Canada! The NBA Title Is Yours!
Two years later, the annual nostalgia has returned.
The same championship nostalgia that abruptly floods in during the month of June through the entire city of Toronto, the country of Canada and Raptors fans abroad reminiscing on one of the greatest sports moments they’ve ever witnessed — winning the NBA Championship. Particular to the month of June, today’s very date – June 17 – was recognized two years ago as “We The North Day.” The day the Raptors famously held their gargantuan parade genuinely felt like it took up every corner of the city. The innumerable amount of thinkpieces, feature articles, interviews, merchandise and other forms of reflection (even books were written!) on the 2019 NBA Championship have all been entirely warranted and thoroughly enjoyed by Raptors fans across the globe. It’s almost hard-pressed to have friends who consider themselves Raptors fans not telling you at least 10 times a year something along the lines of:
“I still can’t believe the Toronto Raptors actually won an NBA championship…”
In the last two years, everyone with even a minor connection to the Toronto Raptors has heard or said a variation of the sentence above. I’ll speak for myself when I say I’ve uttered those words at least 25-30 times this year alone. There’s a genuine possibility that this could just be a weekly thing for me. The intricate blend of emotions that’s rooted in this very nostalgia — the shock, the inconceivability, the extreme happiness, the arrogance and ego-grooming (again, warranted), but particularly the absolute improbability of the Raptors winning an NBA championship in my lifetime? In your lifetime? Astonishing.
The 2019 NBA Championship roster will be etched into the hearts of Raptors fans for the rest of eternity. From the one-year hero in Kawhi Leonard to the franchise stalwart in Kyle Lowry all the way down to the lesser-remembered Jodie Meeks — this is a revisit of your 2018-2019 NBA world champion Toronto Raptors.
Now the question we’ve all been waiting for:
Where are they now?
Team: Los Angeles Clippers (NBA)
Probably the easiest question to answer due to the natural disposition of Raptors fans who have – very much like bitter exes – spent the last two years keeping their peripheral visions on Kawhi Leonard. Since Kawhi left Toronto in the highly-anticipated 2019 offseason, Raptors fans were left with a sour taste in their mouths. From the championship week up until the moment before Kawhi’s decision to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers – the same question overwhelmed every Raptors fans’ mind:
What else does he want?
He won the championship, he had the team to win another (considering the presumed contenders at the moment of his decision were the Bucks, Lakers and 76ers). Remember, Kevin Durant missed the entire 2019-2020 season due to injury, so that essentially ruled the Brooklyn Nets out from contention. Toronto would have had a better roster on paper than all the other Eastern Conference teams including the eventual 2019-2020 Championship runner-up Miami Heat. The ‘vibes’ were there in Toronto with the overall chemistry of that roster being nearly perfect. He was beloved by not just a city, but an entire country of rabid basketball fans. On a personal level, the Raptors laid out a picture-perfect load management medical plan for his physical sustainability. Tons of restaurants all over Toronto even offered him free food for life (Ka’wine and Dine)! Enough waffling, though. Kawhi eventually chose L.A., thanking Raptors fans, the organization, and everyone else that considered themselves a part of that journey. The chapter was closed. Kawhi was going home – a place he made clear he’s wanted to play since his career first began.
Where is he now?
Kawhi’s first season in L.A. was great or discouraging, depending on who you ask. Kawhi was given (at his request) Paul George as his running mate while inheriting a ready-made contending roster that featured spark-plug Lou Williams, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, an underrated Ivica Zubac, world-renown pest Patrick Beverley, and a host of other grizzled veterans (anyone remember Joakim Noah? No? Ah, okay). Oh, and he just happened to have a coach with a championship pedigree and tons of playoff coaching experience in Doc Rivers.
