The Toronto Raptors will get the opportunity to celebrate the team’s first-ever championship before they tip off to open the season Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Players and management will receive their rings and watch the franchise’s first championship banner go up into the rafters. The Raptors took down the reigning champs Golden State Warriors in six games in the NBA Finals, ending a playoff run that saw Toronto beat the Orlando Magic, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Raptors forward Serge Ibaka told reporters he was feeling “grateful” for the upcoming moment on Monday.
“This is my 11th year in the league. All the things I’ve been dreaming, it’s happening.”
With NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard taking his talent to the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason and Danny Green signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Raptors are not favourites to repeat.
Las Vegas sportsbooks have Toronto anywhere from a 35-1 pick to a 50-1 shot to win another title.
However, Ibaka said they shouldn’t be counted out just yet.
“We’re still good … We’ve got players who can play,” he said. “After the NBA Finals, everybody got toughness, mental toughness. We know how hard it is to win games. We know how to play together and we don’t give up. We’re good, man.”
The Raptors still have their core of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, along with Ibaka. OG Anunoby and Norm Powell highlight the bench, with newcomers Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Matt Thomas rounding out the roster.
The team announced it signed Siakam, the NBA’s most improved player from last year, to a four-year, $130-million deal on Monday, which will kick in for the 2020-21 season.
The 27th overall pick in 2016 is coming off a breakout season and said he welcomes the added pressure to continue his dominant play.
“It’s something that I love to do and I take pleasure playing the game of basketball. It’s just an exciting year and a lot of opportunities for a lot of us with a lot of young guys stepping into new roles,” he told Global News at the Right To Play gala Thursday night where he was honoured with the Athlete Hero Award.
Head coach Nick Nurse has been trying out different looks and lineups during training camp and the pre-season. He has the luxury of going really big if he wants to and can also rely on a variety of three-point weapons.
“It’s a good team,” Nurse said. “I don’t know how it will all shake out but I think it’s a team that’s very capable of winning a lot of games and being really tough to beat.”
Unfortunately, fans of the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson won’t be able to get a glimpse of the first overall pick Tuesday, as the 19-year-old is expected to miss six to eight weeks after undergoing knee surgery.
Before the game, Toronto Mayor John Tory will unveil the street sign for Raptors Way, ceremonially renamed from Bremner Boulevard.
Fans can hit up Jurassic Park to watch the game outside the arena on the new outdoor screen, which is 37 per cent bigger than the old one.
Tip-off is scheduled for 8:02 p.m. at Scotiabank Arena. The pre-game ceremony is set to start at 7:24 p.m.
—With files from The Canadian Press