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Three Lessons from the 2019 NBA Finals

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The Raptors’ victory over the Warriors provided inspiration, insight, and a cautionary tale.

NBA: Finals-Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors are the 2019 NBA Champions, courtesy of a 114-110 Game 6 win over the Golden State Warriors last night. Blazer’s Edge offers congratulations to the Raptors and their fans. It’s the first NBA title for a great city with an impassioned base of support. Enjoy!

As we move on from the series and the season, I was left with a couple take-aways.

There’s nothing like a championship

The Raptors have gone deep in the playoffs before. Under Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, they made the Eastern Conference Finals while winning 50+ games and advancing to at least the second round of the playoffs for three straight years. 2018-19 marked their sixth straight appearance in the post-season. Even without the ring run, it was clearly the best era in franchise history.

Right now, today, ask the players, the executives, and the fan base if they’d trade the title for all of the rest of it combined. My guess is that, universally, they’d answer no. This is the standard. Watching the players and the crowds afterwards confirmed its uniqueness. Notice, too, how the Warriors reacted when they fell just short, despite finishing the season as the second best team overall.

That big, gold-colored trophy is real and enduring; everything else is just words.

The trade for Kawhi Leonard was justified

DeRozan was a beloved figure in Toronto. The Raptors drafted him 9th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. He played for nine straight seasons in Toronto, averaging 20 points per game, making four NBA All-Star appearances. They traded him to rent Leonard, whose presumed interest lies elsewhere. Leonard has a player option on the final year of his contract and will certainly become a free agent this summer; Toronto has no control over his decision to stay or leave.

Trading the franchise stalwart for a hired hand was the right move. It brought a championship. It put the Raptors on a possible list of destinations for Leonard when they wouldn’t have cracked the Top 20 prior. Whether or not Kawhi stays is beside the point. They did what they had to do in order to win.

This could influence any number of teams considering sensible packages for Anthony Davis this summer, who is in the same situation as Leonard was last year.

Golden State’s injuries provide a cautionary tale

Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both left the NBA Finals with injuries. They’re eligible for free agency this summer. We don’t know how this will affect their contract negotiations. Odds are that both men will do fine, as they’re established stars. If not, each has been paid well for their services.

Neither injury is expected to be career-ending, but even if they were, Thompson would walk away from the NBA having earned $60 million, Durant over $190 million (assuming he’d pick up the last year of his deal with the Warriors under those circumstances). Those dollars came fairly, off of duly-earned contracts.

The injuries are sad, career-altering and league-altering for a year or two, but everybody is going to walk away with something.

Imagine if a similar fate befell a younger player without a track record, with less bargaining power, coming off of lower-level contracts. The gravity of the situation would increase.

Now imagine that player had inked a “discount” deal to help out his team for a year, as fans of capped-out franchises like the Trail Blazers occasionally pine for. Envision a player limping off the court—not just walking away from the season, but from $30-40 million he would have earned with a fair contract—holding only the short-term, underpaid guarantee he actually signed for. We’re into horror-story territory here.

NBA players are people. To the extent we love and enjoy them, we have to love and enjoy them as human beings. If a player turned down good money to play for the Blazers on a team-friendly, single-year contract because Portland’s cap wasn’t right, I wouldn’t be rooting for the cap ledger. My heart would be in my throat all season long, right up to the moment that player actually got paid what they were worth, in writing, guaranteed. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d ever feel comfortable seeing that player’s sneakers on the hardwood until he was compensated.

Injuries are not theoretical. Bill Walton, Brandon Roy, and Jusuf Nurkic will testify, let alone Durant, Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins. Root all you want for the players in your uniform, but root for the careers and families of the guys beneath that fabric too. That includes wanting them to get paid when it’s due, even if it costs your franchise.

—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge /