Why LeBron James struggles are good for the Toronto Raptors

(Staff Photo By Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)
(Staff Photo By Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images) /

LeBron James and the Lakers are in danger of missing the playoffs. Those struggles are a problem for him and his team but may be great for the Toronto Raptors.

The Los Angeles Lakers are 30-36 this season, which is a real shock to many in the NBA. This is due to their summer free agent signing of megastar, LeBron James. In his first season in the Western Conference, he is not having the success he has become accustomed to. He is likely going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005. It would have been great news for the Toronto Raptors if this could have started one year earlier.

The Raptors would love to avoid meeting King James in the playoffs. He and the Cleveland Cavaliers eliminated them each of the last three years. Bron’s move out west meant that the Raptors finally had their biggest roadblock to the finals removed.

If he doesn’t qualify to compete in the playoffs then it means that the Raptors kryptonite will be nowhere to be found at any leg of their run. Their perceived improved chances, however, is not the only reason that Toronto should be celebrating the Lakers strife.

When the Raptors were swept out of the playoffs last season by James and the Cavs it set in motion a number of moves that changed the look of the organization. The first domino to fall was the firing of Dwane Casey. Despite winning the Coach of the Year award, the team’s disappointments were not enough to save his job. One month later, assistant coach Nick Nurse was promoted and given a three-year contract to replace Casey.

They then tinkered with their roster, which included re-signing Fred VanVleet to a two-year deal and declining to offer their end-of-the-bench center, Lucas Nogueira, a qualifying offer, making him a free agent.

Then they made a real splash. They exchanged the franchise’s leader in games played and points, DeMar DeRozan, along with his teammate Jakob Poeltl and a draft pick for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

Before the first tip-off of the 2019 season, the Raptors were already significantly changed. Masai Ujiri called for a “culture reset”, and now, one year later, he delivered. The team was built to compete for a championship with its new star player, The Klaw.

While this was happening, euphoria erupted in Los Angeles because they won the LeBron James sweepstakes. He chose the Lakers and was assumed to save them from their misery and poor performance.

Certainty grew that finally, the Lakeshow was back and ready to win a championship. Kobe Bryant, LaVar Ball, James himself, and multiple media outlets including ESPN declared that it was a real possibility that the James and the Lakers usurp the Golden State Warriors to win the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.

As each game was played this season, the Lakers championship aspirations inched closer and closer to being only a pipe dream. They sit 11th in their conference, meaning that they would need to leapfrog at least three times just to qualify for a position in the postseason. They now have a 0.1% chance of making it to the tournament.

Poor play and Injuries to key players including James, Rajon Rondo, and point guard Lonzo Ball ensured the team’s slide. Their collection of losses have been noticed by players across the league. This will be advantageous for the Raptors.

There have been rumours and speculation all season surrounding James about who will be joining him in Los Angeles. Anthony Davis was at the heart of many of those discussions. President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka allegedly offered the New Orleans Pelicans their pick of the entire Lakers roster. This may have led to dysfunction within the dressing room.

As players watch the purple and gold lose game after game, they will recognize that James on his own cannot carry a team. They will also see the toxic atmosphere that surrounds him. No one in the organization is outwardly enjoying themselves. Those soon to be big-name free agents are surely taking note.

Those who may have been contemplating joining LA next season may rethink that decision. That perspective is not just true of the Lakers. Seeing arguably the best player in the world struggle mightily may dissuade others from trying to follow in the King’s footsteps. Instead of going to a team next year to make it their own, they may realize that they are better off with a stronger surrounding cast.

The Raptors are hopeful to bring Leonard back next season. Being subtly recruited by the Clippers, he may ask himself if he is really willing to try to take a fringe playoff team and carry them next year.

With the comfort of winning and playing with rising stars like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, he may opt to avoid the potential disaster in favour of a team with whom he’s had success. Leonard might learn a lesson from James.

There is also the possibility that the dichotomy between the Raptors and Lakers draws other free agents to inquire about the move to Toronto. Instead of joining a frenzied locker room, the appeal of calm and fun basketball might be exactly what some experienced ballers are searching for.

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Raptors fans should be both hopeful for the future and thankful that James is finally scuffling. The present is great and the future may even be brighter.