The ripple effects that emerge following an NBA Finals series are aplenty, especially when it comes to reflecting on the winners and losers from both sides.
With that in mind, here are some winners and losers from the 2019 NBA Finals.
Winner: Load management
Preserving Kawhi Leonard’s body by holding him out of 22 regular-season games with “load management” is now widely considered an overwhelming success, if it wasn’t already. The two-time NBA Finals MVP just put the finishing touches on one of the greatest post-season runs in league history, leading all players in minutes, points, field goals made, free throws made, steals, while also finishing second in rebounds.
For further context, consider: Leonard’s 732 points are the third-most scored by a player in a single post-season in NBA history.
Leonard has gone on record saying how without the terrific work of the Raptors’ medical staff with regards to load management he, “wouldn’t be here right now.”
Let’s take that for what it’s worth.
Loser: Warriors medical staff
While Toronto’s medical team, led by director of sports science, Alex McKechnie, has appropriately been lauded for its work with Leonard, Golden State’s medical staff came under serious scrutiny during the Finals, especially after what transpired in Games 5 and 6.
Down 3-1 in the series, the Warriors cleared Kevin Durant to return from a calf injury that’d kept him out the past nine games, despite the superstar forward only participating in one practice prior. What made the decision even more puzzling is how, after being cleared for game action, Durant wasn’t put on any sort of minutes restriction. He wound up playing 12 of the first 14 minutes in Game 5 before collapsing to the floor early in the second quarter with what turned out to be a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Of course hindsight is 20/20, but that doesn’t make the Warriors’ choice to rush Durant back any less defendable. Durant is now expected to miss the entire 2019-20 season, and may not return as the all-NBA calibre talent we’ve come to appreciate.
Making matters worse, Klay Thompson suffered a torn ACL in Golden State’s very next game just three days later.
Winner: Kyle Lowry
Along with DeMar DeRozan, Lowry was labelled by many as a playoff bust given the Raptors’ numerous post-season failures in recent years. But with his first NBA title now secured, all the negative narratives surrounding ‘Playoff Lowry’ are rendered meaningless.
The longest-tenured Raptor was a driving force in the team’s historic title pursuit, providing all the hustle plays and patented timely charges. Lowry led the post-season in charges taken. And when the floor general was leaned on as a primary scorer in by far the most important game of his career, Lowry delivered in emphatic fashion.
When future generations look back on this captivating decade of Raptors basketball, no one will remember the teams featuring Lowry that fell short. Instead, they’ll remember one important fact: Kyle Lowry helped deliver Canada its first NBA championship.
Loser: New York Knicks owner James Dolan
Regarded as one of the worst owners in professional sports, Dolan must be kicking himself following Toronto’s title win. After all, a decision he made wound up setting in motion the Raptors’ most successful years in franchise history.
In 2013, Dolan reportedly vetoed a trade with the Raptors that would have sent Lowry to New York in exchange for Iman Shumpert, Metta World Peace and a first-round pick. Having been on the short-end of a 2011 blockbuster deal headlined by Carmelo Anthony — a trade also negotiated by Ujiri, Denver’s GM at the time — Dolan nixed the trade because he feared he’d be taken advantage of once again.
Instead of continuing down the path of a full-on rebuild — the Raptors traded Rudy Gay a couple of weeks earlier — Ujiri wound up keeping Lowry in Toronto, changing the trajectory of Raptors basketball for the better in the process whether he knew it at the time or not.
Winner: Masai Ujiri
Where do we even begin? The Leonard trade feels like an appropriate place to start.
Trading away a franchise icon wasn’t a popular decision by any means, but in Ujiri’s case was a necessary risk to take. Credit the former NBA Executive of the Year for keeping the bigger picture in mind and pulling the trigger on a deal that instantly raised the Raptors’ ceiling. If he hadn’t, the Raptors likely don’t make the jump from playoff pretenders to legitimate title contenders.
For a deep dive into the six most crucial moves Ujiri made when building the Raptors’ championship roster, be sure to check out Donnovan Bennett’s piece from before the Finals got underway.
Loser: NBA scheduling
After witnessing the Warriors break down in the Finals — both literally and figuratively — the NBA’s scheduling debate is likely to re-emerge. And it should.
The rigours of playing 100-plus games in four of the past five seasons would impact even the most durable of athletes, which is something the Warriors found out first-hand. So it’s worth asking: Would the Warriors have looked as utterly exhausted as they did at times in these Finals if the team’s stars didn’t have thousands of playoff minutes already on their odometers?
Just to be clear, we’re not singling-out scheduling as an excuse for why the Warriors lost the Finals. Instead, we’re highlighting the idea that a group tasked with playing in 20-plus more games than most teams over a five-year span would unsurprisingly lead to wear and tear; Injuries are unpredictable, but they’re certainly more likely to occur if the body is under duress from being over-worked.
Expect discussions about adjusting the length of the regular season to intensify over the summer, especially in the wake of injuries to two of the league’s most marketable stars in Durant and Thompson.
Winner: Nick Nurse
Just over 12 months after being introduced as the ninth head coach in Raptors history, Nurse must be feeling like he’s on cloud nine. Winning an NBA title as a rookie head coach would have that effect, one would think.
Nurse became only the fifth rookie head coach to win a championship since the 1976 NBA/ABA merger, joining an impressive list of coaching greats:
Replacing a reigning Coach of the Year, while simultaneously integrating a superstar into a new offensive system, may have overwhelmed some. Not Nurse though; he proved he was more than up to the task.
Loser: Mark Stevens
Anyone using common sense knows they should never initiate an altercation with a player from the stands of an arena when watching a professional sporting event. For Stevens, that clearly didn’t register during Game 3 of the Finals.
The Warriors minority owner’s reputation in NBA circles took a major hit after he shoved Lowry from his court-side seat, and rightfully so.