What the Celtics Can Learn from the Toronto Raptors' NBA Championship
Last night, the season came to an end when the Toronto Raptors won their first ever NBA championship with a 114-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors in game six of the NBA Finals. Kawhi Leonard was named the NBA Finals MVP and Golden State's Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both suffered injuries during the series that could sideline them both for the entirety of the 2019-20 season.
In this series that had one story line after another, there are many lessons available to the Celtics, but I want to focus on one in particular: the value of gutsy trades. This time last year, the star of the Raptors was DeMar DeRozan. To think of Toronto parting with a player of his caliber for Leonard, a player who had previously been riddled with injuries, would be akin to thinking of the Boston Red Sox trading Mookie Betts for a Cy Young Award winner coming off of Tommy John surgery. Regardless, Toronto decided to bet on the abilities of Leonard.
The Raptors kept their heads down and played the entire season through adversity with a chip on their shoulders. No one ever thought they could go all the way. Even I predicted they would be upset in the first round by the Orlando Magic. But the Raptors refused to follow the media's predetermined narrative and ended up winning it all.
And it all started when they went all in on Kawhi Leonard with the belief that if he could return to form, he would be their best shot at unseating the Golden State Warriors. They gambled and the risk paid off. There are many more alternate timelines where that move could have backfired, but if they never took that risk, they would never have experienced this reward.
So to the Celtics, this is the main lesson to learn. If Kyrie goes to the Nets, a team comprised of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford is still a pretty good one. It's a lot more solid than a lot of other NBA franchises. But I'm sorry, it's just not going to be enough to get the job done, even if the Warriors are only at half strength. If Danny Ainge truly believes the window is closing, then he should take a risk. Go after a superstar. Go after a game-changer. Don't be afraid to leverage a future of second round post-season exits for the chance at a championship next year. Toronto didn't and now they have the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Image via Wikimedia / Chensiyuan