2015 Toronto Raptors
The Raptors’ biggest strengths coming into the season are chemistry and continuity. Since every NBA team loves to compare itself to the San Antonio Spurs, it’s encouraging to note the aspects of the Raptors franchise that do actually fall in line with the Spurs’ more storied philosophy.
The Raptors of 2014-15 boast a team that has now played together for a season or more with clearly defined roles for everyone on the roster. The new additions come in largely as supporting parts (Williams for scoring, James Johnson for defense) and the key players sound eager to build on the accomplishments of last year. What’s more, the team’s youngest starters, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, are now entering year three with a lot of the same teammates, coaching staff and organizational culture. For a young team, this kind of growth together is significant. It solidifies Ujiri’s mission to build a winning attitude in what has long been seen as a “loser” city.
The mandate for this Raptors team is clear: make it to the second round of the playoffs and challenge for a spot in the Eastern Conference Final. There are some obvious obstacles in the way of this goal: the reborn Cleveland Cavaliers, the restocked Chicago Bulls, and the resurgent Washington Wizards are also prime contenders to make it to the ECF – with the former two teams also favorites for the NBA Finals.
Still, the Raptors (and their fans) are past the “just happy to be here” stage. Toronto has long been operating as a middling NBA team, both competitively and culturally speaking. There have been other fairly recent playoff appearances, sure, but most pundits and prognosticators have never really taken the Raptors seriously. For this season to be a success, the Raptors will need to force the NBA media and basketball fans to acknowledge a singular notion: this team is for real.