By CATHAL KELLY
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
TORONTO -- We learned two important things at the Toronto Raptors' oversubscribed victory parade on Monday.
First, parades are nice. In theory.
Second, that the Raptors' bosses feel like they have gotten in on the ground floor of Facebook or Google. The triumvirate - co-owner Larry Tanenbaum, Bell chief executive officer George Cope and Rogers chairman Edward Rogers - weren't just giddy as children when interviewed on TV, they were dressed like them.
There's nothing that says, "I've arrived!" like a bunch of rich guys ditching the suits to get kitted out in team swag.
Rogers talked about being "committed" to building "a dynasty," which is a good applause line. However, NBA owners don't build anything but arenas. Players build dynasties. The question now is - do the Raptors have the personnel, the will, the juice and the longevity to build one of those? And the definitive answer is, "Maybe."
All of this is dependent on Kawhi Leonard and the choice he will be free to make come July 1.
The Raptors can offer him far more money than anyone else - about US$50-million or so. There are ways to mitigate Leonard's tax burden so that the money he earns here is comparable, on a yearly take-home basis, with most U.S. states.
So if money is an issue for Leonard, that's good for Toronto.
They can offer him stability and control. They may even go so far as to offer him a nudge-nudge wink-wink understanding that if he is unhappy after a couple of seasons, they will agree to trade him. Leonard is in the position to ask for anything and probably get it.
Let us assume Leonard signs.
That's one star secured. You need others.
Marc Gasol would be wise to opt into the final year on his current deal. He's still valuable, but old and slipping. By next year, people will be talking about how smart he is, instead of how good he is.
Kyle Lowry has one year left on his contract. He's not old, exactly, but the law of averages tells us he has entered his declining years. Slower and more injury-prone is not what you want in a starting point guard.
Danny Green is a free agent and would very much like to return to Toronto. That will depend entirely on how little money he is willing to settle for because there won't be much of it available to him in Canada.
That's three holes in the starting rotation that will need to be filled soon-ish, and probably not by the men currently occupying those spaces.
So the core of this theoretical dynasty will be Leonard and Pascal Siakam. Cult hero Fred VanVleet and snake-bitten forward O.G. Anunoby might be core guys some day, but not yet.
Two guys can make a championship-level core in the NBA.
The Lakers just dealt away half their roster, all their future draft picks, the team bus and a time share in Cabo for all-star Anthony Davis.
That makes the Lakers a team made up of LeBron James, Davis and 13 other breathing humans.
Is that enough? Vegas thinks so. It has installed L.A. as the odds-on favourite to win next year's title.
But a core core, a great core, a dynasty-type core, usually means three or four all-NBA-level players. Golden State had four (though by the end of the Finals they were down to two). The Miami Heat dynasty had three.
Cleveland had LeBron when he was LeBron. Now he's Mr. James, and the mere sight of him is no longer enough to win games.
Where will these other one or two "dynasty" players come from? That's why Masai Ujiri gets paid so much. To find them.
You're not going to get one with the 59th pick in the draft - the Raptors' only current slot.
You might trade up for a better prospect. Say, Lowry and someone for a decent pick.
That's a gamble and, if done in this moment, an enormous bummer. But Ujiri has proven himself ruthless when he needs to be.
You could go out and sign a star, but that means jettisoning some current payroll. Since your hot NBA garbage only gets you back someone else's hot NBA garbage, that's a difficult proposition. The only real way to shed salary in this league is to let contracts expire. So there will be no ambitious reload until 2021.
So if there is to be a dynasty, it's on Leonard to build it. Toronto went hard at him on Monday - the mayor gave him the key to the city; the Prime Minister went all Mean Gene in front of him; his colleagues praised him to the skies.
Leonard himself said nothing.
"Thank you and, like [the other players] said, enjoy this moment and have fun with it."
The only message - coded or otherwise - was a closing, "A-ha.
Ha. Haaa" - presumably a last laugh. His teammates all popped out of their chairs, delighted.
Well, at least there is camaraderie as well as money on offer.
The Raptors could return next year with essentially the same team. With a little salary juggling, that's possible. But it is important to remember that, by and large, they were lucky as well as good this year. Nobody was badly injured when it mattered.
They turned on their heat check at all the right moments. And there was "the Shot."
It's hard to replicate that kind of kismet, even with the same guys. Other teams in the East are going to get better. Boston might figure it out. Milwaukee will be experienced as well as talented.
So, even in a best-case scenario, it's never going to be a predictable, Warriors-type dynasty.
But strange things can happen.
We just witnessed a continuing one over the past two months.
Raptors play-by-play announcer Matt Devlin speaks to the crowd during the championship rally in Toronto on Monday. Now that the celebrations are over, questions will arise, the main one being: Do the Raptors have the personnel, the will, the juice and the longevity to build a dynasty?
NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Fans crowd University Avenue in Toronto as double-decker buses carrying the Raptors basketball team slowly make their way to Nathan Phillips Square on Monday. More than one million supporters lined the streets as the team travelled to Toronto City Hall to celebrate its 2019 NBA Finals win.
FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Wearing a vintage Damon Stoudamire jersey, Kyle Lowry holds up the Larry O'Brien trophy and points to the crowd during the Raptors' victory parade in Toronto on Monday. Stoudamire, a former teammate of Lowry's in Memphis, was the Raptors' first draft pick back in 1995.
FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Fan favourite Pascal Siakam takes a long swig of Champagne as his bus winds its way to Nathan Phillips Square. Siakam proved integral to the team's wins in Games 1 and 6 of the Finals.
MELISSA TAIT/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Fans climb up the arches spanning the reflecting pool in front of Toronto City Hall to get a better look on Monday.
NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri fist-bumps a young fan after signing his jersey during a victory parade on Monday to celebrate the team's Finals win.
MELISSA TAIT/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL