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With the Maple Leafs and Raptors each having their best team perhaps ever recorded on paper this year, is it too early to call now or never for Toronto Sports?
For the Raptors it is fair to call this the now-or-never season. With a superstar like Kawhi Leonard on your roster and the very likely potential he will play elsewhere next season, I strictly believe this may be the best shot the Raptors organisation has to ever win. The Raptors are still a competitive team without Leonard but would certainly miss the veteran leadership he brings to the table each and every night. It kills me to see Demar in a Spurs jersey for many different reasons, but a 12-3 start helps me see past that and understand why as of right now, this trade is what is best for business. While early still, we have seen in the past that a lot can change between now and April in the NBA. With injuries an inevitability in any game, the Raptors have already begun thinking about the long term with Kawhi's playing schedule.
This is not an all or nothing season just because Kawhi may not be there next season, but because much of the East has improved in the last few years, including most recently the 76ers with the acquisition of Jimmy Butler and Boston through the draft of Tatum. Boston can and most likely will also look to the trade market to try and make themselves more of a threat heading into 2019. Toronto would in my mind still be a playoff team without Kawhi because they still have a very deep second unit but they would not beat Philly or Boston in the playoffs without Kawhi.
So while if we the fans are okay with first or second round playoff exits for the foreseeable future, then maybe this is not a one and done season. However, the point of business and team building is to get better and not stagnate. We shall see if somehow Kawhi wants to be on a perennial contender or he wants to have a team built around him. Either way, the Raptor's future is intriguing; his inevitable choice just determines the potential stories that come.
Will the Raps win the NBA championship in 2018-2019? Not if they play Golden State at full health. Toronto loses in 6 if they play GS. If they play another strong contender from the West who knocks off GS in 7, they could win. That is a long way to go and perhaps maybe we might see it happen.
As far the Toronto Maple Leafs, this is a team that is so easy to make fun of because their last championship occurred in 1967. My dad was 12-years-old. Let that sink in. In 51 years, the Leafs have not put together a championship calibre team. It's safe to rule out this season as the particular do or die season but with a major off season looming for the Leafs, why not just roll with the mentality that it is all or nothing?
For John Tavares, it certainly is not a do or die season. For a man who is signed for seven seasons, he probably immediately saw the gaping hole Toronto faces with their lack of defense to help them win games. While a 13-6 start is very good for a team that has had a lot of bad luck over the last half century, with Matthews out it makes sense that the team struggles a bit as they are designed to purely outshoot and hopefully outscore their opponents. This team does not feel designed to play a long term defensive chess match in a gruelling 7-game series. Tavares is good as a mentor to young forwards like Matthews and Marner and hopefully Nylander if all things work out. However, adding Tavares to something that no one was worried about to begin with seems like a step in the wrong direction. Bringing Tavares home with the acquisition of a top 6 defenseman would have pointed to the Leafs being all in and not being afraid to let the chips fall where they may in the upcoming free agency.
I believe next year the Leafs will look almost the same as they do now while still needing a solid D-Man. With the offense they have now, it may be time to look at one of your young studs as a potential means to take the next step forward. While winning and even having a winning team does not seem to have an impact on the Leafs and their fan loyalty, it seems like now would be a good time to go all in and finally give almost three generations a chance to see something that can almost be dubbed a once in a lifetime event.
Right now, the Leafs in their current form are not quite Stanley Cup Winners because Frederik Anderson can only face so many shots before he lets one in. The Leafs are one key piece away from taking that next step. While having the hometown hero in Tavares and the golden boy in Matthews, it does not fix what has ultimately plagued this team for 51 years. They have not had a championship calibre team.