What Does Future Hold for Raptors After Another Sweep vs. Cavs?

Swinging Johnson

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 2:46 PM UTC

Tuesday, May. 8, 2018 2:46 PM UTC

The Raptors were swept for the second consecutive year by the Cleveland Cavaliers (both on May 7). The question is: How can Toronto elevate from a regular-season power to a legitimate championship contender?

Road to Perdition

After blazing to a franchise-record 59 wins and capturing the Eastern Conference regular-season crown, the Raptors dispatched the eighth-seeded Wizards in six games to advance to the conference semifinals. But to steal a phrase from the inimitable Yogi Berra, it was “déjà vu all over again,” as they faced the same nemesis that swept them in the semifinals last season and would do so again, ironically on the same May 7 date, when they bowed to King James and his court of Cleveland Cavaliers.

I stated before the series began that this showdown with Cleveland would prove whether the Raptors were paper tigers or legitimate contenders. After four games, the first two of which were held in Toronto where the NBA odds board reflected the Raps as seven-point favorites, Toronto could not measure up and covered the number only once for those who included them in their NBA picks, which was Game 3 where Cleveland eked out a 105-103 victory as 4½-point home chalk.

Yet the series could have been different, or at the very least far more competitive, had Toronto won the opening game in which they fell 113-112 in overtime. Cleveland never led in regulation and found themselves down by 14 points in the first quarter. However, they tied it all up at the tail end and sent the game into overtime, where they outworked the Raps and took a huge advantage by winning in hostile territory. After dropping both games in Toronto, the Raps stormed back in the second half of Game 3 in Cleveland after trailing by 15 at the half. But it was LeBron James who with no time remaining banked a beauty off the glass to send a dagger through the Dinos and their fans. The series said 3-0 in favor of Cleveland, but for all intents and purposes it was over.

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Our season comes to an end. pic.twitter.com/DQhvo3C4rK

— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 8, 2018
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What’s Next?

The bizarre aspect of this question is that it alludes to improvement. I’m not sure the Raptors can improve from this franchise record-setting season. Consider that Toronto averaged 111.4 points per game, which ranked them 4th in the regular season, and allowed 103.9 PPG, placing them 6th. Certainly, they could use a more physical presence in the paint and on the boards, having averaged a middling 44 boards per game, but Dwane Casey does not appear to be convinced that Jonas Valanciunas is the answer as evidenced by Serge Ibaka getting the starting nod in their disastrous Game 4 loss to the Cavaliers. Speaking of Casey, he could be out the door as well, having coached the team since 2011 and might be the scapegoat management needs to explain away their repeated failures against Cleveland.

Short of LeBron retiring or aging rapidly, the Raptors don’t have a legitimate counter to James, but then again few teams do. What the Raptors really need is an edge, a role player who will rough up a superstar like LeBron and pump up a team like Toronto that can turn docile at the flick of a switch. The Detroit Pistons of the late 80s were such a team with the likes of Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, who were as nasty as they come. Those championship Detroit teams (1989 and 1990) were not nearly as good as the Celtics and Lakers of the early to mid-80s nor the Michael Jordan led Bulls that would reign supreme in the 90s. But they had tough, talented players who were good enough to defeat the sun-setting Celtics and Lakers of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

The problem that Toronto has is that their two top players, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, are very good but not elite players. I would not include either of them in any conversation with LeBron, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, etc. … And the other problem Toronto has is that there is no void in the league of championship-caliber teams like there was in the Detroit glory days. In other words, this team as currently constituted can’t get any better. Tougher, yes, but not better. And unfortunately, that’s just not good enough.

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