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NBA Finals

NBA Finals 2019: The implications of the Toronto Raptors becoming NBA champions

The Raptors won their first championship in franchise history.
The Raptors won their first championship in franchise history. (Getty Images)

The Toronto Raptors have won the 2019 NBA championship.

There will be plenty of time to reflect and truly dissect every detail of what a Raptors' title means over the coming days and weeks.

In the meantime, here are some initial reactions to the Raptors winning their first NBA title.

Kawhi Leonard, take a bow

It would be foolish to start with anyone other than Leonard, who dominated this series from start to finish.

He's been at an MVP-level before, but never has he truly entered the conversation of "who is the best player in the league?"

He's certainly in that conversation now.

The Raptors asked the impossible of Leonard and he delivered. To carry the burden he did offensively while also operating as the biggest disruptor on the other end and to do it all while playing through pain is simply incredible.

He had clutch moments.

He locked down the likely MVP.

He was the best player on the floor against the two-time defending champions.

And now Leonard is a two-time Finals MVP, a claim that can be made by only 11 other players in the history of the league. The only others to do it by the age of 27? Some guys named Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan.

This was a certifiable King-making moment and for now, it's Kawhi's league.

Kyle Lowry's reputation

Entering this postseason, Kyle Lowry did not exactly have the best reputation when it came to delivering in the postseason. Fair or not, many perceived Lowry as a very good regular season point guard who simply didn't deliver at the same level in the playoffs.

The stain of falling short time and again stuck to Lowry, even if he wasn't necessarily at fault.

Lowry's long been a player who does all of the little things and whose game extends far beyond the box score; it takes some effort to fully appreciate everything that Lowry brings to the table. Until now, those little things often got brushed aside when discussing his overall place in the grand scheme of things.

No longer.

Much like Chauncey Billups once used a run to the 2004 NBA title as a perception swinging moment, Lowry now gets to hang his hat on showing up on the biggest stage as the heart and soul of a championship team. Suddenly, all of that grit and all of those little things no longer ring hollow, but resonate loudly.

Much like Billups, Lowry is a player that can't solely be defined by statistics. Billups is talked about as a potential Hall of Fame player in part because of his championship run.

That's a conversation Lowry likely didn't sniff before, but could potentially now work his way into. He has the same number of All-Star appearances and his career statistics are eerily similar.

Much like Billups, this could be a career-changing shift for how Lowry is perceived in NBA circles.

One-hit wonder? Start of something bigger?

It's too early to start thinking about what happens next. If you're a Raptors fan, you should savour and cherish this for the foreseeable future.

And yet given the contract status of Leonard, there's really no telling what happens next with this team.

If he decides to re-sign with the Raptors, there's every reason to believe the Raptors could come back and win it all again next year.

It's especially true given the question marks of so many other potential contenders:

  • The Warriors could lose Kevin Durant, who can become an unrestricted free agent yet whose ruptured Achilles now casts a shadow over his decision
  • The Bucks have decisions to make on Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic
  • The Rockets are rumoured to be open to making significant moves
  • The Celtics could potentially lose Kyrie Irving, who is an unrestricted free agent
  • Ditto for the 76ers with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris

If Leonard returns, there's a very good chance this magical run is merely the start of something much bigger than winning it all in 2019.

Conversely, if Leonard leaves then what happens next? Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka are entering the final years of their contracts. Marc Gasol has a player option. Danny Green is an unrestricted free agent.

Masai Ujiri will have decisions to make about which direction to take the franchise. Would he look to repeat even if Leonard opts to move on? Or would he move his pricey vets and opt for a re-build around talented pieces Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby?

End of the Golden State dynasty

By the end of this series, the Warriors looked fatigued. It's understandable after five straight years of extended Finals runs into June.

Kevin Durant can become an unrestricted free agent if he declines his $31.5M player option for next season, a decision that is somewhat more tricky given the fallout from his ruptured Achilles sustained in Game 5. Aside from Durant, both Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins are set to become unrestricted free agents.

Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston aren't getting any younger.

Draymond Green turns 30 next year and could be looking for a big deal this time in 2020.

Even if Thompson stays and Durant leaves, the Warriors have so much money tied into current players that they won't have cap space to add any significant pieces around the current core. If this series taught us anything about the Warriors it's that they truly struggle against other great teams with Curry, Thompson, Green and not much else. It paints a picture that this Warriors team as currently constructed might have seen its final days as a true title contender.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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