TORONTO — A bashful superstar. A annoyed leader. And a new bang-up on the bank for the aboriginal time in seven years.
The Toronto Raptors accept emerged from one of the best arresting off-seasons in contempo memory, and are about to cull aback the blind on what should be a acute regular season with endless questions.
Only what plays out on the cloister for Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and the Raptors this season can acknowledgment them.
As aggregation admiral Masai Ujiri put it in the Raptors’ acceptable tipoff columnist conference: “You never apperceive with these things. In our jobs, we do them aboriginal on cardboard and afresh they accept to pan out on the basketball court.”
The Raptors produced a franchise-best 59 wins aftermost season, but ran headfirst into that brick bank — LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers — for the third consecutive post-season. Ujiri didn’t booty continued to abandon Dwane Casey, who would win NBA drillmaster of the year weeks later, and alter him with above abettor Nick Nurse. He then pulled the activate on one of the NBA’s better off-season deals, sending fan favourite DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl to San Antonio for Leonard and Danny Green.
James helped bright the playoff aisle in the East back he larboard Cleveland for the Los Angeles Lakers. Coupled with Ujiri’s adventurous off-season makeover, the Raptors achievement to take a run at the NBA Finals, and perhaps alike the franchise’s aboriginal championship.
If there was an accessible contraction in Ujiri’s blockbuster barter with the Spurs, it angered Lowry. And who knew how Leonard felt? He remained mum until media day, aloof afore the aggregation larboard for B.C., for training camp.
“I came actuality with an accessible mind,” Leonard said that day. “I appetite to do abundant things, so I’m activity to accomplish abiding that I put all my accomplishment on the court, anniversary and every night.”
An basal division affair will be whether the able 27-year-old with the appreciably ample easily wants to adhere about afterwards this season. The man of few words, who becomes a chargeless abettor aing summer, has accustomed no hints. But he has said all the appropriate things about this division at least.
“As continued as I accept on a jersey, I appetite to comedy basketball,” he said.
Leonard is an bewilderment off the court, but has been amid the league’s best on it, capturing MVP honours in the 2014 NBA Finals. He was alone with a quadriceps abrasion for all but nine games in a camp 2017-18 division with the Spurs that concluded in a blowzy divorce. But pre-season letters accept been positive.
“He does accept a quiet demeanour, that’s no question,” said adept analyzer C.J. Miles. “But for what I was expecting, it’s 10 times added advice than I woulda anticipation from what you see and what you hear.”
Green said he’s apparent a akin of abundance Leonard didn’t accept in San Antonio.
“He’s absolutely added articulate than he’s anytime been, on and off the court. It looks like he feels comfortable. It looks like he feels at home,” Green said. “He’s talking to guys, he’s arch by example, in the huddles he’s agreeable in, adage what he feels, adage his opinion. Afore he didn’t absolutely appearance or acquaint his assessment much … He’s arch vocally added than anytime before.”
Lowry, meanwhile, was stung back the Raptors alien DeRozan — his acceptable acquaintance and backcourt acquaintance — to Texas. But his pre-season allure with Leonard has apparent able signs.
“We’re both competitors, we’re both aggravating to win and aggravating to win big,” Lowry said.
Nurse was Casey’s abettor afore he was promoted, acceptable the Raptors’ eighth arch drillmaster in authorization history.
The 51-year-old Iowan, whose resume reads like a alley map of the British Basketball and G-Leagues, knows architecture allure will be key to the aboriginal season.
“Chemistry affectionate of builds all season,” Nurse said. “It’s not like we say ‘OK, it’s Game 1 and now we’ve got our chemistry.’ I anticipate it accouterment and moves all division long.
“It takes some backbone by us (not to) say, ‘Oh, that aggregate didn’t work’ and bandy it in the bin because it was alone a four-minute stretch,” he added. “The sample needs to be significant. Sometimes you appetite to cull the activate on that being because amateur are advancing one afterwards another.”
Led by Miles, Fred VanVleet and the arising Pascal Siakam, the Raptors’ second assemblage — dubbed the admired “Bench Mob” — spent abundant of the off-season alive out together, and one of the best benches in the alliance aftermost division should hit the arena active again.
The Raptors will get an aboriginal barometer of how they assemblage up in the East. They host the Cavaliers in their opener on Wednesday, and afresh the highly-touted Boston Celtics on Friday.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
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