The expectation was crystal clear that season – an NBA championship. The result? A depressing Western Conference Semifinals loss to the Denver Nuggets who were led by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. The word ‘disappointing’ doesn’t do the result enough justice. Clippers chairman and Microsoft oligarch, Steve Ballmer made it clear what the expectation was in the actual Kawhi/George introductory press conference. It wasn’t explicitly said out loud, but after the Clippers accomplished the most historic offseason in franchise history, the team goal was obvious. The massive Los Angeles Lakers’ shadow was to be temporarily shed. Emphasis on the word ‘temporarily’. Unless LAC could magically cut the championship deficit down from an astronomical Lakers’ 17 to Clippers’ 0, it was always going to be temporary. In Kawhi’s second season with Los Angeles, as of this writing, he currently sits at [ ———– ] in a Western Conference Semifinals matchup with the Utah Jazz. Yet Leonard is out indefinitely with an ACL injury, and the Clippers are hanging by a thread. Even with a potential non-championship season, there are currently no suspicions of Leonard moving away from LAC. Contractually, Kawhi must decide on a player option during the upcoming 2021 NBA offseason.
Team: Toronto Raptors (NBA)
The Greatest Raptor of all time. As awful as it sounds when you enunciate it, the ‘GROAT’. Kyle finished his 2020-2021 NBA season on the bench. With the Raptors rollercoaster, lottery-finishing season coming to a close, Kyle rested for the final six games of the season and even prior to those six games was given a DNP for the Clippers’ May 4th game. His last played game of the season was a last hurrah of sorts, putting up 37 points and 11 assists in a win against the Los Angeles Lakers. Kyle quite literally saved his best for last in a heroic effort that saw him shoot 12/20 from the field and 8/13 from 3-PT land.
Much like the rest of the team, Lowry was in and out of the lineup all season long. He missed three games in January due to injury, four games in February (I mean, who didn’t get injured this year?), and another 10 games from late-March to mid-April due to COVID protocols. Kyle finished the season averaging 17.2 ppg, 7.3 apg, and 5.4 rpg. He shot his best percentages in years (best FG percentage since 2016-2017, best 3-PT percentage since 2017-2018 and best eFG percentage since 2017-2018). The regression that fans were tremendously afraid of and rivals were badly hoping for just… didn’t arrive for Kyle Lowry. Although the percentage increases were nice, watching his game objectively would tell you that father time is, unfortunately, undefeated. His defense, particularly at the point of attack and in rotation, saw a drop. The explosion we were once used to also was inconsistent from game to game. But considering all the circumstances – Kyle Lowry, in his 15th season of NBA basketball looked phenomenal.
The absolute anomaly that is LeBron James will always exist when the longevity conversation arises, but at the age of 35 years-old – and at his healthiest – Kyle Lowry has remained one of the most influential guards in the league.
Team: Toronto Raptors (NBA)
Two years after his nationally-televised ascent to stardom, one could easily argue Pascal Siakam – who splendidly played Robin to Kawhi’s Batman in the 2019 NBA Finals – has reached a consistent All-Star level. The overwhelming thought after playing at such an incredibly high level beside Leonard during the 2019 NBA Playoffs resulted in Raptors fans’ expectations of Siakam reaching celestial levels. The fact that Pascal was so emphatically easy to root for also helped his cause. The expectations were all fine and dandy until… they weren’t. A Most Improved Player Award winner in 2018-2019, followed by an All-NBA 2nd Teamer in 2019-2020, Siakam was on an upward trend. That massive climb upwards slowed significantly this past season. If the 2020-2021 season was a simple rollercoaster for Kyle Lowry, it was The Leviathan for the Cameroonian forward. Injuries, an unfortunate COVID-19 diagnosis, and the gigantic regression of 3-PT shooting were the stains on Siakam’s recent season. The positives? Advanced playmaking, improved ball-handling, and elite versatility. The circumstances Toronto were given early in the season, from a roster-construction standpoint (particularly the uninspiring play and spacing of center Aron Baynes), threw yet another wrench in Siakam’s season.
