Who will win the NBA’s Eastern Conference?

How the Raptors, Bucks, and Sixers are positioned to leapfrog one another following the trade deadline

Who will win the NBA’s Eastern Conference?

Following the NBA’s trade deadline, the home stretch of the NBA season has arrived. With less than 30 games left in each team’s schedule, the league has officially settled in for the playoff push. While none of the teams in the Western Conference made any moves to truly challenge the Golden State Warriors, teams in the Eastern Conference have answered the bell.

LeBron James’ exodus from the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer has left the Eastern Conference wide open for a new favourite to emerge, and prior to the deadline, three contenders made substantial trades. With these moves, the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Toronto Raptors have signalled their intentions to face the Golden State in June.

The Philadelphia 76ers took a large gamble that they’re hoping will pay off. They traded Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, and multiple draft picks to the Los Angeles Clippers for Mike Scott, Boban Marjanović, and Tobias Harris.

Harris is the crown jewel of the trade; he’s a high-scoring forward who the Sixers hope can be their fourth star next to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Jimmy Butler. To acquire him, Philly parted with two first-round picks, including an unprotected 2021 from Miami Heat. These picks are a costly fee for Harris — a free agent who may only be a rental if he chooses to sign somewhere else this summer — but the 76ers are determined to show that the years of tanking that led to the selections of Simmons and Embiid were not in vain. By sacrificing future assets in an effort to win now, the Sixers are signaling that The Process is now dead, and that they are ready to compete for a championship.

The Milwaukee Bucks pulled off their own big move, giving up very little to acquire the perfect player to complement their MVP candidate.

Since coach Mike Budenholzer’s arrival this season, the Bucks have roared to the top record in the NBA, buoyed by the performance of superstar Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo — who is jockeying with James Harden for the lead in the MVP race — is a playmaking dunk machine, who thrives when playing with three-point shooters.

On the day of the deadline, the Bucks acquired Nikola Mirotic from the New Orleans Pelicans for Stanley Johnson, Jason Smith, and two second-round picks. Mirotic, a power forward making 37 per cent of his threes this season, is an ideal complement for a player like Antetokounmpo: a sharpshooting big man who can space the floor for Milwaukee’s already potent offense. By giving up two non-rotation players and mediocre draft picks, the East’s frontrunner got significantly better, and the Greek Freak will be gunning for his first NBA championship ring.

Finally, the Toronto Raptors showed that they too were willing to make a major acquisition, trading away multiple rotation pieces for an aging star. Marc Gasol, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time All-Star, was traded to the Raptors by the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and a second-round pick. The loss of Valanciunas and Wright will hurt the team’s depth, but a player of Gasol’s calibre is rarely available for such a low price.

Unfortunately, there are troubling reasons for his availability. The Grizzlies have been one of the worst-performing teams in the NBA this year, and the longtime Gasol and point guard Mike Conley tag-team has not been able to replicate the results that propelled the Grizzlies to playoff success in previous years.

Moreover, at 34, Gasol has shown signs of individual decline during his team’s collapse. The hope for Toronto is that the move to a winning team will revitalize his play, allowing him to show off the stellar defense and excellent passing skills that made him a star.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri is taking a big risk here, wagering that this move will put them over the top in the East. If he’s wrong, then this summer could bring some worst-case scenarios: Kawhi Leonard leaving in free agency and Gasol picking up his $25-million player option. But it seems that Masai believes the time for the Raptors to compete is now, and with conference rivals adding valuable pieces, this trade could give Toronto the necessary boost to win the East.

The Eastern Conference playoffs are poised to be a bloodbath. The Raptors, Bucks, and Sixers have all improved, and although the Boston Celtics remained silent at the deadline, they have a formidable roster that could pose a real threat, if they figure out their chemistry issues.

This will be the first Eastern Conference Finals without LeBron in almost a decade. With the East’s top teams armed to the teeth, the conference championship is up for the taking, but it will not be an easy fight.

Why the Raptors deserve to play on Christmas

The NBA annually snubs Toronto on Christmas Day

Why the Raptors deserve to play on Christmas

For your common NBA basketball fan, enjoying a lineup of spectacular basketball is a beloved Christmas Day tradition.

