LeBron James comes back to Cleveland. What does it mean for the Raptors? The same as what it means for any other pseudo-contender in the East such as Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, essentially any team with two half-decent players peppered with above-average role players. In simple terms, the Heat got weaker and the Cavs stronger. The Raptors, along with most other Eastern Conference sides, were somewhere between the two and after yesterday’s transactions (assuming Bosh and Wade re-sign), could either remain where they are, surpass both, or fall below both.

Anyone seeing an advantage here would be thinking that the Raptors surpassed Miami, and that the road to the Eastern Conference title got easier now that there’s one less team above them. That’s naive thinking since Miami will remain a threat which will have more playoff and championship experience than the Raptors, and #WeTheNorth should remember the value of that. Cleveland will take it’s time to gel, as admitted by James himself, so you might bet on the Raptors having an advantage against a Cavalier team that’s still finding itself. However, the Raptors against the James-led Cavaliers, previous to his move to Miami, were a shocking 3-19. My bet is that the Raptors and Cavaliers will remain within three games of each other in an East that will be more bunched up than ever before, except that the bunching will now happen between the 1-5 seeds, rather than the 3-7. With no clear-cut contender in the conference, up-and-coming teams newly blooded by their playoff experiences of last year have to view the Eastern summit more attainable than ever.

Last year the Raptors were 2-1 against the Cavs and 0-4 against the Heat. Assuming we hold our own against the Cavs, we could repeat the 2-1 series win, and you’d think that the Heat will be weakened enough that the Raptors could steal a couple games, so let’s say 2-2. That’s two more wins then last year, taking us to 50! It’s all great news until you realize that most teams will be viewing the situation similarly. The Raptors closing the margin on Miami and having the margins closed by Cleveland indicates a tighter conference race, not the Raptors surging ahead of either by a neck.

Over the long-term, depending on how the Carmelo Anthony situation plays out, it brings even greater parity to the East, a conference where five games separated the 3rd to 7th seeds. Last year an Indiana-Miami Conference Final was a foregone conclusion, whereas currently, the top two seeds are pick ’em at best. A lot can change between now and the start of the season, but the early returns suggest a higher number of tight games, not just due to Cleveland improving but the likes of Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta rejuvenating themselves. A lack of a dominant team will mean that all three division races will be up for grabs along with the conference title.

The Raptors after having chosen not to tank and having re-loaded this off-season find themselves in a position where they’re primed to poise a threat in an Eastern conference that’s no longer top heavy. This becomes a horse race more than ever: pace yourself and stay with the pack for the bulk of the season, and surge ahead when it counts.

Some thoughts on LeBron James returning. It’s obviously great for Cleveland because you want to see “small market” teams thrive, and this certainly punctuates the point made by a season where three of the final four teams came from smaller cities. Not enough credit is being given to the CBA that the lockout has yielded, with people tending to focus on the rather dubious collusion talk instead of paying testament to the healthy but restrictive rules that are forcing teams and players to make tough decisions.

There’s a sense of justice in the whole affair with a wrong being righted, albeit four years later. James’ decision is very well explained in his open later, and marks a rare occasion where an athletes sense of responsibility to his community has manifested on such a bright stage. Usually, such homesickness is dealt with by hosting a basketball camp, a charity golf tournament, or a countless measure of good-hearted initiatives that keep the player grounded to his roots. James has taken that to a whole new level.  The intense hate he garnered four years ago seems to have dissipated into mild annoyance, primarily due to him being so good that no levels of hate can penetrate or affect him, so why waste the energy? It also helps that far more unpleasant characters such as Dwight Howard have emerged to put ‘The Decision’ into greater context.

From a basketball point of view, his decision carries less pressure. The move to Miami was to avoid leaving a legacy akin to great players who never won a title, players like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Bernard King, Reggie Miller and so many more. Players who were, by all accounts, great yet failed to get over the hump and win what really matters. Now that that has been sorted out, he can return to Cleveland to his “dream job”. If he fails to win there, he’ll be credited for doing the right thing when he could’ve had more of the same in Miami. If he wins it, he’ll be hailed a rightful hero.

When he was in Cleveland he was pure talent that didn’t know what it took to win, often imploding when resolve was required. In Miami he’s learned those nuances thanks to a big assist from Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and most of all the tutelage of Pat Riley. He returns now as a winner who knows what the right pass is, what the body language should be when adversity hits, how to react to teammates when they’re falling short, how to support and be supported, how to approach the 48-minute game as a marathon and not a sprint, when to exert and when to step back. He was the tutor in Miami and now becomes the teacher in Cleveland.

The beauty of this story also revealed some of the ugliness of sports journalism. Fuelled by Twitter, fans’ impatience, and an intense desire to appear as someone in the know, so-called journalists release ambiguous information in the hopes of appearing half-right, and then later revise their stance once more information is known. Click-bait and ads fuel the internet economy and a story like this preys on the eager and bored, enticing them to consume misinformation, conjecture, and speculation. The reveal of the story came via Lee Jenkins (complete back story of how he landed it) of Sports Illustrated, not ESPN, Yahoo, or any of the outlets that fans are glued to, hitting F5 or scrolling down to refresh. The look of shock on Chris Broussard and Brian Windhorst’s face as they spoke on ESPN after priceless. James has chosen a relative unknown to break his story in essay format so that he’d have an “opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted”. It was flawless execution.  You could make a good argument that the only thing better might have been if he had announced, you know, a set time where he would reveal where he’d be going, thus putting the massive speculation and shooting in the dark to relative rest.

