What turmoil elsewhere means for Raptors chances next season

TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 7: Serge Ibaka /

The Raptors have closed the gap between themselves and the Cavaliers, because Cleveland is suddenly hip-deep in turmoil. What about the other Eastern contenders?

Let’s face it, We The North members everywhere. Until this week, we haven’t been feeling wonderful. Now hope has sprung eternal in the human breast.

The Toronto Raptors have enjoyed a solid, indeed highly successful, off-season. The free agents we wanted to return to the fold, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, did return. Yes, their deals were expensive, but it’s the cost of doing business in the NBA these days.

TORONTO, CANADA – JUNE 7: Kyle Lowry /

But we all know there was a certain artificiality in our expressions of relief at the news two critical members of the Raptors core would be in town for the foreseeable future. And why so glum, chum? Because the Cleveland Cavaliers still looked unbeatable. All any of us could foresee was another 50-win season, followed by a playoff smackdown.

Yet here’s Cleveland, suddenly wrong-footed with the news All-World point guard Kyrie Irving wants to be moved, like yesterday. Furthermore, assuming the trade press isn’t creating Fake News, LeBron James may be pulling up stakes after this season in order to resettle in LA-LA-land.

What can the Cavaliers do?

There’s only two ways the Irving situation can play out: he stays in Cleveland unhappily, or he’s moved and whoever gets him wins the deal. I think the first possibility is merely theoretical; he’s gone. Based on what’s happened this summer, I’m confident in saying the Cavaliers won’t get 100 cents on the dollar for Irving. (Chris Paul went from the Clippers to the Cavaliers for a collection of second-stringers. Paul George is now a member of the Thunder, with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis going to Indiana. Are you kiddin’ me? Both of these deals remind me of the Raptors giving up Vince Carter for shiny pebbles.)

So Cleveland is worse – the only question is to what extent. And what if LeBron goes to owner Dan Gilbert and says “move me before the trade deadline, or you’ll get nothing when I walk”? The Cavaliers could collapse before season’s end.

Meanwhile, over in Boston, the Celtics are all excited because they persuaded Gordon Hayward to abandon Utah. While Hayward is a fine signing for them, GM Danny Ainge has had to play the “Let’s shed salary” game in a hurry to afford his new swingman. Out the door go Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk, two guys I’d be happy to see in Raptors colours. Are the Celtics really that much further ahead?

TORONTO, ON – JANUARY 05: DeMar DeRozan /

The dark-horse Washington Wizards retained swingman Otto Porter and point guard John Wall, but had to pay through the nose for both. They were a 49-win team with those two last year – is retaining them a sign of progress, or merely running in place?

It beats the alternative

I’m not suggesting the Raptors suddenly should have an easy trek to the Eastern Conference finals. But I’m feeling much better about the next-best thing, namely, a serious bun fight for Eastern supremacy rather than a foregone conclusion.

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