Overall, it’s become abundantly clear Pascal Siakam is not a number-one option on a contending team. Can he play the ‘1B’ role on a very good team? Sure. He proved it in the 2019-2020 season when he was by all accounts, one of the best performing forwards in the NBA. With season averages of 21.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.5 apg and 1.1 spg on 46 percent FG shooting (but also a career-low in TS percentage), the positives and negatives were there. Siakam will be the first to explain the shooting efficiency was underwhelming, particularly if Toronto relies on Pascal as a co-star option beside Fred VanVleet and possibly Kyle Lowry. Siakam is squarely in the prime of his career. Considering all variables, there is still quite a bit to look forward to as Pascal looks to build on a wacky season.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
One of the most beloved Raptors from the championship team. The kind, soft-spoken, tough, strong, All-Star-center-destroying big man. Gasol was undeniably one of possibly five players that this championship wouldn’t have happened without. Hell, the Raptors don’t even get past the Philadelphia 76ers without Marc Gasol if we’re being honest. The lumbering, stalwart defensive big man with elite playmaking ability and unbelievable positional awareness gave the 2018-19 Raptors exactly what they needed from the center position. Gasol made his mark on the defensive interior while also giving Toronto a minor (but still credible) threat on the 3-PT line – enough to at least catch the opposing team’s attention. After the championship season, Gasol spent one more year with Toronto in hopes to go back-to-back without his superstar, California-loving former teammate. That year ended in a Eastern Conference Semifinals loss to the Boston Celtics in a slugfest of seven games. Gasol was then an unrestricted free agent, and after courting from the Raptors, Clippers, and L.A. Lakers, he ultimately chose to ride with LeBron and Co.
The year began beautifully but ended unfortunately for Gasol. He began the season as the starting center while the Lakers dominated the conference early on, but he quickly willowed away into nothingness once former Piston (and briefly Cavalier) Andre Drummond was acquired midseason. At that point, Gasol began racking up DNPs like Scene Points. The Lakers finished their season losing in the Western Conference Quarterfinals to Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns. Gasol averaged 17.6 minutes per game in five of six playoff games (DNP in Game 1). Now, Marc Gasol is a free agent once again, with current reports linking him to Barcelona. Cool tidbit – Gasol’s former Memphis Grizzlies teammate, national teamer and good friend, Juan Carlos Navarro is the current GM of FC Barcelona. Navarro has made it publicly clear he will do “whatever it takes” to get Marc Gasol back to Spain. Gasol’s offseason decision will be a fun peripheral story for Raptors fans to follow as retirement may not be out of the question, either.
Team: Philadelphia 76ers (NBA)
The ultimate scapegoat or the severely declining basketball player? Since 2018-19 with Toronto, Danny Green has donned two NBA jerseys. After winning an NBA championship (back to back!) with LAL in the 2019-20 season, Green quickly moved on to the city of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia. There, Green joined the All-Star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, talented swingman Tobias Harris, and newly acquired pieces like Seth Curry and Dwight Howard (who also won with LAL). Danny played a key role with the Lakers in their playoff run, but unfortunately the same won’t happen with the Sixers. Just earlier this week, Green was diagnosed with a right calf strain and will likely miss the entire playoffs for Philadelphia. He’s scheduled to be re-evaluated at the end of June.
Green has been highly coveted by contenders since leaving Toronto for two reasons – defense and 3-PT shooting. Now, to be fair – those two things aren’t always guaranteed with DG. In fact, his defense particularly has taken a slide in recent years (ask Trae Young). Still, the 33 year-old swingman has made the absolute most of a fulfilling career, winning championships with San Antonio, Toronto, and Los Angeles.