Christmas basketball games regularly showcase the best teams in the league, highlighting the association’s biggest superstars and some key rivalries. Although the Toronto Raptors have made the playoffs for five straight seasons, made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016, and further raised their profile by acquiring a bona fide superstar in Kawhi Leonard, they will still be getting coal for Christmas this year.

The NBA’s decision to overlook the Raptors yet again is particularly frustrating given the stellar performance of Toronto’s team — currently on top of the Eastern Conference — and the actual lineup of contenders for December 25. The New York Knicks, currently sitting near the bottom of the East, will be playing for the umpteenth time on Christmas, almost exclusively due to tradition.

Another convention is to schedule a rematch of the finals from the same year. As with the last three years, that would mean a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. But of course, LeBron James doesn’t play in Cleveland anymore, which is why this year’s Christmas Day lineup will feature a game between Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The only franchises remaining without a Chritmas Day game are the Charlotte Hornets and the Memphis Grizzlies. The Raptors were gifted with one game, way back in 2001.

Not to be forgotten, Christmas is a very personal and special day for a lot of players, coaches, and their families. Players acknowledge that December 25 games are a sacrifice, but also an honour and a privilege. Consider LeBron; after this year, he will have played in 13 Christmas Day games in his 16-year career. Kyle Lowry, on the other hand, never has.

On the topic, Lowry told the media, “I’ve always in my life wanted to play a Christmas game… It’s never happened, but I’ve always had the opportunity to always be with my family on Christmas. It’s a blessing to be able to not play, but at the same you always want that one time you play on Christmas… You get the special shoes. The Christmas jerseys. That’s one I want to frame one day. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to do it.”

There are five games on Christmas; that means that 10 teams play. If the NBA reasons that out of 30 teams in the league, the Raptors don’t qualify as being in the top 10, then they’re the ones on the naughty list this year.

Hopefully, a new generation of Raptors fans will get to see their team play on Christmas one day.

Rotman hosts MLSE Foundation Game Changers Speakers Event

The Varsity spoke with Raptors Assistant GM Dan Tolzman

Rotman hosts MLSE Foundation Game Changers Speakers Event

In a panel hosted by Rotman Commerce on November 8, Toronto Raptors Assistant General Manager Dan Tolzman and Manager of Player Development Shelby Weaver discussed the culture shift in the Raptors’ organization. The panel was organized by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) and moderated by renowned TSN news anchor Lindsay Hamilton. Both the Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs are managed and coordinated by MLSE. The event was co-hosted by the Rotman Sports Business Association.

Switching things up with a three-point plan

Attracting high-calibre talent to Toronto is difficult, and many NBA fans and even local Torontonians assume that star players are not interested in playing in Canada. It is cold, taxes are high, and players need to be attracted to our organizations over others. Raptors President Masai Ujiri along with Tolzman have shaken up the Raptors’ culture to remedy this.

After an introductory press conference with NBA champions all-star player Kawhi Leonard and all-defensive player Danny Green, Ujiri declared that “the narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone… Believe in this city. Believe in yourselves.”

Ujiri’s actions signal that Toronto athletes no longer have to remind the world that Toronto is indeed a great city for professional athletes. In addition to the Raptors’ acquisition of Kawhi Leonard this offseason, the Maple Leafs recently signed Toronto native John Tavares. Both of them are proving to be franchise-changing players.

Despite some heartache after losing head coach Dwane Casey and star player DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors are playing incredibly well.

In addition to the organization’s culture shift, Weaver and Tolzman explained the ways in which positive social media influence and emphases on mental health and work ethic have contributed to the franchise’s success.

Weaver acknowledged that many men are told that they must swallow their emotions and not talk about them, which has led to various mental health problems for male athletes. To help, the team has a psychologist working closely with Weaver.

Players also have a significant amount of downtime, an enormous amount of money, and are usually very young. This can often be a recipe for disaster, especially in a bustling city like Toronto. Weaver’s role is not to counsel or discipline players, but to help make sure that they are staying focused on basketball and that their time is productive and not full of partying.

