The worst year in recent memory is finally coming to an end and we can all be thankful for that.
COVID-19 dominated every aspect of 2020 since it reared its ugly head in March, but that wasn’t the only part of the year that proved devastating.
In basketball, we lost the great David Stern, Jerry Sloan and, most tragically, Kobe Bryant. Three titans of basketball who left an indelible mark on the game.
Not all was tragic in basketball this year, however.
No matter how much flak he took, we can probably all thank Rudy Gobert for making us realize just how serious a matter the coronavirus really was. We also saw an inspiring movement for social and racial justice that was partially spearheaded by the NBA’s players. And, hey, the bubble basketball was pretty damn good, too.
As we put 2020 in the rearview, dare I say there’s reason for hope? People are already starting to get vaccinated, and the NBA season will be moving ahead likely looking safer and safer each day.
So sticking with this theme, here’s four bold predictions in basketball for the coming year of the more optimistic variety.
1. Kawhi Leonard will return to Toronto
This obviously bummed out Raptors fans who had convinced themselves that Antetokounmpo was as good as signed, but not to fear because “Plan B” is also pretty good.
Remember that summer not so long ago when the Raptors traded for some dude named Kawhi Leonard and then the team went on to win the championship in the subsequent season?
Well, it could happen. Nay, it will happen.
Not exactly, of course, as Leonard won’t be traded for, but he can become an unrestricted free agent this off-season should he choose to opt out of his current contract — and given the fact he’s still in his prime, there’s a solid chance he will choose to maximize his earning potential.
Barring the Los Angeles Clippers figuring it all out this season and winning a title, you can’t really discount the possibility of Leonard maybe wanting to move to a situation where he can win another championship.
Enter the Raptors, a team and culture Leonard is already familiar with, and one he knows can be relied upon to help get the job done in the post-season.
The cap space figures to be there, and both parties already know what the other is about, so why can’t a second go-around with Leonard happen?
2. The Raptors will play home games in Toronto in the second half of this season
This is primarily fuelled by a desire to see the world return to normal again, but how great would it be if in the second half of this current NBA season, after making assessments and talking to the different levels of government, that the Raptors would be allowed to return to Toronto to play out the rest of their season?
Tampa, Fla., has been gracious enough to offer the Raptors a temporary home, but it’s still a little odd to see. This is a team that represents the city of Toronto and the country of Canada, and to have the club’s home somewhere south of the border doesn’t feel right.
Therefore, we’re going to get through these first two months of the new year in an all-out fight against COVID and reduce those daily numbers enough to bring the Raptors home for real come March.
3. Both Canadian teams will medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games
Because of COVID-19, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo were pushed back to 2021.
Despite the delay, however, the anticipation for the Games remains the same as ever, and perhaps even more for Canada Basketball.
Both the men’s and women’s teams are going to find their way to the Olympic podium this summer and the rationale is simple: The talent will be there.
For the women, commitment and dedication to their No. 4–ranked team in the world has never been an issue. Blessed with lots of WNBA talent — highlighted by Kia Nurse — the Canadian women’s basketball team is good enough to not only medal but to win a gold medal.
As for the men, the truncated nature of the NBA season could allow for many of the nation’s top NBA talent to be available for the Victoria Olympic qualifier in early July. That’ll be a tough tournament, but if enough of Canada’s top dogs can suit up there then they should be able to win it and advance to the Games proper, where every major Canadian should be available.
Should Canada’s men’s team reach the Olympics, the amount of NBA talent the nation has is second only to the United States, and that amount of talent should translate to a podium finish.
4. Luka Doncic will lead the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA title
Though he’ll turn just 22 near the end of February, Luka Doncic has the potential to take up the mantle of “world’s best player” as early as this season.
According to OddsShark, the Mavericks entered the season with just the ninth-best odds to win the championship. But Doncic’s electric play will surely increase the Mavericks’ chances.
With the exception of consistent three-point shooting, Doncic can do everything on the basketball court, and he’ll take an even more ascendant step this season by winning MVP, helping the Mavericks to a top-three seed in the West and then going on a playoff run for the ages, capping off with what will be his first NBA title in a career that seems destined to include multiple.