Team: Toronto Raptors (NBA)
Analyzing every player on the 2018-19 NBA championship roster save for Pascal Siakam (and maybe OG Anunoby), Fred VanVleet has ultimately developed at the fastest rate. Much like Siakam, FVV has reached borderline All-Star level with his two elite attributes being his blistering 3-PT shooting and disruptive point-of-attack defense. In the two years since the Larry O’B, VanVleet has really just improved drastically at what he was already proficient at in 2018-19. His long-range shooting has gotten a tick better while his overall defensive ability now tiptoes on All-NBA Defensive level. On that end of the floor, he has an unassuming base level of strength, great hands, otherworldly awareness, and contagious energy. To put it politely, Fred VanVleet is a bat spawned from hell on the defensive end. Offensively — notably this past season — is where the questions began to crop up. His finishing at the rim was horrific. His total lack of a floater for a 6-foot guard is extremely unfortunate. His JR Smith-like streakiness was also evident. This season alone we witnessed a 54-point game on alien-like efficiency but also multiple shooting-dud games that saw FVV finish shooting anywhere from 15-25 percent from the field on many attempts. To be fair, this was Fred’s first season where he had to be “the guy” countless times to keep Toronto afloat. Again, like many other current Raptors – some of this was also due to a demented season that saw an injury-plagued Toronto play in a different city, country, arena, practice ‘arena’ (a hotel ballroom) in front of totally different fans (who booed Toronto and rooted for the opposing team regularly, by the way). As much as I want to say this season was a wash for Fred VanVleet, just like for Pascal – it should be used as a building block. Maybe the most important detail to take out of the 2020-2021 season for Fred VanVleet was his growing leadership ability, as he constantly found opportunities to tutor the Raptors’ rookie guards – even while sitting out for injury.
The lucrative extension money began pouring in during the 2020-2021 season, with hopes that Fred VanVleet would be a key centerpiece to a future championship in Toronto. Time will tell if Steady Freddy can bring Toronto back to winning ways.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers (NBA)
Much like Gasol, Serge Ibaka’s contract didn’t expire after the championship season. He, with other Raptors players in 2019-20, attempted to defend their title run. After they fell short, Serge Ibaka was an unrestricted free agent who had one thing in mind – another championship. Drawing even more parallels to Gasol, Ibaka was also pursued by Toronto and both Los Angeles teams in the following free agency. Serge chose to reunite with his former teammate Kawhi Leonard in Clipper Land (don’t hurt me, Lakers fans – it’s a joke). Want another parallel to Marc Gasol? I mean at this point, they might as well be the same person. Ibaka’s season in Clippers colours was not pleasant. As soon as Ibaka moved on from Toronto, various reports indicated his desire of not just getting multiple years on his next contract (rather than the reported one year Toronto offered), but also his dislike in being used as a bench weapon behind Gasol in Toronto.
The obvious conclusion was that part of Ibaka’s decision in signing with LAC was the opportunity to start. That just isn’t how it came together for Serge. When Ibaka was healthy, head coach Tyronn Lue seemed to rotate both him and Ivica Zubac as the team’s starting five-man. If that wasn’t frustrating enough for Serge, he wasn’t healthy for a massive chunk of the year, playing only 41 of 72 games while also missing the postseason altogether. Ibaka has one more year remaining on his contract for the 2021-2022 season with the Clippers. Hopefully that one goes a bit better than the last.
Team: Portland Trail Blazers (NBA)
It’s almost becoming repetitive, but yet another beloved former Toronto Raptor. Powell was another player who developed beautifully since the championship season. After showing legitimate flashes of All Star-level play during the 2020-21 season, his hypothetical trade value soared to its highest – and everyone knew it. Toronto traded Norman Powell to the Portland Trail Blazers for guard Gary Trent Jr. and forward Rodney Hood. Norman finished the season in Portland with his numbers ever-so slightly dipping on the West coast, but averaging out to 18.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.9 apg on remarkable .477/.411/.871 splits.
Powell’s impending unrestricted free agency was one of the deciding factors of his midseason trade to Portland. With one of the more uncertain summers in Portland after a disconcerting playoff finish versus Denver, Powell’s return to the Blazers isn’t guaranteed. Early reports have pointed towards the Knicks, Pelicans, and Trail Blazers showing the most preliminary interest in Powell.