Tolzman added that every player has 24/7 access to training facilities, so that they can always use this time to work on their game or improve their bodies.

MLSE LaunchPad and youth sports

Funds from the event go toward  MLSE’s LaunchPad, a 42,000-square-foot indoor athletic space that hosts sports activities for Toronto’s youth. The facility contains classroom spaces, a nutrition hub, a climbing wall, and an enormous gym. There is no membership fee, so anyone from the ages of six to 29 can become a member. Programs include Sport & Ready for School, Sport & Ready for Work, Sport & Healthy Mind, and Sport & Healthy Body.

Prior to the event, The Varsity discussed the importance of youth athletic development in the GTA and its impact on Canadian basketball with Tolzman.

When asked about the importance of LaunchPad, Tolzman said, “I think from an MLSE and Raptors standpoint, building basketball and sport in general, all the sports [for] the Toronto youth, that’s what makes us relevant.”

“People want to come out to our games and enjoy our team. And so there’s no other way we would want to give back to the community than to help promote sports in general back with the youth.”

When asked about the impact of youth programs directed towards sports, Tolzman noted, “I think sports in general is such a huge confidence builder, for young children, teenagers, or whoever. So much of what a person becomes as an adult has a lot to do with youth sports and what they took part in. You build friendships that way. You build companionship. Some of the best friendships of my life came from teams I was on as a kid. I think that, in general, being a part of sports as a youth is so important to where it’s not so much about having kids become Toronto Raptors fans, as much as it is becoming active and athletic, and being engaged with other kids.”

Tolzman also provided insight on the future of Canadian players in the NBA. “The more these young players that are coming up become good NBA players, it just leads to more people around here wanting to follow in their footsteps. It’s just a snowball effect.”

Canada has produced talented players in recent years, such as RJ Barrett, Jamal Murray, and Andrew Wiggins, and Tolzman sees potential for more Canadians getting a chance to play in the top basketball league in the world.

“The NBA is all about bringing in the most talented players, regardless of where they are from,” Tolzman said. “It just happens that a lot of these young guys happen to be coming from the Toronto area, and Canada in general. It’s just going to be more and more because the level of play is just improving every year.”

And this year is particularly exciting for Toronto so far. As the season begins, the Raptors are currently in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 134 record, while the Maple Leafs are in second place in the Atlantic Division at 146.

MLSE has successfully brought relevance to the Raptors franchise as it stands now, and with LaunchPad, it is clear that it is making efforts to create spaces for young Torontonian athletes to improve their skills athletically and mentally. For all we know, the next great NBA star may find their launching point there.

Can Kawhi Leonard deliver the Raptors a title?

Six Varsity contributors provide their thoughts on the mega-trade

Can Kawhi Leonard deliver the Raptors a title?

Last week, the Toronto Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poetl, and a first-round draft pick, and I, for one, could not be happier.

The Raptors finished last season with a disappointing playoff run, but the team still has a great defense and one of the best benches in the NBA. The team was hindered by mediocre leadership from their star players.

Adding Leonard, a top-five player, NBA champion, and two-time defensive player of the year is the best possible outcome for the Raptors, even if he only plays for one season. While many idealists and DeRozan fans are hurting, I ask, what more were you expecting from DeRozan?

Do you like seeing a star choke and break your heart every postseason? Was he really worth holding on to? In the end, a four-game sweep by an inferior Cavaliers team signaled to Masai Ujiri that enough is enough, and DeRozan is expendable.

To the many fans who are appalled by the way DeRozan’s trade was handled, you probably haven’t been watching the NBA for very long. It is the nature of the league to send players away on short notice, and even against their desires. Nothing especially horrible or new has happened in DeRozan’s situation. The NBA is a business first.

And, to those who say that Kawhi is just a “one-year rental” and not worth the price, I encourage you to see this season optimistically.

Take pride in yourself as a Canadian and as a Raptors fan. We all assumed Paul George would leave Oklahoma City after one year, but this summer he extended his contract by four years because the Thunder fans showed him the love he deserves. Toronto is a far better home than Oklahoma City.

