The Finals are over and we are left with all sorts of questions/issues. Let’s run through all relevant news…
Should the Warriors have played Kevin Durant?
With all due respect to the Raptors, KD is the first question on everyone’s mind. There was a much discourse about what Durant owed the Warriors and whether he was pushed to play. The answers are not so simple. It was pretty clear that the Warriors were much less likely to win without Durant and that he was not 100%. The bigger question, which we do not have public information on, is how much risk KD was taking in playing. We do know that: (a) Durant’s risk of serious injury was elevated due to his calf issue and (b) there is always risk of injury even for a fully healthy NBA player. It is also fair to say that Durant has never been shy about expressing his opinions and that he felt he was taking an acceptable risk. That outcome was terrible but the decision did not appear to be crazy on its face.
Can we expect the same KD?
Howard Beck recently wrote an article detailing some players who never were quite the same after Achilles injuries. Of course, medicine has improved over the years and the sad stories skew towards older injuries and/or older players. This season, both Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins came back pretty well from this injury. In fact, FiveThirtyEight break down of the injury was a bit more optimistic, finding that most players of similar age to KD were ostensibly the same player after a year-long recovery. Again, without further info, it’s hard to predict but the most recent data is relatively encouraging. KD will get a max contract and should be really good in 2020-21.
Where will KD be next time he plays?
I have no idea. No matter what, KD will be looking at a max extension this summer or next summer, even if teams are not sure if he or when he will be healthy.
Okay, let’s give the Raptors some credit….
This is not a question but the Raptors were really good. How good? On straight SRS, here’s how the Raps rate against non-Warrior title teams since the turn of the century:
-2007-08 Celtics, 9.30 SRS
-1999-00 Lakers, 8.41 SRS
-2006-07 Spurs, 8.35 SRS
-2013-14 Spurs, 8.00 SRS
-2004-05 Spurs, 7.84 SRS
-2001-02 Lakers, 7.15 SRS
-2008-09 Lakers, 7.11 SRS
-2012-13 Heat, 7.03 SRS
-2011-12 Heat, 5.72 SRS
-2002-03 Spurs, 5.65 SRS
–2018-19 Raptors, 5.49 SRS
-2015-16 Cavaliers, 5.45 SRS
-2003-04 Pistons, 5.04 SRS
-2009-10 Lakers, 4.78 SRS
-2010-11 Mavericks, 4.41 SRS
-2000-01 Lakers, 3.74 SRS
-2005-06 Heat, 3.59 SRS
So, the Raptors are on the low end of the title teams and two of the teams below them (2003-04 Detroit and the 2000-01 Lakers) were likely much better than their numbers (Pistons picked up Rasheed Wallace late and the Lakers were in a strange malaise that lifted decisively during the playoffs). This is not to disparage the Raptors as they beat a great Milwaukee team fair and square but they would not likely have won a title in most years.
So, what should we take away from the Raptors title run?
The real story is twofold: (a) sometime you have more talent than you realize and (b) playoff failures do not require the GM to blow up the roster. The Raptors title path is a strange one but bears a little more examination. Masai Ujiri was brought to Toronto in 2013-14 to tear down a failed Raptors team built by former GM Bryan Colangelo around Rudy Gay and role players Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan. In fact, Ujiri tried to trade Lowry to the Knicks, only to have the Knicks back away at the last second because James Dolan feared they would be fleeced by Toronto, as they had done in an earlier trade for remains of Andrea Bargnani’s career.
Instead, the Raps gave away Gay for very little and Lowry (at age-27) and Derozan developed into All-Stars shortly thereafter (Jonas Valanciunas was a good draft pick by Colangelo too). It turned out that Ujiri had actually inherited a good team. To Ujiri’s credit, he quickly realized that Lowry was really good and kept the core together.
Ujiri’s best move was resisting the urge to break up the roster after several disappointing playoff losses. He did trade Derozan for Kawhi but that was a calculated gamble and not a wholesale random move. The move turned out as well as could be expected and the Raps are champs as a result. Still, winning the title took a lot of luck. Ujiri could very well have flipped Lowry for a mid-first rounder in 2013 and we wouldn’t be talking about them right now.
Any chance of a repeat?
Yes, if Kawhi comes back. The one thing that is very likely is that we will see a non-GS team win the west next year. The Lakers maybe in the mix again but there is no obvious favorite now. What is a clear lesson is that Houston should take a lesson from Toronto and not rashly break up its team merely because it hasn’t yet won the conference.