The 2019 NBA Finals mark a paradigm shift for the National Basketball Association. For the first time in eight years, a LeBron James led squad is not representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. The 2019 NBA Finals also marks the first time that the NBA Finals will be played on non-American soil as the Toronto Raptors will be representing the country of Canada and the Eastern Conference in this year’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. This rendition of the Golden State Warriors is seeking their third straight NBA championship and the fourth in five years.
The Toronto Raptors are seeking their first NBA championship, but most importantly, they are hoping that they could secure their superstar, Kawhi Leonard on a long-term contract this summer. However, the Toronto Raptors aren’t the only team walking on eggshells entering this series. The Golden State Warriors also walks in this year’s Finals with blurry vision regarding their future. For an NBA Finals filled with “first”, both of these teams could be looking totally different come on opening day this fall.
What’s To Come for The Raptors?
The Toronto Raptors have been knocking on the proverbial championship door since the 2015-2016 NBA season. Under the guidance of former head coach Dwayne Casey, the Toronto Raptors have five playoff appearances in his seven seasons with the team, having won 51 or more games in each of the past three seasons with trips to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals twice and the Eastern Conference Finals just once. Despite making progress from a first round exit team to being legitimate Eastern Conference contenders, the conundrum facing the Raptors under Casey’s tenure is that they couldn’t get past LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers squad.
Fast forward to the 2018 NBA off-season and the Raptors made the ultimate gamble First, they fired coach Casey, who was just coming off being named the NBA Coach of the Year and hired his lead assistant, Nick Nurse in his place. The team also traded it’s franchise player and fellow all-star Kyle Lowry’s best friend, Demar DeRozan, to the San Antonio Spurs in a packaged headlined by the expiring contract of one of the top 5 best players in the league and potential LA bound 2019 free agent, Kawhi Leonard. So, in one off-season, the Raptors fired a coach coming off his best season, according to his peers and the media in favor of a rookie head coach and they traded their franchise player in favor of a superstar on a mercenary deal in a likely championship or bust season. If that doesn’t scream going all in, then I don’t know what does. So far, the move seems to be paying off. The Raptors are playing in their first NBA Finals in a LeBron-less Eastern Conference Finals and their mercenary, Kawhi Leonard, has exceeded expectations in his first and perhaps only season with the Toronto Raptors. Perhaps even more nerve-racking for Raptors fans is the thought that this Finals run result may have no impact on Kawhi’s free agency decision whatsoever.
If the Raptors fail to win this series, it will not change the fact that this was the franchise’s greatest season, but fans might have to come to grips with the reality that the roster could be blown up and a rebuilding process will have to take place. On the flip-side, if the Raptors win the series and Kawhi departs, he will leave the franchise on good terms as he would have delivered the franchise’s first NBA championship , but reminiscent of the 98 Chicago Bulls, the roster would likely be blown up because the prospect of running it back with this roster absent of one of the best players in the world, would likely not be ideal. While both scenarios will have bittersweet endings, they both pale in comparison to the stakes facing the Warriors.
What’s To Come For The Warriors ?
If the 2018-2019 NBA season is going to signify the end of an era for these Warriors, then it must end with a third straight NBA championship. By accomplishing this feat, the Golden State Warriors would become the first team since the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers to accomplish this task and thus, their dynasty run would be solidified regardless of the free agency outlooks of All-Stars Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. However, a loss would be a bad way for the NBA’s modern dynasty to go out. As previously mentioned, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant are entering the summer as free agents, but former All-Star big man, DeMarcus Cousins is also entering the summer as a free agent and former All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green will be eligible for a max contract next summer when he enters free agency, meaning that in order to keep this roster intact, the Warriors will likely have to go over the luxury tax or rely on younger and cheaper alternatives. The cloud of surrounding Kevin Durant’s upcoming free agency has reigned over the head of the Warriors all season and reached its climactic point on November 12th, 2018 when Draymond Green and Kevin Durant got into a heated argument. Although the team seemed to have been able to rally from that mishap, Kevin Durant’s calf injury in this year’s Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Houston Rockets has opened the doors for more questions. You see, the Warriors are 6-0 in these Playoffs(technically 5-0 since Durant did played in, but did not finish Game 5) since Durant went down with a calf injury in Game 5 of the series. Not only did they go on to finish off the Rockets in the upcoming Game 6 of the series, but they also swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals and opened the door for media pundits such as myself to wonder if the team actually needs KD? At the very least, we will get the first two games of these NBA Finals to find out as Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr, ruled out Kevin Durant for the first two games of the NBA Finals.
Whether you’re a journalist, blogger, or fan, this year’s NBA Finals presents us with a smorgasbord of branching storylines regarding the future of the league. However, with that said, we also must acknowledge the possibility that both of these teams could look exactly the same next season with each respective team’s key assets staying put, which would be a conundrum in itself as the rest of the league as they’ll have to come to grips that this Warriors championship run is far from over and that the Kawhi led Raptors might not only be the “Kings of the North”(Sorry Jon Snow), but also the new rulers of the Eastern Conference with a superstar player just in the prime of his career surrounding with budding young stars.