The Toronto Raptors have been perhaps the most consistent team in basketball over the last few years. The issue with this has been that consistency has hung like a millstone around their necks, because to them, consistency meant getting bounced in the first two rounds of the playoffs, oftentimes to LeBron James, which led to early offseasons and questions about the ultimate ceiling of their group.
This time around, the Raptors were determined to do things differently, going all-in on making sure they brought a championship to the 6. As a result, for the next year or so, the Toronto by god Raptors are going to be the defending NBA champions.
Whether or not it’s sustainable or a model that other teams can replicate, Toronto was willing to do something awfully hard at a handful of points over the last year. Masai Ujiri and co. saw a window that opened up due to James’ departure from the conference and a number of other promising teams — namely the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, both of whom they beat on this run — being not quite ready to win a ring. Their times will come as long as their cores stay together; it just wasn’t meant to be in 2019.
To accomplish this goal, some brutally hard decisions had to be made. We have seen, in recent years, that this team had a ceiling. DeMar DeRozan is a good basketball player, Dwane Casey is a good basketball coach. Both were committed to sticking around in Toronto, through all the springtime ass kickings from James and questions about whether their group had what it took to win a championship, because they loved the city, and they loved the franchise, and they loved the opportunity to try and bring it to new heights.
Moving on from guys like that is hard, especially when your team has never really had the sort of extended success that they brought. The Raptors made the Conference Finals for the first time with those two. Never before had they made the playoffs five years in a row in the franchise’s brief history. Both the floor and the ceiling were raised thanks to them, it’s why Ujiri has made it clear that the pair played a crucial role in Toronto’s Finals berth.
The thing with ceilings is that they can always be pushed a little higher as long as you don’t win a championship. The thing with that is pushing your ceiling higher and higher oftentimes comes at a price that cannot be quantified. The love that Casey and DeRozan had for Toronto may never die, but in the scope of the Raptors’ championship-winning campaign, they were ultimately martyrs to a much greater cause. It hurt — Casey is the best coach in franchise history, DeRozan was the ultra-rare star who wanted to spend his prime in the city — but it was necessary.