The journey to a championship is not founded on one game or one series or one season, and it appears the Toronto Raptors recognize that.
That clinching moment for the Raptors at Oracle Arena has left an indelible memory in the minds and hearts of fans, in fact, the entire playoff run has. But what makes the victory ever so sweeter is the friends we made along the way.
Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marc Gasol played crucial roles in leading the Raptors to the promised land, but them putting on Toronto’s uniform wouldn’t be possible without the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas taking the franchise as far as they could.
On Saturday, Valanciunas hinted that his efforts over seven years have been recognized by face of the franchise Kyle Lowry, at the very least, and that a championship ring is being sized for him.
Speaking with reporters in a scrum for Team Lithuania ahead of the FIBA World Cup in China, Valanciunas said, “Kyle texted me and said, ‘What’s your ring size?’” when asked about whether he expects to receive the coveted piece of jewelry that comes courtesy of winning the Larry O’B.
“I asked him, ‘What, wedding ring?”’ Valanciunas retorted. “We’ll see. I’m hopeful.”
Toronto’s basketball franchise was in turmoil a decade ago, before Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas — coached by Dwane Casey — spearheaded a remarkable turnaround on the court that saw them make five straight playoff appearances including a maiden voyage to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016.
After running into the brick wall of LeBron James for three straight years and losing 10 straight games to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the post-season, the time for change had come. First, Casey was fired and Nick Nurse was hired. Then came the trade of DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green ahead of the 2018-19 season, before Masai Ujiri and the front office pushed all their chips to the middle of the table at the February trade deadline by sending Valanciunas to Memphis along with Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round pick for Gasol.
Valanciunas was selected fifth overall by the Raptors in the 2011 NBA Draft, and came over a year later after spending some extra time playing in Europe. He averaged just over 12 points and 8.5 rebounds during his time in Toronto, before thriving in an expanded role for the Grizzlies with 19.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 19 games.
While there were polarizing opinions on his value to the team, his dedication and commitment to the Raptors franchise was never in question. If the Lithuanian were to receive a ring, it would likely be on March 30, 2019 when the Grizzlies travel to Toronto for their sole visit.
You don’t win a game of chess with just the queen, and the Raptors awarding rings to those who played a pivotal role in getting to the point of checkmate would be a truly classy gesture.
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