team, they showed that they belonged in the discussion. I’m watching these playoffs and it making me feel better and better about the Raptors chances in the near future. While I believe that the Heat should win titles so long as they can keep a “reasonable” team around LeBron, that is hardly a certainty. Those invincible Pacers that the media was trying to shove down our throat the entire year has proven to be as mentally weak enough to need pep talks to get up for the playoffs. All that talk about Paul George being just a notch below LeBron or Kevin Durant was painfully premature, and probably downright foolish.
So why not Toronto? I can’t think of a reason why. I am the same guy who said at one point early in the season that this team, as currently constructed, had no chance at bigger things because they were just good enough to make the playoffs and miss out on prime picks, but still not good enough to make noise there or be attractive enough to big time free agents. Is that still the case? From a basketball standpoint, they have shown too much promise and potential, even if their identity is still something of a work in progress. I don’t have a beat on players’ thinking or the overall basketball environment in Canada, but I am warming more to the idea of this franchise as a legitimate juggernaut.
And I’m not sure why I liken this to a team truly on the rise, but I came across a three-minute video put out by the Raptors thanking the fans for all their support and lauding them as the “best fans in the NBA, by far.” Perhaps that would be hard to believe, but everyone saw that scene outside the stadium during their home playoff games. It was an incredible spectacle and it couldn’t help but get you excited for this team. Maybe it was Drake’s “ambassador” magnetism, but I would like to hope that the fans see the potential for what it is.
I’m not sure how often teams produce videos such as this one, but it seems very heartfelt and genuine. And we hear from Kyle Lowry, who says that for all the rough times they had last year, it made their success this year all the more special. He says it’s only going to get bigger and better for the Raptor organization. For someone trying to be purely neutral all basketball observations, that doesn’t sound like someone ready to leave Canada at all.