There are two things going right for the Toronto Raptors this season. For starters, they enter play on Wednesday just one game behind the Boston Celtics for first in the Eastern Conference, sitting at 34-15.
The second thing going right? Something completely out of their control, but something the team has been waiting on for years: The fall of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who no longer look destined to run away with the East.
In case you didn’t know, LeBron James is still the greatest player in the world. His teams have reached the NBA Finals in seven consecutive years, with the Cavs reaching it easily in the last three. Cleveland swept Toronto in the second round of last year’s playoffs, a year after ending their dreams in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But just about everything that could go wrong for the Cavaliers has gone wrong. Isaiah Thomas didn’t make his debut with the team until January, as a hip injury forced him to miss the first three months. He and Kevin Love reportedly clashed in a team meeting last week, and the latter is now going to miss long-term action:
Kevin Love likely out 6-8 weeks
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) January 31, 2018
The Cavaliers now own the league’s sixth-worst scoring defence, allowing opponents to score 109.8 points per game, according to ESPN.com. And the team’s newcomers have been anything but productive:
Isaiah Thomas: 15.6 points, 1.5 rebounds, four assists per game
Jae Crowder: 8.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists per game
Dwyane Wade: 11.2 points, four rebounds, 3.7 assists per game
Derrick Rose: 11.9 points, 21. rebounds, 1.6 assists per game
By the way, Kyrie Irving – whom the Cavaliers were forced to trade last summer – has a whopping 24.9 points, five assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. Did we mention Celtics are first in the East?
Add all of it up, and it’s hard to believe that LeBron will want to re-up with the Cavaliers after this season. The Celtics and Raptors are going to be great for a long time. The Cavs look like a mess waiting to happen, and they haven’t convinced LeBron they’re set to contend for the rest of his prime years.
If LeBron were to leave the Cavaliers, where would he go? Some reports have tied him to joining the Houston Rockets, who own a dynamic duo in James Harden and Chris Paul. Many think both the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers would be options, but neither are serious contenders. Would LeBron really want to go on teams in the midst of rebuilding?
But if LeBron is smart, he’d stay away from the West. There’s far more parity, with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder all shaping up to be serious contenders.
The Celtics and Raptors are dangerous, but the Cavaliers would still have a great chance at beating either in the playoffs. But other than that, no other team in the East poses a major threat to win long-term.
Boston is probably the last team LeBron would go to, given the tension with Irving. If the latter asked for a trade because he didn’t want to live in James’ shadow, why would the Celtics go get him? It won’t happen.
And that is why LeBron James has to consider going to the Raptors. They already own two legitimate stars in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. But without a third superstar, the Raptors haven’t been able to get to the next level.
But the Raptors are a different story this year. Head coach Dwane Casey and team president Masai Ujiri have “reset” the team’s culture. DeRozan has changed his shot selection. Lowry is playing lesser minutes. The bench is one of the NBA’s best, with 11 players averaging over six points per game.
And it’s working effectively. The Raptors own the league’s 10th-best scoring defence, and the Rockets and Warriors are the only teams with a better offence. Long story short: Toronto is a top-five team in the NBA this year. They are the team LeBron should go to.
There is no drama in Toronto like there is in Cleveland. There is no bad blood with the players or organization, like there is between he and Irving in Boston. The Raptors would be heads-and-shoulders above every other team in the East if LeBron joined them. He’d have two superstars in Lowry and DeRozan, plus a bench with great depth to help cut back on his minutes.
LeBron has every reason to leave the Cavaliers, but little reason to go to the West. He’s going to have to face the Warriors any way, so why not wait until the Finals? What’s better about facing them in the second or third round if you sign with the Rockets or an L.A.-based team?
Toronto has a great fanbase, one that The King himself is complimented before. He’d join a team built to win today and the next five years. Going to the Raptors would make them the best team in the East, without a single question. The Celtics could only dream of toppling them.
And again, there aren’t any better fits in the East for LeBron. Does he want to sign up for more dysfunction and drama in Cleveland? Head to the Philadelphia 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks – who are still fairly young teams that aren’t ready for the grandest stage?
It’s a process by elimination. The Western teams shouldn’t be on LeBron’s mind. You can rule out almost all Eastern teams, given how so few of them are actually close to championship contention.
The Raptors could very well win the East this year. Who says they couldn’t win some championships if LeBron took his talents north of the border? It sounds like a pipe dream, but it really makes sense for the man who’s trying to chase Michael Jordan‘s six championship rings.
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