In the summer of 2019, the Toronto Raptors were on top of the world.
Backed by the most complete lineup in franchise history, the NBA team had vanquished the seemingly invincible Golden State Warriors to claim their first-ever league title. In the process, they had sent the city of Toronto—and indeed much of Canada—into a frenzy of fandom, full of street viewing parties and peaking in a victory parade that drew a staggering crowd. (Some estimates of the crowd reached 2 million people!)
It was a dream. And like all dreams, it ended. Though no one could've predicted how it would happen.
The departure of superstar Kawhi Leonard to Los Angeles (where he grew up) was sadly expected. But then the pandemic came. When play resumed, they weren't allowed back into Canada for games, playing home games instead out of Tampa, Florida. This meant that they no longer had the advantage of playing in front of their loyal Toronto fans. It also meant that they couldn't properly say goodbye to the Greatest Raptor Of All Time (a.k.a. the GROAT), Kyle Lowry, when he played his last game for the team. ?
But you know what you do when a dream ends? You start dreaming a new one. And that's exactly what the Raptors are looking to do when the new NBA season begins tonight. Let's look at what to expect in 2021-22 from a rebuilding Raptors team that will give us plenty to enjoy!
After a season and a half of being stuck on the road for all of their games, the Raptors are finally back in Toronto. Do you think the city will be excited? We think so!
It all gets started on Wednesday, when the team hosts the Washington Wizards. It's sure to be an emotional night for all of those fans. And probably a lot of the players. Speaking of which, a lot of change can (and did) happen in a couple years. So who are these Toronto Raptors?
The new core
As we mentioned, Leonard and Lowry are gone from that championship team. So are Danny Green, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell. But the team still has a strong core.
Pascal 'Spicy P' Siakam and Fred 'Steady Freddy' Van Vleet are the new team leaders, and both were key players in the 2019 title. They are followed closely in importance by defensive specialist OG Anunoby, as well as long-armed centre Chris Boucher. And let's not forget about coach Nick Nurse—also as head coach for Team Canada, he has quickly proven himself as one of the most thoughtful and best coaches in the league.
But let's not kid ourselves—there are a lot of new faces on this team. What can they bring?
Big chances to grow
Scottie Barnes is the perhaps the most exciting name on the Raptors roster. He was only just selected this summer by the team in the 2021 Draft (where teams select players brand new to the league). This rookie is an amazing passer and has a big positive personality. It's always a challenge adjusting to the best league in the world, but there's reason to believe that Barnes will be a very important Raptor in the future.
Another rookie we're eager to see is Dalano Banton. This player grew up in the Toronto neighbourhood of Rexdale, and he wears his local pride on his chest ... literally! That's because his number—45—is a nod to the Route 45 bus that he took basically everyday as a kid. How cool is that?
And not all of Toronto's new faces are new to the league. They also will lean on experienced veterans Gary Trent Jr. and Goran Dragic, as well as a thrilling forward Precious Achiuwa.
When the GROAT is back
So how does this group stack up? These Raptors aren't ready to challenge the best clubs in the East like Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, not to mention the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks and a super-loaded Brooklyn Nets. But they'll be a tough team to play on most nights and certainly have a chance at returning to the playoffs this year.
And after so many years of falling in love with players like Lowry and DeRozan, it's time to fall in love with a bunch of new ones. Let's do it! But speaking of those players we loved, be sure to tune in on February 3, 2022. That's the night that Lowry, who is now with the Miami Heat, will return to Scotiabank Arena to play his former team. Should be a big night!