We must show Kawhi the same affection that we once showed Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, and DeMar DeRozan. Kawhi is one of the best on-ball defenders ever to play basketball and has the chance to be the greatest player in Raptors history.

The addition of Kawhi is a godsend for the Raptors and it’s time that fans let go of their DeRozan guilt, celebrate his contributions to the franchise, and welcome Kawhi Leonard with as much love and appreciation as possible.

— Isaac Consenstein

When evaluating the success of a trade, the two most important criteria to consider are: Did you get better players in exchange for who you gave up? And, did you do so without sacrificing your future? The Raptors passed both of these tests with flying colours when they acquired Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Poetl, and a protected first-round pick.

Leonard is an instant upgrade from DeRozan in nearly all phases of the game.

Since entering the NBA in 2012, Leonard has averaged nearly a third more rebounds per game than DeRozan at 6.2 to 4.1, has higher field-goal and free-throw percentages, and is a far better three-point shooter. And that’s just on the offensive end. Leonard is also known for his lockdown defense and his ability to defend four positions on the court.

In terms of the Raptors’ title hopes, welcoming Leonard makes them second favorites to win the Eastern Conference, just behind the youthful Boston Celtics juggernaut. Ogugua ‘OG’ Anunoby will also lessen Leonard’s defensive workload, hopefully spurring his offensive talents. Having LeBron in Los Angeles certainly helps as well.

I don’t believe Leonard will stay in Toronto beyond this season. However, having only played nine games out of a possible 82 in 201718, and never having played more than 74 games in a season, Leonard has a lot to prove. As Isaiah Thomas found out this season, talented players who are injury-prone don’t always command max contracts.

Leonard needs to use this season to reaffirm his love for basketball, or he may end up as just another “could’ve been great” story.

— Kevin Kapenda

If there were any doubts about Masai Ujiri’s culture reset, they were put to rest by the Leonard-DeRozan trade.

Ujiri made his promise in 2017 after LeBron eliminated the Raptors for the second consecutive season. The reset, which led to a much-improved playstyle, was supposed to help the Raptors overcome LeBron in the playoffs and make them champions, or, at least, contenders. Only, it didn’t.

LeBron once again swept the Raptors in 2018, which culminated in Masai’s decision to trade DeRozan.

While controversial, this gamble was a no-brainer for Toronto. Leonard is better than DeRozan in virtually all facets of the game. Leonard’s strengths also pair well with Toronto’s revamped system, further complementing the team in ways that DeRozan strengths couldn’t.

All signs point to Leonard being the X-factor that will push the Raptors over their playoffs hump. Despite last season’s embarrassment, the addition of Leonard to the team helps the Raptors retain their status as true title contenders, at least on paper.

— Long Vuong

It is safe to say that the Toronto Raptors are having one of the biggest offseason trades in franchise history. However, this trade poses more questions than answers. Nonetheless, there are three key takeaways we can pull out of this:

  • It may very well be a one-year rental.

Leonard’s expiring contract has many questioning if he will leave after this season. The superstar has made it clear that he wants to play in Los Angeles, however, like Oklahoma City Thunder did with fellow California native Paul George, the Raptors are hoping they can convince Leonard to sign a long-term deal.

  • He will play.

Of course, the first question Raptors fans are asking is if Leonard will play. After initially showing no interest in being here, Leonard has reportedly begun to “warm to the idea” of playing in the North. Even if he still shows no desire to be a Raptor, he would only be hurting himself  should he sit out in free agency.

  • On paper, this is a giant upgrade.

Assuming Leonard plays, this is an unquestionable upgrade for the Raptors. As great of a player as DeMar DeRozan is in the regular season, he infamously shrinks come playoff time. Leonard, when healthy, is the best two-way player in the world with MVP talent. In terms of personnel, the Raptors clearly won the trade.

Love the trade or hate it, no one can deny Masai Ujiri’s commitment to his promise of a “culture reset.”

— Yehia Mahdi

It’s been a tough week for Raptors fans since the news broke that the team parted ways with DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan is a four-time all-star and the Raptors’ franchise leader in total points scored, games played, and minutes played, but his impact as a Raptor exceeds statistics as he has been the heart of the team since Chris Bosh’s departure.