Team: Toronto Raptors (NBA)
Perhaps the most unlucky player of the championship roster – Ogugua Anunoby. After an emergency appendectomy in April, 2019 – OG was forced to miss the rest of the Raptors’ glorious run to their franchise-first NBA championship. In a 2018-19 season that saw OG sit behind the megastar that was Kawhi Leonard, it may have ironically been the most important year to his basketball development. Multiple times throughout that season (in the few times OG was given local media attention), OG mentioned how important it was to have a player the caliber of Kawhi Leonard from whom to soak up knowledge. Since that season, OG has gradually become a focal point in the Raptors plans. So much so that Toronto awarded Anunoby with a 4-year/$72 million extension prior to the 2020-2021 season. After also suffering through a rash of injuries (and COVID protocol), OG undeniably looked the part this past season. He’s taken massive offensive strides, with the most basic observation being his PPG increasing from 10.6 to 15.9 from the previous season. His efficiency did not take a tumble, and OG clearly proved he was one of the elite ‘3 & D’ players in the entire association. An All-NBA level defender paired with 40 percent 3-PT shooting in the last two seasons, as well as having a developing offensive repertoire points to one thing and one thing only – the Toronto Raptors have found another long-term franchise building block in Ogugua Anunoby.
Team: Toronto Raptors (NBA)
After being more of an afterthought in the Raptors plans of 2018, two years later – Chris Boucher has matured into a moldable, valuable product of Toronto Raptors basketball. The flaws in Chris Boucher’s game was glaring in 2018, but what kept him squarely on the roster was his consistent destruction of NBA G League-level basketball as well as his mouth-watering, tantalizing attributes. A player equipped with a thin, slender, pterodactyl-like wingspan who happened to have inherent shot-blocking traits. A player who could space the floor while also having the ability to gallop to the rim in long strides. As an older prospect, Chris Boucher was almost the perfect yardstick of whether or not your NBA player-development staff was competent. The Raptors staff proved to be just that. The Montreal native finished the 2020-2021 season more than doubling his PPG average. Every box score statistic took a massive leap, and beyond the bare numbers – Boucher passed the eye test with flying colours. Early on in the season, he was widely recognized as the frontrunner of both the Most Improved Player award and the 6th Man of the Year award. As his play tailed off throughout the year and Chris was hit hard with the seemingly-cursed injury bug, Boucher fell from an award candidate to placing 8th in 6MOY voting. Some of that had to do with Toronto realizing they had no true center, which forced Boucher into a starting role at times. The other side of that was simply poor play from Chris as the season came to a close. Overall, Boucher had a very solid year for Toronto and the partially guaranteed, two-year $13.5M contract he signed is looking very much like a bargain for the Toronto Raptors.
Team: N/A – Free Agent
Three-time NBA champion, Patrick McCaw was an enigma on the Toronto Raptors. A player who fans appreciated, but sometimes wondered what was truly offered on the court. One of Nick Nurse’s favourites over his three years as a Raptor between 2019-2021, McCaw was relied upon as a defensive specialist for Toronto. He didn’t stretch the floor very well, but coming from the Warriors (or technically the Cavaliers, after he was waived three days after signing), McCaw understood fully what it meant to play a minimized role on a ball-moving, floor spacing, star-laden team. He was a great off-ball player who Nurse and the Raptors coaching staff quickly warmed to with his fantastic cutting ability. McCaw barely played for Toronto (five total games) in the 2020-2021 season due to injury. McCaw underwent rehabilitation from an arthroscopic knee surgery prior to the season as well as suffering multiple setbacks throughout the year. He is currently a free agent after being waived by Toronto on April 9th, 2021.
