With a minute and 33 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter of game six of the Eastern Conference finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers were in cruise control with a comfortable 23-point lead against the Toronto Raptors.
Despite the fact that there was seemingly no coming back, Raptors fans stuck with their team; they poured their hearts out. For the final minute of the Raptors season and for several minutes after the game ended, the fans proceeded to cheer, even when no signs of life were left on the court.
Although the game ended in a tragic loss on our home court, the Raptors undoubtedly defied all basketball logic by making it to six games against the Cavaliers. Last season was the best in franchise history and this season is gearing up to be just as good.
Training camp officially began on September 27, signalling the unofficial start to the NBA season in Toronto. The team that reported to camp consists largely of the same core players seen in the 2015–2016 squad, however, with some minor changes.
The Toronto Raptors signed forward Jared Sullinger from free agency and added first round draft picks Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, James Johnson, and Jason Thompson are all absent from this year’s roster.
The ‘star acquisition’ was Sullinger, who seemingly provides the short-term answer to the Raptor’s power forward problem. Drafted in 2012, Sullinger was a bit of an enigma. Everyone knew what the Ohio State All-American had to offer the league, but after a red flag by NBA doctors amid the pre-draft process, his career longevity was in question.
Although he has since proved himself, Sullinger has battled problems with weight gain. This past season, Sullinger reported to training camp twenty pounds overweight and by mid-season he weighed over three hundred pounds and was unable to play for prolonged periods of time. The Raptors signed him to a deal of only one year — perhaps in light of this.
The Raptors have not yet found a long-term solution for the power forward position, but with an all-star backcourt in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors have a solid foundation to start the regular season.
The Raptors will be exposed, however, in the post-season, due to lack of star power up front.
Even during the first round of the playoffs last year, the Raptors struggled to beat a depleted Indiana Pacers squad in seven games because of the Pacers’ superstar forward Paul George. They ran into the same problem facing Cleveland and LeBron James. Despite this, the Raptors continue to boast some of the best regular season performances in the league and show no signs of slowing down.
Following an Olympic gold-medal performance by DeRozan and Lowry and a rehabilitation period for starters DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors core seems rejuvenated and ready for the coming season.
In the NBA summer league, two of the team’s young guns looked especially promising. Norman Powell boasted another MVP calibre tournament and Delon Wright looks to be a solid contributor in the coming years. The Raptors have much the same roster that was just two wins away from the NBA finals last year — with the added experience, the Raptors are looking towards exceeding expectations for a fourth straight season.