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Suspension Journal: The cold reality of losing the (amazingly fun) 2019-20 Raptors

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What made the 2019-20 Raptors so easy to root for — and so hard to give up on? Let’s break down the ways.

How much fun are these guys? Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

While I’m not ready to say that I think the 2019-20 NBA season will be canceled, with no playoffs and no champion crowned, I have to admit that with every day that passes, such a cancelation seems more likely. Even with teams allowing players to start working out in team facilities again, an actual restart or even “bubble tournament” seems months away. And even then, will what we get at all resemble real NBA basketball or a real postseason? The logistics of making a professional sports league run at something close to normalcy are ridiculously daunting.

Which brings me to the 2019-20 Raptors, and the sobering thought that we may never see this team play ball again.

A couple weeks back — if time has any meaning anymore, I’m not sure of it — I wrote about the teams that are (maybe?) happy that the season is on hold, and the teams that are the most disappointed by the suspension.

I excluded the 2019-20 Raptors from the list, because they made me so sad, it simply didn’t seem fair to include them; I said they deserved their own column of sadness.

So here it is! Let’s reflect on what made this team so special and why it’s so heartbreaking to have lost them.

Championship Pride

I think this is the most obvious reason it sucks to have lost this team: they’re NBA champions, and they have lost the opportunity to defend their title. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green already tossed the monkey wrench into a traditional title defense last summer, but the guys that remained? They were as determined as all hell to defend that title, and they played like champions from the opening minute of the opening game.

And now that’s all gone. If no 2020 champion is crowned, then I suppose this team will still be defending its title next season — but more members of the 2019 team will then be gone. Heck, even if some bizarro finale to this season is reached, it won’t be the same as playing a full 82 games+playoffs. It stinks that this team lost that opportunity.

Free Agency Departures

Six members of the current team are free agents at the end of the season (whenever that may be): Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Malcolm Miller.

While Miller’s time has probably reached its end, losing Boucher and Hollis-Jefferson, both of whom have become fan favourite with their hustle and high energy, would be tough. Gasol hasn’t been with the team for long and missed most of this season, but everyone knows his value on defense — and of course, he was the MVP of the championship parade.

And losing Ibaka and VanVleet, two of the most beloved players on the team? Who had huuuuuge moments in last year’s playoffs, who were both playing the best ball of their respective careers this season?

It would be awful to lose any of them, but the idea of losing any (or all!?) of them without seeing them finish the season? Ugh.

Health

Discussing “health” has a very different meaning in the world of COVID-19 but as it relates to the 2019-20 Raptors, well, this team was banged up all year with pretty much every key player missing multiple games (shoutout to Iron Man Terence Davis). This is, a healthy roster seemed like it was just around the corner. Norman Powell was set to come back from his latest injury right when the season ended, and Marc Gasol seemed close behind. We’ve been robbed of seeing this team at full strength!

Imagine that: They win 60 games with the roster at less than full strength, then roll into the playoffs healthy, with all of their weapons and ridiculous depth, and a coach who knows how to get the most out of every player? The Bucks would not want to face that team. I’m so bummed that we didn’t get to see it.

Norman Powell’s Breakout Year

Despite those aforementioned injuries, Powell was having a career year. The numbers speak for themselves (16ppg, 4rpg, 2apg, on 50/40/84 shooting splits in 29mpg). But beyond that, the way he was playing — not rushing, under control, within the flow of the offense, making good decisions in space — it’s like someone flipped a switch on the guy and he finally become all the things we’ve wanted him to be for the last five years. To not get to see him finish out the season, and show off the New Norm in the playoffs, stinks.

The Most Fun Raptors Team Ever

Being a Raptors fan hasn’t always been easy — we’ve been overlooked and usually overmatched, we’ve suffered embarrassing and demoralizing defeats, and even the success the team has had has been extremely high-stress. This year, finally, it was different. Sure, the team may have been overlooked in the media, but they were the champs. No one was taking them lightly on the court, and the team played with a looseness and confidence that finally — finally! — eliminated the stress from rooting for them. They played hard, they played team ball, different guys contributed every night and they were never out of a game.

On top of all that, this Raptors team is just filled with guys that are easy to root for, whether they’re “come from nothing” stories like Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher, or undrafted success stories like Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis, or larger-than-life personalities like Serge Ibaka, or hard workers like Norm and Rondae, or a guy like Kyle Lowry finally getting the recognition he deserved years ago for being an ultimate competitor and winner — these are guys you want to see succeed, guys you want to cheer for.

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So there you have it: the 2019-20 Toronto Raptors were having an awesome season, a spirited championship success, and now that its been cut short and the reality of this team not coming back has started to set in... they are the ultimate COVID-19 suspension sadness team.