Fred VanVleet, Raptors ‘laughed’ when people counted them out after Kawhi Leonard left
Despite the departure of Kawhi Leonard in free agency, Fred VanVleet and the Toronto Raptors racked up the second-best record in the Eastern Conference before the 2019-20 season was suspended in March due to COVID-19.
Prior to the start of the 2019-20 campaign, most NBA pundits picked the Raptors to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the East. VanVleet and his Toronto teammates heard those predictions and all they could do was laugh.
“I think it was almost laughable for us. We laughed. It wasn’t such a disrespect (thing) this time around, because we just won… We’re not used to getting pats on the back or flowers so it’s not really that different for us,” the Raptors backup guard shared, per Josh Lewenberg of The Sports Network
It was incredible to watch the Raptors still play like an elite team despite the Leonard exit.
Rising star Pascal Siakam took his game to another level, with his usage rate increasing sans Leonard. Moreover, Fred VanVleet became more consistent and set himself up for a huge payday in the offseason when he becomes a free agent.
Additionally, veterans Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka have been the calming forces in the locker room that the Raptors needed to be successful without Leonard and veteran shooting guard Danny Green.
Toronto won 46 games before Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert contracted COVID-19 in March. Once the 2020 playoffs start, most basketball observers expect the Raptors to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season. Toronto, thanks to Leonard, won the 2019 East Finals in six games over Milwaukee despite falling behind in the series 0-2.
Without Leonard, the only way the Raptors are going to shock the world again and win the championship is if Siakam plays like a superstar.