On July 18, 2018, the biggest trade in Raptors history took place. DeMar DeRozan was sent to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for forward Kawhi Leonard.
A lot of fans didn't like it.
DeMar was a four-time all star who led the team to its best ever years. And after years of top players (like Vince Carter and Chris Bosh) leaving the team, DeMar was a star who loved playing in Toronto. And fans loved him back.
Meanwhile, Kawhi was a question mark. He was a terrific player, sure, but he also had played just nine games last year due to injury. And because this would be the final year of his contract, the Raptors were only guaranteed to have him for one season. Then, he was free to leave the next summer, probably for a team in Los Angeles or something? Just like all of those other stars did...
Well, ten months later, that 'next summer' is just around the corner. And Kawhi Leonard? He may still leave Toronto to go to the Clippers or Lakers. But first, there's one small thing that needs to happen.
The Toronto Raptors are playing in the NBA Finals.
The gamble pays off
It's funny what a difference having the best season in franchise history will do for people's opinion of a trade.
By resting Kawhi often during the regular season — as well as trading in February for another proven veteran, defensive centre Marc Gasol — the Raptors finally achieved the one goal that had always escaped the DeRozan-led teams.
Now that they're here, Kawhi has become a bit of a legend around Toronto...
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For sure, the team has certainly chipped in with some great performances, too. But Kawhi has been the difference — scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, defense... he's done it all. If you'd like proof, please watch this video (which begins with THE moment of the playoffs so far, Leonard's four-rim bouncing shot to win the second round series versus Philadelphia).
Can they really beat Golden State?
So now that Toronto officially loves Kawhi Leonard, there's really only one question left to answer: Can the Toronto Raptors really beat the Golden State Warriors?
Let's be blunt. This version of Golden State is one of the three best NBA teams of all time. They set a record for the most wins ever. They have been to the previous four NBA Finals, winning three, including the last two.
Want more of an idea of how good they are? Back in the second round in a tight series against the Houston Rockets, 2-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant got injured. How did the Warriors do without such an important player? They won six games in a row to book their ticket to a fifth straight finals. So it's hopeless for Toronto, then?
Well, that's not true either. In fact, the Raptors and Warriors played twice this year, and Toronto won both! But the playoffs? That's a whole other animal. Even with Durant still injured to start the series, the Raptors are going to have to play the best basketball of their lives to win.
It sounds daunting. Except... this is basically what Toronto has been doing all playoffs. What's one more impossible task for Kawhi, right?
Either way, we're about to find out.