The Whiteboard, Toronto Raptors

The Whiteboard: Have the Raptors remade their playoff psyche?

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Are they finally gonna win the East this year? Hard to say. Can they win the title? Feasibly, sure. But what the Raptors gave themselves is a better chance to do both those things than years past.

For the better part of this decade, Toronto put together strong regular season campaigns and came up short in the playoffs. Teams can only make that uphill climb so many times before their treads become ruts. They turned over enough of that soil in the past 10 months to reset their collective spirit.

Regardless of the 2019’s outcome, hats go off to Masai Ujiri. He recognized the Raptors possessed a formidable, yet defined ceiling. Instead of residing in complacency and hoping to catch a break, he swung for the fences.

He made the hard decision of firing Dwane Casey — two days after winning coach of the year no less — and replaced him with Nick Nurse.

In upgrading to Kawhi Leonard from DeMar DeRozan, landing Danny Green, and swapping out Jonas Valanciunas for Marc Gasol, he made a good team more versatile and better all-around, with the potential to be a defensive powerhouse. Ujiri’s probably going to win executive of the year, and he should.

Toronto boasts the third-best point differential in the entire league, along with the fifth-highest offensive and defensive ratings.

In addition to raising its ceiling, Toronto heightened its urgency. This isn’t a “well, there’s always next year” team. Leonard could bolt in the summer. Gasol and Kyle Lowry are old. While they have the silver lining of not being anchored by any long-term contracts, the Raptors’ demarcated window is now and only now. Their future uncertainty could give them the exigence they always needed.

Perhaps the largest boost to Toronto’s psyche comes with an internal x-factor: The ascendency of Pascal Siakam. His transformation from bench sparkplug to two-way force playing 32 minutes a night put him in the frontrunning for the Most Improved Player award. More importantly, he gives the Raptors a reliable complementary piece if Leonard has an off night or Playoff Lowry rears its ugly head.

Having a consistent third option to lean on every game is what they lacked in the past. Going in with that answer instead of speculating who will step up each game should make the biggest mental difference for Toronto’s postseason hopes.

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