The defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors are built by workers. Their championship core – famously boasting zero lottery draft picks – embraced these humble roots and let their on-court play do the talking throughout last year’s playoff run. They embodied an underdog persona as the rest of the basketball world ignored their obvious potential, leaning upon an unflappable demeanour to steer themselves towards a historic championship. They were the dudes that brought their lunch pail to work, kicked ass on the court, and ignored any distraction that would veer them from their ultimate goal.
The Raptors sweep the Warriors in Games 3 and 4 at Oracle to take a 3-1 series lead back to Toronto after a 105-92 win in Game 4. Raptors very businesslike headed back to the winning locker room #NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/RkBRrrz785
— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) June 8, 2019
This mentality has now earned the Raptors a 14 carat diamond ring with the Toronto skyline adorned across its face. It has put a banner up that will hang over the Scotiabank Arena for eternity. Leading into this season Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell, the poster boys of being overlooked and undervalued, have continued to preach the unrelenting work ethic that has been the backbone of the organization’s success.
But now following championship glory, a larger question looms: are you really defending NBA champs if you don’t let everyone know at all moments by possessing a palpable air of arrogance, over-exuberant celebrations, and choreographed handshakes armed and ready to be performed at a moment’s notice?
It may be that the Toronto Raptors have spent too much time this Summer working on their game on the court. They have forgotten what truly matters in our meme culture; everything besides basketball.
Toronto have invested too much effort fine-tuning their swarming team defence. Unfortunately, they have been focusing on the execution of inch perfect ATO plays that deliver Fred VanVleet wide-open triples off of flare screens during crunch time. O.G. Anunoby has prioritized expanding his off the dribble repertoire rather than his succinct media scrum responses.
What is the cost of all this undue attention on basketball skills? Well, take a look.
The only thing Siakam and VanVleet need to work on now is their celebratory handshake… pic.twitter.com/C1qlbgMvah
— Adam McQueen (@Adam_McQueen) October 23, 2019
Frankly, this is completely unacceptable from the reigning, defending NBA Champions. Sure, Siakam can put up a gargantuan 34 points and hoover up every available loose ball off of the glass. Yeah, VanVleet has now morphed into Stephen Curry after living inside his jersey throughout the NBA Finals. But I’ll be damned if these two let us down following a game-sealing moment like this ever again.
So how can we resolve this complete absence of braggadocious-ness? Our editor emeritus, the legendary Blake Murphy, has suggested that Spicy P and Freddy V emulate the iconic Troy and Abed dap up. Like the duo from the cult-classic Community, Siakam and VanVleet are likeable to a fault. However, it feels too understated an embrace for a group of individuals that are now each in possession of 640 more diamonds than they were when walking into Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday night. There are key facets at an individual and team level that the Raptors must address if they hope to be a true defending champion.
The bench must step up
During the preseason Nick Nurse publicly stripped down the new faces on the team for not playing hard enough, but read between the lines people. After watching Stanley Johnson play preseason basketball it is clear that Nurse, Masai Ujiri, and Bobby Webster did not sign the guy to a two-year $7.5 million contract to handle the ball or hit jumpshots. The Stanimal is here to jump out of his seat on every layup, dunk, and finger roll. Heck for that kind of money he should be doing the worm whenever a player makes a free throw.
Nurse is aware that the responsibility of a defending champion runs deeper than X’s and O’s; it requires a bench that is willing to over celebrate each and every game at any moment. See Swaggy P for reference.
But this is not all Johnson’s fault. As Nurse pointed out, none of the bench players have stepped up yet. The docile nature of the end of rotation players sitting on the pine is simply not good enough. Amongst a bevy of fresh faces, the tone must be set by a veteran. Maybe even a veteran with championship pedigree? Enter Patrick McCaw, a man who only knows how to win NBA titles. If McCaw wants to prove himself as a leader on this team it begins by galvanizing the bench mob with a coordinated and elaborate dance rehearsal involving multiple props the next time Siakam drives coast to coast.
Fred must bring out the sweatpants
The toothy grin. The rainbow jumper. The thoughtful answers to each question asked. Everything about VanVleet is just so nice.
However, there was a different type of nice brewing down in California at the Rico Hines runs this Summer. VanVleet cooked NBA hopefuls in fluorescent red sweatpants, bringing an ‘F-You’ energy akin to playing the Water Bottle Flip challenge midway through a regular season game. VanVleet was willing to beat these guys up and down the court, but he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his comfort while doing so. That’s defending champs mentality right there.
If players get to wear ninja headbands or full body morph suits that more closely resemble the Green Man from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia than athletic apparel, then VanVleet has every right to rep a slim-fitting pair of Lulu joggers while canning daggers.
Gasol must deliver one more Vince McMahon impersonation
Marc Gasol’s befuddled reaction to Lowry flexing and squeezing his teammate’s biceps mid-pushup as he sauntered his way onto the court outed the newly signed centre as the out-of-tune old guy. Even when Gasol did catch on to the team’s scheduled antics, his pre-game exercises looked as awkward as a dad trying to milly rock in front of his son’s friends.
Somewhere deep down beneath that calm, measured exterior still lies the beast that busted out this all-timer:
Studies have shown that the ‘Billionaire Strut’ is simultaneously the most ridiculous and bad-ass thing a player can do whilst on a basketball court. Although the strut cannot be brought out every game, there needs be one more occasion where Gasol cocks his head, leans back, and lets his arms flail like a whacky-waving-inflatable-arm-tube-man.
Fans must be more like Danny Green
This goes without saying, but everyone should always try to be more like our dearly departed Danny Green. Please pour one out, then take some notes from this collection of moves because fans need to also have that defending champs energy when at the arena or watching from home.
Go off, Danny Green. 🗣🕺 (2009)
— Timeless Sports (@timelesssports_) October 23, 2019
Or the Raptors can do what they have always done over the past six years. They can continue to work, outperform Vegas’ expectations, and stand as a legitimate playoff contender once May rolls around, all while going undetected by the American media. It has brought Toronto to where they are today, so who am I to mess with it?