With questions surrounding whether the Toronto Raptors will be able to defend their NBA championship, the team remained defiant, saying their goal hasn’t changed.
Coming off a historic season, the team held its media day Saturday facing lots of questions about how they would move forward without Kawhi Leonard, who opted to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers in the summer.
With Leonard playing an important role in helping the team to secure its first championship, uncertainty about whether they could do it again surrounded the team.
“I think the expectation always in sports is to win. We play sports to win, it’s nothing else. We can do all the dance we want, say whatever we want, rebuild, anything you do — you play sports to win,” said team president Masai Ujiri.
Ujiri, who took some heat last year after trading long-time Raptor and fan favourite DeMar DeRozan for Leonard, also addressed the outcome of the situation.
“I can’t sit here and trade DeMar and then Kawhi leaves us and be upset, because that’s just the nature of the business and we understand it and we move on as an organization,” he said.
Ujiri said the team has many bright spots and he’s confident the players they have are capable of performing at a high level.
WATCH: Raptors Coach Nick Nurse wants team to play to capabilities, ‘extraordinary basketball’
Head coach Nick Nurse echoed Ujiri’s sentiments, adding that the experience of winning a championship has helped the team.
“One thing I do know … is that our guys learned how hard you have to play in the NBA Finals, and that is an invaluable thing that’s gonna take you a long way,” said Nurse.
And most players, like all-star point guard Kyle Lowry, agreed that the combination of winning a championship and Leonard’s departure has left them hungry for more.
“It’s always the same goal for me. I’m motivated more than ever now. You get a taste of it, you always want it. You get a little bit of a taste of it and you want to continue to grow and continue to get it and you want to continue to get that feeling. It’s an unexplainable feeling but you want it,” Lowry said.
WATCH: ‘There are many bright spots with our team’: Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri
Another point of contention for the players was being counted out as the possible favourites to win, with oddsmakers slotting them outside the top 10 title contenders.
“Obviously we’re not favourites,” said guard Fred VanVleet.
“I think if Kawhi would’ve come back and Danny (Green) would’ve come back with the same team, we could’ve been favourites to win it, but I’m not sure how much that stuff matters. I think you gotta go out there, gotta lace ’em up, you gotta put a lot of work in. You gotta stay really good and grow throughout the year.”
VanVleet says he is looking forward to the journey that he is on with his teammates and will do what he can to win another championship.
The team will travel to Quebec City for five days of training camp before heading to Japan for two preseason games against the Houston Rockets.
The new season will officially get underway on Oct. 22 when the team will receive their rings.