Team: Beijing Ducks (Chinese Basketball Association)
Jeremy Lin’s name has been in the news more often than not in the last few months. For good reason, too. In the months of March and April, a noteworthy ‘Stop Anti-Asian Hate’ movement swept up sports conversations. Incredibly courageous Asian athletes across the globe became the face of a movement which made it clear that Anti-Asian hate and racism was real and needed to be addressed more seriously. Jeremy Lin was one of these brave athletes and was featured in multiple op-eds and interviews to shed light on this important issue. With a fairly large Asian community located in and around Toronto, Lin was naturally loved by not just fans who shared the same homeland or region as Lin, but also fans who admired a player who spoke out regularly against racism and hatred. In terms of basketball impact, Lin served a minimal role on the championship Raptors and has been looking for an authentic NBA opportunity since. After spending some time on the Warriors G-League club and playing extremely well, he wasn’t given that opportunity he desperately coveted.
Lin has returned to the Chinese Basketball Association (he spent a season there in 2019-2020) and after his G-League stint, was officially signed as a player of the Beijing Ducks.
Team: Salt Lake City Stars (NBA G League)
Malcolm in the Miller! My apologies. I’ve always wanted to type that out (no matter how corny it sounds). Miller, like others on the end of the championship-roster rotation didn’t get much of a chance to showcase himself in the NBA Playoffs, nor the regular season. Appearing sporadically in each 2019 playoff round for Toronto, Miller was given a total of 28 minutes played in the team’s title run. Still, Malcolm was lauded in his two years with Toronto (including his time spent with the G-League roster), as he genuinely provided intriguing traits to the Raptors roster. After playing just 28 games (starting one) with Toronto in 2019-2020, Miller eventually moved on from Ontario’s capital.
He signed an Exhibit-10 contract with the Utah Jazz prior to the 2020-21 season. Malcolm Miller is currently a member of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz G-League outfit.
Team: Zenit Saint Petersburg (VTB United League + EuroLeague)
A talented 6’4 guard who couldn’t quite find his footing in the NBA, Jordan Loyd has experienced great success all over Europe since leaving Toronto after the 2018-19 season. Loyd’s ‘kodak moment’ of that same season came during Kawhi Leonard’s iconic series-winning, buzzer-beating jump shot versus the Philadelphia 76ers. In the years since, Jordan Loyd has played in the premier tier of Liga Endesa (Spanish Basketball League) and the Liga ABA (Adriatic League). In both leagues, he represented the Spanish club, Valencia and the Serbian club, Crvena Zvezda. Both clubs also participated in the EuroLeague, pointing to each club’s superiority within their region. Just this week, on June 14th – Loyd signed a two-year contract with Zenit Saint Petersburg of the VTB United League (also a Euroleague outfit).
— Basketball club Zenit (@zenitbasket) June 14, 2021
Team: N/A – Free Agent
The sharpshooting Jodie Meeks did not play an on-court role in the championship run. He was signed to consecutive 10-day contracts in February and March of 2019, and eventually signed for the remainder of the 2018-19 season. With the exception of playing minimal minutes in blowout regular season games, Meeks was quite clearly on the tail-end of the roster. Still, one could argue a veteran locker room presence whether playing or not, can only be a net-positive for a contending roster. A couple years later, as of the exact minute this piece is being written, Jodie Meeks remains an NBA free agent. He hasn’t appeared on an NBA roster since playing for Toronto in 2019.
Team: Shanxi Loongs (Chinese Basketball Association)
Another Raptors 905-er who earned his place on the senior NBA roster, Moreland was a player in which the Raptors brought along slowly. Constantly one of the main sources of bench energy (and sometimes utter chaos, with the amount of memorable highlights of that year). Since moving on from Toronto after the 2018-19 season, Eric Moreland briefly signed a contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but was almost immediately waived. He then went across the pond and inked a contract with the Shanxi Loongs of the Chinese Basketball Association. After early reports of signing with Shanxi in October of 2019, Moreland was officially activated in November and announced as a ‘foreign player replacement’ for former-NBAer Malcolm Thomas.
According to RealGM.com, Moreland posted 2020 season averages of 14.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.9 apg and 2.0 bpg on 59 percent FG for the Loongs in just 28.9 minutes per game. Moreland still remains a member of the Shanxi Loongs.