What Can Utah Learn From Toronto’s Bold Path To NBA Finals?

May 31, 2019, 12:06 PM

Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder (99) shoots in front of Toronto Raptors guard Danny Green (14) during...

Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder (99) shoots in front of Toronto Raptors guard Danny Green (14) during an NBA game at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. The Jazz lost 124-111. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Toronto Raptors took big risks with their offseason moves last summer and it seems to be paying off in this season’s NBA Finals.

After winning Game 1 over the Golden State Warriors, it’s clear that the Raptors have a legitimate shot at claiming their first ever title.

The Raptors’ success didn’t come without making some hard decisions before the year began. Days after Toronto was swept in the playoffs by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team fired head coach Dwane Casey, who had led the Raptors to a franchise record 59 wins that season and was later named the NBA’s Coach of the Year.

In his place, the Raptors elevated assistant coach Nick Nurse, who was considered a rising star in the coaching ranks, to the top spot.

Later, in July, the team traded longtime franchise centerpiece DeMar DeRozan along with Jakob Poeltl and a first round draft pick to San Antonio to land Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. It was considered to be an extremely risky move as Leonard had just one year remaining on his contract and was rumored to be interested in moving on to play with LeBron in Los Angeles.

The Raptors went into the 2018-19 season knowing that Leonard might be just a one year rental and that this year might be their best and only chance at a championship.

After Thursday’s 118-109 win over the Warriors, the Raptors are in great shape to validate their bold offseason moves.

Should the Raptors topple the mighty Warriors and win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the impact of their decision-making could have rippling effects on how NBA general managers and teams think about team-building.

The Raptors’ “win-now” approach is a big contrast from how the Utah Jazz have constructed their roster.

Ever since the Jazz traded Deron Williams in February 2011 and hired Dennis Lindsey as the general manager in 2012, the modus operandi for the team has been slow and methodical team-building with player development as the central idea in improving year-by-year.

It’s had some good results, especially under head coach Quin Snyder, who is considered to be an excellent coach in terms of player development. After winning just 25 games in 2013-14, the year before Snyder was hired, the Jazz have risen to consistently compete for 50 wins in a season.

The Jazz have built a playoff-caliber roster under Lindsey, who has often stated the importance of not skipping steps along the way.

Utah is a good team, but as Jazz forward Jae Crowder stated in his end of year media availability, it’s much harder to go from good to great than it is to go from trash to good.

The Raptors made the jump from good to great this year and are now just three wins away from the ultimate prize. It’s a place that Jazz fans would love to be in, so the question must be asked: what can Utah learn from Toronto?

It’s possible that rather than build a team that can be fun, likable and consistently better each year as the Jazz have done, teams that are good like Utah may take a look at going all-in to become elite for one shot at the championship.

It’s an interesting idea and the true test of Toronto’s strategy, besides the Finals of course, will be if the Raptors can convince Leonard to stay long-term and sustain the team’s current high level of play. If the Raptors don’t win and Leonard bolts for another team, the experiment will be considered a failure.

Following Toronto’s blueprint to the letter is probably not the best approach for the Jazz or other teams. In Utah’s case, replacing an elite head coach like Snyder would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Don’t plan on that happening anytime soon.

It may also be tough to pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade for a superstar on a one-year deal like the one that landed Leonard in Toronto. It seems likely that the Jazz would ever give away the kind of assets to land such a player. However, as the Raptors are showing, the risk is sometimes worth the reward.

Toronto’s approach is very different than how the Jazz have done business, but it seems to be working for the Raptors. Things are going to be different in the NBA if they end up winning the championship.

Whether or not it’ll have any effect on Lindsey’s strategy, time will tell.

It’s definitely worth thinking about.

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What Can Utah Learn From Toronto’s Bold Path To NBA Finals?