Raptors fans are eternally grateful to DeRozan for this and it hurts to lose him, but after five consecutive years of playoff disappointments, something needed to change.

This trade is impactful because, by acquiring arguably the best two-way player in the NBA for a top-15 NBA talent at best, the Raptors are able to retain a competitive core while gaining a better centerpiece.

Leonard’s athleticism, defense, and unselfish play meshes well with the Raptors culture, which allows us to compete with Eastern Conference juggernauts, such as the Celtics, and offers valuable playoff experience to our young team.

Some fans fear that Leonard will merely be a rental because his contract expires next season, but this experiment is low-risk, as the Raptors will either  retain a star or gain the cap space to pursue another. Losing DeRozan is gut-wrenching, but it is a necessary decision in the pursuit of a championship.

— Tushar Sharma

Every avid Raptors fan has heard of the trade that happened Wednesday morning. What they need to know is that this trade will only be beneficial if Kawhi Leonard is able to be the superstar that this team needs.

DeRozan professed his loyalty to this city in the finale of Open Gyms’ sixth season. He “always wanted to give Toronto [a championship]; they deserve it” because he “look[s] at Toronto like a second home” and this city has accepted him as one of our own.

After consistently underperforming in the playoffs, despite their regular season success, it was clear that the team’s core needed a change. Hopefully, Leonard will provide that on both offensive and defensive ends of the court.

The loss of Jakob Poeltl also creates a discrepancy in possibly one of the best benches in Raptors history that contributed significantly to the success of the 20172018 Raptors team. CJ Miles commented on the bench, saying that “there weren’t another five guys off the bench that were doing what we did.”

Despite the uncertainty of the upcoming season, as DeRozan once said, “whatever needs to be done to get this opportunity again, we’ve got to do it. We have to trust the next step.”

— Amarra Mohamed

The NBA’s competitive balance conundrum

Can anyone beat the Golden State Warriors?

The NBA’s competitive balance conundrum

After the Golden State Warriors won their second consecutive NBA title against the Cleveland Cavaliers — their third title in four years — many NBA fans are growing restless with the lack of parity in the league.

In the past two seasons, the Warriors have lost once in the NBA Finals, which is especially concerning given that the Finals are usually set up to be the most competitive matchup in the playoffs.

One of the main critiques of these ‘superteams’ is that they have offset the competitive balance the league once had, but I’m not quite sold on the idea that superteams offsetting the competition is a recent development. If you take a look at the history of the NBA, there has never been much parity.

The NBA was built on dynasties. In the ‘60s, you had the Boston Celtics winning nine times; in the ‘80s, the Los Angeles Lakers won five times and the Celtics three; in the ‘90s, the Chicago Bulls won six times; and from 2000–2015, you had the Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and Miami Heat winning 12 of 15 championships.

There has never been any distinguishable movement in terms of who gets to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season. This is not a new problem for the league, and trying to eliminate superteams won’t solve it.

In an effort to deter player movement like the league is experiencing now, the NBA created a designated veteran contract — in other words, an incentive for players to re-sign with their team, and which allows them to sign a much larger contract.

So far, the top two teams in the NBA, the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors, have each managed to sign a superstar — Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, respectively. They have decided to forego the designated veteran contract, along with the extra millions that would go along with it, and instead compete for the championship.

The largest competitive problem the league has right now is not superteams: it’s that the majority of NBA talent is stacked in the Western Conference. With LeBron James now moving out west to the Lakers, arguably, the top 10 players in the league are located in the same conference. The disparity in competition between the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference is a serious problem.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has announced that he will look into a reformed playoff structure to ensure the two best teams meet in the NBA Finals. The proposed new structure would lead to having the top 16 teams overall make the playoffs, regardless of which conference they came from.

In other words, the exciting seven-game series that the Rockets and the Warriors had this year could have been for the NBA championship, instead of the lackluster four-game series with the Cavaliers.

It’s very clear that the top teams in the NBA are on a different level than the rest of the league. So where does that leave teams who are on the outside looking in, like the Toronto Raptors?

