With a little bit of everything going on right now in this crazy off-season, I had trouble focusing all my energy on one specific subject, so I decided to check in on, well, a little bit of everything.
Here are 4 thoughts on the NBA, on the Raptors, and on the media coverage in general.
1. The LeBron James story was almost too perfect…
… to the point where it was almost too easy of a story to write. I must have read about 12 different stories and/or columns on LeBron’s decision to come home to Cleveland, and in the end it’s like they all kind of molded together. They were almost all the same.
This is not to pick on the Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat necessarily, but his column on the matter was basically the “every-column”, if that makes sense. It had all the elements that it needed to have – the feel-good narrative of “the prodigal son…announcing his return”, how things have changed since “the Decision” with the friendships and rings he acquired in Miami, and the present day aura of possibly bringing a championship to his hometown – all of it using the powerful quotes from LBJ’s first-person letter.
On one side, Wolstat’s story checks off all the boxes it needed to, but on the other, it doesn’t really stand out because it did what it had to and nothing more. I’m still not sure if that’s a bad thing or not, because I feel like that kind of story has to be written by someone, I think. Or maybe not. I don’t know.
2. We might get a Decision 3.0 sooner than we thought.
LeBron’s contract is reportedly only a two-year agreement for $42 million total, with that second year being a player option. Now, this is apparently a pure business decision on James’ part; with a new TV deal kicking in prior to the 2016-2017 season, the odds of the salary cap ballooning are high, which would allow the King to sign a new, bigger, richer contract at that point.
That being said…elephant in the room again…2016 is going to be, once again, a very interesting free agency class. The list potentially includes (beyond LeBron) : Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, (an aging) Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, David Lee, and even Toronto all-star DeMar DeRozan.
I know LeBron says he’s committed to Cleveland, but let’s say he wins a title next year or the year after (thus delivering on his quest to bring a chip to Northeastern Ohio); wouldn’t he consider the thought of teaming up with Durant, or Howard, or Westbrook, or Noah (or some combination of those guys) to try to pile up the rings? I think it’d be naïve to think otherwise, just as it would have been silly to think he’d never come back to Cleveland. Just sayin’.
3. Bruno Caboclo shows promise, but isn’t ready yet…
…is what we can “learn” from Wolstat and Eric Koreen of the National Post. I’m not sure we really learned anything, because we knew ahead of time that Bruno is still a ways away from reaching his potential. He’s showing flashes of the length and intensity that wowed the Raptors enough to draft him in the first place, but not enough to have changed the original mindset going in. Sure, it’s only a few games in and it’s just Summer League in Vegas, but you’d expect basically exactly what you got : signs of promise, but nothing that would show that he’s ready to join the rotation for the upcoming season.
4. The East is super-duper wide open next season.
I’m actually not sure whether the Raptors are in a better or worse position than they were a week ago today. The Cavaliers evidently got stronger with the acquisition of James (and potentially Mike Miller and/or Ray Allen), as did the Bulls who got Pau Gasol (and who should be getting a healthy Derrick Rose). The Knicks are a little stronger than last year, the Heat are a little weaker but are still a solid squad, and the Wizards, Pacers and Nets should be just as good as last year.
That’s 8 teams right there, and then you can throw in Atlanta, Detroit and Charlotte as fringe playoff teams. But here’s the thing, it’s too early to tell whether the Cavs have gotten better enough to leapfrog the Raptors, or if the Heat have gotten worse to the point where Toronto would jump them. Or both. Or neither.
As Doug Smith points out, “all of the top teams from last season have made substantial change or suffered substantial loss – except the Raptors”. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Raptors are keeping the same core that went an Eastern conference best 42-22 to end the season (from the point where the Rudy Gay trade was made). That core gets its first off-season to work together and improve, while DeRozan, Valanciunas and Ross get another year of progress; plus, the Atlantic is still the worst division in basketball. In other words, it’s very plausible that Toronto could repeat as division champs.
I still think Chicago should be the favourite to come out of the East (assuming Rose is healthy), with the Pacers, Cavaliers and Heat all sniffing right behind, but you can’t discount Toronto. Masai probably has one move left to make with the remaining cap space, and whether that comes in the off-season or during the season, it should bump the Raptors right back in the conversation for home-court advantage in the first round. And whereas last year the Heat were always the favourite to get to the Finals, this year there’s certainly no lock. It’s wide open, as Smith says. And it should be fun.