My, how time has flown by.
A banner year in basketball in Canada is just about over and, boy, did a lot happen.
The Toronto Raptors were crowned as NBA champions. Then Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors’ Finals MVP, bolted for the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a greater wave of player movement during the NBA’s off-season. Other players in that wave: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant leaving the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets; Paul George joining Leonard with the Clippers; and even Kemba Walker leaving the Charlotte Hornets for the Celtics. (Oh, and Anthony Davis got traded to the Los Angeles Lakers after months of anticipation.)
In short, 2019 was kind of nuts in the Association, and 2020 is sure to have even more surprises in store – we hope, at least.
And with that anticipation for the new year in mind, here are four bold predictions for basketball in 2020.
1. The Toronto Raptors will repeat as NBA champions
Around this time last year, a certain writer who may or may not also be writing these same bold predictions proclaimed the Raptors would win the 2019 NBA title.
We obviously know how that went, so, despite warnings to quit while we’re ahead, we’re doing it again. Because why not?
Look, despite injury, this team is still 21-8 and sitting in a very respectable fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
As Masai Ujiri always likes to remind us, we should have faith that this Raptors team is actually pretty good, even sans a dominant superstar like Leonard.
What did Rudy Tomjanovich say again? Oh, right: “Never underestimate the heart of a champion!”
2. The city of Los Angeles will not be represented in the NBA Finals
Here’s another one that’ll probably leave you scratching your head. Yes, both the Lakers and Clippers are very, very good this season, and given the market those teams play in they’ve tended to dominate the national conversation. But to bank on an all-L.A. “Hallway Series” Western Conference Finals would be discrediting how dangerous teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets have been this season as well.
And even if you aren’t necessarily buying the other West contenders, there’s still reason for concern for both the Lakers and Clippers.
Starting with the purple and gold, no matter how awesome they’ve been thus far, they do still appear to be a team that lacks a lot of depth, something that could come back to bite them in the playoffs.
The Clippers, on the other hand, aren’t wanting for depth. But given the injury histories of both Leonard and George, it’s tough to say how healthy they’ll be come the spring.
3. Team Canada will win gold at the Tokyo Olympic Summer Games
The Olympic Games are next year and we’re willing to bet the most captivating story for Canadian audiences will be the play of Canada’s national basketball team.
The women’s team, more specifically.
There’s absolutely no guarantee that the men’s program will get it together and qualify for the Olympics at the OQT in Victoria in late June, but the women are a much, much surer bet. So sure, in fact, that the February OQT they must participate in is just a formality.
Canada is currently ranked No. 4 in the world and, unlike the men, commitment to the national program is never an issue. In most cases between Olympic cycles, the team has been fully loaded, which means chemistry shouldn’t be a factor. This team already knows how to play together.
With talent like Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton leading the way, there’s rightful expectation that Canada will medal in Tokyo once they get there. The question is really just what colour the hardware will be. There’s no reason to believe it can’t be gold.
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4. Coach’s challenges will be abolished
This is more a hope and less a prediction because, let’s face it, these coach’s challenges have been rough.
I know we want to get the call right and everything, and there have been cases of successful coach’s challenges erasing incorrect calls. But, in general, these appear to be universally reviled by coaches and break the flow of a game even more than the already far-too-many reviews we see nowadays anyway.
What’s the most common complaint you hear about basketball on TV? How all the timeouts in the final minute of a tight game can extend those final 60 seconds into oblivion, right?
Well, coach’s challenges just exacerbate that problem.
Even worse, the risk for a coach to use a challenge certainly doesn’t warrant the reward. Losing a challenge means a team loses a valuable timeout, but winning one means you just win it and then you’ve used your one challenge for the game. Why not reward a successful challenge with another challenge?
Or, you know, just scrap the entire thing.