As it turns out, the Raptors are in a tough spot. To compete in this league, they’re going to have to make bold moves, and that can come from big free agent signings or blockbuster trades. With LeBron moving to the west, the door seems to have opened for the Raptors once more. Under the tutelage of their new head coach, Nick Nurse, the Raptors are looking to retool, which may put them among the top few teams in the east ready to compete for a spot in the finals.

The signing of DeMarcus Cousins to the Warriors sent the league into a frenzy, with many coming to the conclusion that the NBA season is already over, and while that may be true, his signing itself isn’t simply the problem.

As fans, we tend to judge star players’ free agency decisions based off of what seem to be their reasons for signing. It’s either that they’ve signed for the money, in which case we criticize them for choosing money over championship rings, or that they’ve signed with a major contender, and we accuse them of taking the easy way out.

Fans can’t have it both ways. If players are judged solely on NBA championships, we can’t blame them for joining the top contenders.

The NBA is still about competition, and the Warriors are simply competing at a higher level than everyone else. After they lost the NBA Finals in 2015, the team replaced Harrison Barnes with Durant. They faced elimination twice this past postseason against the Rockets and have added Cousins, a perennial All-Star. The Warriors have refused to stay complacent, and other teams should follow suit.

Despite all the criticism the league is facing, ratings are the highest they’ve ever been, with fans tuning in hoping to see Goliath fall. The NBA has always been about dynasties, and true parity has never existed. As the saying goes, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Into the maw of victory

Basketball through the eyes of an ignoramus

Into the maw of victory

I have seen more live sports in the past two years of my life than in all the years preceding them. When I came to Canada, I came with a checklist of sorts: I made it my goal to see as many quintessentially North American sporting events as possible.              

Last weekend, I was able to check basketball off the list, which joined ice hockey and baseball. The game I attended was between the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics — I was quickly corrected when I attempted to pronounce it with a hard ‘c’.              

While I do not care for playing sports myself, I love watching them and participating in the rituals of the game, including singing the national anthem at the beginning. I even had a hat to remove when prompted to do so by the announcement.

Knowing everyone else would come dressed in some manner of team swag, I had anticipated feeling out of place, so I had done my best by wearing my OVO cap in homage to Drake, the Raptors’ patron, and a jumper with ‘Toronto vs. Everybody’ emblazoned on the front.

I picked up a sense of the rules of the game fairly quickly: players may move anywhere on the court, the perimeters of which are clearly marked; the further away a player is from the basket when they take a successful shot, the higher the number of points they score; and fouls may result in a penalty shot or two.             

After the game began, the first thing that surprised me was the speed at which it was played. The players moved with such fluidity, and it was a delight to watch.

I lack sufficient understanding of the game’s technicalities to appreciate the players’ strategic manoeuvres, but I enjoyed what I saw for its aesthetic merits.

This proved to be a problem when I came to see the beauty of the opposing team’s playing too. I exclaimed, “Wow! Nice shot!” when Boston scored with seemingly effortless grace. I began to applaud in appreciation but realized that nobody around me was doing the same.

As the game went on, I heard Toronto fans buzzing and howling in attempt to throw Boston off their game. I thought the lack of applause and hooliganism distasteful, but I accepted it as part of the experience, even if I did not wish to partake in it myself. When I tried to politely clap for Boston I was cowed out of my attempts by the silence of Toronto fans around me.

The entertainment during time-outs and breaks was also something I considered to be more North American than British, with the t-shirt cannons being a particular highlight. I did not try to catch one, but watching the cannon firing into the stands was a novel experience.

Aside from that, I was not particularly fond of the commercialization and would have preferred some game commentary or replays of impressive shots. Still, it was entertaining and I did benefit from the sponsorship in the end; the Raptors broke 100 points, meaning that I was entitled to a free slice of pizza the following day.

The end score was 105–91 for the Raptors. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, my criticisms notwithstanding. I had the fortune to see two slam-dunks, one by each team.

A slam-dunk is a wonderfully flamboyant gesture. It is testament to a player’s confidence in their ability to pull off the move and their team’s capacity to comfortably forgo a higher scoring shot. I truly appreciate the sacrifice of a larger victory for pure theatrics.