LeBroom or is it now LeBronto?
A new year and same result. The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals 128-93 in Game 4. For the third straight year, the Cavaliers have knocked the same Raptors out of the playoffs. Oh, by the way, this is the second year in a row the Cavaliers swept the Raptors.
Was it supposed to be the Raptors year though? 59 wins and the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Surely, some felt that the team from “We the North” was going to make some noise this year.
Let’s give the Raptors and Dwane Casey credit. They re-signed their core group of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Serge Ibaka to multi-year contracts last summer. They built a solid second unit with Fred Van Vleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam as the younger players next to their All-Star backcourt.
DeMar DeRozan scored 52 points in a January game this year in what was the Raptors 12th consecutive victory at the time. We the North also was the first team to clinch the playoffs out of the entire league in the 2017-2018 season. Yes, that even includes the Houston Rockets who won 64 games with the league’s best record.
All things looked up for the Raptors as they clinched the number one seed for the first time in franchise history. The 59 wins is also a franchise record.
In their first-round matchup against the Washington Wizards, I set the bar low for the Raptors. A six-game series no more than that I predicted for Toronto to take and see the Cavaliers in the second round. Because I set the bar low here, however, let’s keep in mind nothing was impressive if the Raptors did the minimum in their first-round matchup against an eighth seed team.
Was it finally time for the Raptors to stop pretending and get to contending?
What is mind-boggling is that I want to reasonably find out what made sense in choosing the Raptors this season? LeBron hatred? The Cavaliers post-trade deadline roster?
Are we just going to ignore that the greatest player on the planet takes his game to another level in the postseason? Just in case you forgot LeBron James is currently 33 years old and in year 15 of his career.
Favoring the Raptors?
Almost half of ESPN’s “experts” predicted that the Cavaliers would lose this series.
Chris Barnewall of CBS sports stated in his preview of the series that the Raptors “exceed expectations” so far as he chose the Raptors to win in 6 games.
The Raptors will continue to be untrustworthy until a year from now. Depending on where LeBron may go and if it’s West that would open the window a tad bit more for them.
What’s next for “We the North”?
Fire Casey? Trade one of their All-Stars? Revamp the roster? Again, not to fully discredit Toronto they were able to compete at a high level and showed some promise. A 12 game win streak is by no means easy in the NBA during the regular season and they did maintain the number one seed very well.
There is a window for Toronto and it could get smaller regardless of James leaving for a Western Conference team this summer. Two reasons: Boston and Philadelphia. Kyle Lowry is 32 years old and under contract until the 2020 season. DeRozan himself is in his prime at age 28 and in year two of his 5-year max deal with Toronto.
There shouldn’t be a major panic in Jurassic Park but it slowly seems like an acceptance that James and company just have the number of the team from the “6”. “Maybe they just got our number”, said DeRozan after the Game 4 loss.
If any “change up” has to happen the Raptors may not be able to pull in any significant free agent this summer. With Lowry’s age, it would be difficult to move the 32-year-old guard with two years left scheduled to make $30-plus million.
The reliance on the youth improving is one factor that could help Toronto gain faster success than changing personnel overall. Anunoby, Siakam, and Van Vleet, and Delon Wright all played significant minutes in the playoffs this year. Casey reached deep into his bench and utilized the youth to support his starting cast. Each of the above-mentioned players averaged no less than 18 minutes a game in the 2018 Playoffs.
If it does come down to parting ways with Casey who is the next in line or rather what is next? Casey is a big part of the improvement and success this season. He wanted to implement change and proved that it could improve this ball club. However, good enough to beat the King? Obviously not.
Now whether it be winning 60 games, a surprise MVP season from DeMar DeRozan, sweeping the eighth seed in the first round, there will be nothing to get excited about in the North until this team beats LeBron James fair and square. That day may not come until a year from now but until then let’s keep the Raptors out of the conversation until further notice.
Baseline Times Contributor