It all starts at the top. Some have said that there are no such things as bad teams. There are only bad leaders. That may be true. The 2018-19 Toronto Raptors had some outstanding leadership and it came from the very top.
After the 2017-18 season, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri made an extremely difficult decision. Toronto had made the playoffs five seasons in a row under head coach Dwane Casey. The Raptors were coming off a second consecutive loss to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In each case, Toronto was swept by the Cavaliers 4-0.
Casey had even won the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2018, but for Ujiri the time had come to make a change. The Toronto GM made the difficult decision to fire Casey and look for a new head coach. The Raptors found their new guy on the team’s current coaching staff – Nick Nurse. Nurse led the Raptors back to the postseason in 2019-20 where the team lost to Boston 4-3 in the conference semifinals. Nurse was awarded the NBA Coach of the Year in 2020.
Leadership Lesson: Leaders must make difficult – and often unpopular – decisions in an effort to make the team go from good to great.
The Raptors had a quality roster and in the offseason brought in one of the game’s best players in Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is a phenomenal two-way player and with him, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors had a starting five that was as good as any in the league.
The team also had solid role players in Serge Ibaka, Danny Green, and Norm Powell. Each of these players played their role to perfection and often became the focal point of either the team’s offense or defense on a given night.
The great leaders know exactly how to motivate and empower a team to achieve
individual success that translates eventually into team success.
Toronto won Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals at Golden State. The Raptors took a 3-1 back home to Toronto for Game 5. The team understood that they hadn’t won anything just yet. Nurse helped them not look too far ahead. Toronto lost Game 5 to a Warriors team that was playing in its fifth straight NBA Finals.
The series went back to Oakland for Game 6 where the Raptors would win the game and, along with it, the franchise’s first NBA title. With the victory came a great lesson in leadership.
Leaders recognize the power of remaining composed when under stress.
Avoid the temptation to get too high after a win and too low after a loss.