The Raptors Crash Landing Is an Ugly Beautiful Thing

Perhaps Drake was on to something when he was a no-show at the Raptors game 7 against the Miami Heat. Perhaps he was sending the public a message to do as Drake do, boycott the Raptors. This is an ugly series not worth watching and for all the obvious reasons that have been outlined ad infinitum. The Cavs are too fast and too explosive. The Raptors pace all season long was at the bottom of the league. They are slow in transition. The Cavs have a talent advantage that the Raptors just cannot cross; they are drowning. Kyrie Irving is quicker than Kyle Lowry. LeBron James has no Raptor equivalent: the DeMarre Carroll signing for the playoffs has fallen flat on its face. Kevin Love is better than anyone in the Raptors front court. Yes, it hurts that the Raptors are missing Jonas Valanciunas but it wouldn’t change how the Cavs are destroying the Raptors on the wing.

It’s a cautionary tale for organizations building a playoff team. There are two goals. There is the goal to get your team into the playoffs. And there is the goal to actual become contenders with the ability to win the whole thing.

Toronto was an illusion all season long and like all illusions death was coming.  The Raptors won a lot of games in the regular season. They beat the Cavs more than the Cavs beat them. Their individual talents came through in the clutch. They feasted off of their confidence and off of Kyle Lowry. But the playoffs are a talent delivery business. The Raptors needed 7 games to erase the Indiana Pacers who are a Paul George team and nothing else. And they needed 7 games to handle a Heat team without Chris Bosh that doesn’t score that many points. On cue, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan went into their disappearing acts. They are not prime time playoff performers. Their history says so.

It’s a win for the Raptors to get this far. But it’s a loss. They are terrible. They are doing nothing well in this series. The Cavs would have had a tougher time with the Washington Wizards, a team that didn’t make the playoffs. What makes it even more pathetic as a showcase for the two best teams in the East is that the Raptors know they can’t win. Check out their body language. They are the freshman team playing against the varsity. It’s brutal.

The Eastern Conference has a superstar problem. 6 out of the top-10 players in the NBA are in the West. Four are in the East. Three of the four play on the Cavs; the other is Paul George.

The West disperses their superstars among the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Rockets and Thunder. Damian Lillard of Portland is a superstar on the rise. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are excellent NBA players. The East, once you go through the Cavs, have Paul George and then what? John Wall? Jimmy Butler? An old Dwyane Wade? Al Horford? Kemba Walker? A rookie Kristpas Porzingis?

How does this problem solve itself? In the last 15 years there hasn’t been a NBA Finals without Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, Tim Duncan, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. You need a top-10 player to win the title, preferably a top-5. The Raptors are hovering around a top-15 player in DeRozan. Maybe. He could be farther down the board at 18 or 19.

Kawhi Leonard is a great example of what has happened to the East. The Pacers drafted Leonard then traded him. If he had stayed, he would be the LeBron James antidote. There is no current LeBron James antidote and that is the beauty of how the East has devolved. You won’t be rewarded for mediocrity. You won’t be rewarded for being the little engine than could. You won’t be rewarded for putting a band-aid over a broken leg and then saying it’s all cured, you are a better conference with more depth. You won’t be rewarded for trading a future Finals MVP.

There are no shortcuts. You get better by drafting better. You get better by having a vision and executing it. You get better by convincing generational free agents to try you out, and yes, by being lucky. Luck, when it works out, is beautiful.

Last season the Cavs blew through the ECF. This year the same story with new players to replace Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap. Everything changes. But nothing changes.

The Toronto Raptors have a nice little team that can do things in the regular season and win a lot of games and send players to the All-Star serenade. But in the playoffs they are embarrassingly average. It hurts to watch them. Even Drake knows that.

 

photo via llananba