The backdrop of next season is being set and the story lines are more intriguing than ever. Other than Philadelphia and Brooklyn, the competition is likely to improve, making this a season where nothing is given. Everything is earned.

  • Alfredo Jones

    The Cavs now become the favorites in the East? Or can the Pacers, Raptors, Wizards or Bulls keep them down? Good piece on the state of the Eastern Conference on the Straighthoops blog today, def worth a read: http://straighthoops.com/beast_of_the_east.html


    Thought this was interesting…….

  • webfeat

    “There’s a sense of justice in the whole affair with a wrong being righted, albeit four years later.”

    This is the stuff that great sports stories are made of. This decision aims for the good of something larger than James as an individual, James as a team-mate. I gotta say that I’m pretty impressed.

    • Plus

      Nah justice is where Lebron was traded to a shitty team. Bosh comes down with a career ending injury.. and wade has nobody on his team.

  • Just sayin

    Hey zarrar gary payton won a championship with miami in 2006 .

    • arsenalist

      Thanks man, fixed

  • Chatham_Cathy

    Well said Arse! Summed the whole thing up perfectly. The East is going to be very exciting this year. I am happy for the Canadian kids on the Cavs too. Just not sure I see a place for Wiggins there now. If it helps or harms his growth and development overall. James didn’t mention Wiggins or Bennett in the essay which seemed somewhat telling. Should be interesting how that situation is carried out. Finally I just wanted to say that his “essay” was excellent as well. But, I kept thinking the whole time reading it that it was the first one he’ ever written in his life given his high school career and skipping college. Well done

    • TheSpiceTyrant

      I wouldn’t pay much attention to the lack of mention of the rookies.

      What is more interesting to me is whether Wiggins is on the block.

      • Tamberlyn Richardson

        As of Saturday Cavaliers were stating unequivocally Wiggins is NOT on trade block. Now you can either believe that hype or you can take the pessimist point of view which means he is.

        I found it funny Leigh Ellis (of NBA TV’s The Starters) saw Wiggins in yesterdays match-up vs. Milwaukee and said he wouldn’t trade him. Tas Melas joked with him, wow you see him live once and your smitten.

        Actually I found James return home somewhat comforting on many levels, but one no one is talking about is: it put to rest the thought process that everything is known ahead of time. Because if Cleveland knew James was definitely going to return there is no way they don’t draft Embiid first overall just because it would make more roster sense.

  • Rap fan 2

    The Heat without Lebron James is in trouble. Much more manageable for the Raptors. With Cleveland it’s going to take some time before they gel and learn to play their new system. With Lebron on the team now he’s still capable of taking over a game and making a difference by shifting the momentum of a game. However, against a well oiled team system like the San Antonio Spurs being able to play very proficient team defense is going to be key for the Cavs.

  • #KD2016

    Gary Payton won a title in ’06 with Miami

    • arsenalist

      Thank you, fixed.

  • LuckyMystery

    Sorry to say it but with bosh being the number 1 option in Miami they are not even close to where you think they are. Wade is a shadow of his former self. The rest of the roster will be filled in with a bunch of nobodies. Especially after wade decides to take to much money to stay. Bosh can’t lead a team anywhere.

    • Plus

      Of course miami is not going anywhere. Bosh got his rings, ESPN, excellent weather and money so I dont think he’ll be hungry again. Miami is a nice retirement home. Love the city hate the team.

    • CB

      Maybe not, but he’s a good looking pick for a fantasy roster next year

    • IceManLikeGervin

      Miami will be alright as long as they sign Deng (Bosh, Wade, Deng) and fill out their roster with capable players ie PG Bledsoe from Phoenix is rumored to be a Riley target, while bringing back Birdman, Haslem, James Jones. If Granger can regain some of his past form & McRoberts steps up they’ll be fine. Rookies Shabazz & the ultra smooth James Ennis.

      Miami is still a hot NBA destination & Riley is a task master at putting together competitive teams…..they might fall off a bit but they will still be a yearly playoff team in the East once it is all said & done in my mind .

      • Mexiballer

        I agree. We also can’t forget that Miami had one of the top defenses in the league before Lebron and Bosh got there. Thanks to Spolstra.

        At least we have a chance to beat them in a seven game series now.

  • Jensan

    Why doesnt the Heat sign Melo, they have the Cap space…..No one has answered me that. Except maybe LaLa controls Melos decision making. Melo makes 4/20 million a year to play on a better team. and due to state and city taxes has the same net amount of monies annually.
    Melo, Wade (4/13) and Bosh, with McBob, Danny Granger, Haslem, adding Birdman, Napier and Cole

    • Raymond

      Bosh hit max. and already signed, if Melo wanna go Heats with 20M per year, the Heats will not has too much cap space, even Wade’s salary reduced.

  • EmarErozan

    Who would trade JV for Wiggins? Cleveland needs a C and JV suits their up and down team. Wiggins has a higher ceiling than JV.

    Kevin Love is a much, much better player than JV, but I don’t see the Cavs needing a PF/shooter – they need a legitimate C who can play 30 mins and be useful to LeBron and Kyrie Irving in the P&R game.

  • Plus

    The cavs and the city are suckers. Yeah they got Lebron but they also got a drama queen. Why would it take this long to make a decision? If I was a Cavs fan I would be happy but still have my doubts. Whats his agenda? Lets see what happens when Lebron loses all the time and then he’ll do the typical shut down face. The Cavs will probably be top 4 but I dont see them winning a title anytime soon.

  • Jensan

    Melo -20 , bosh-20 , wade -12, UD -2.5, Napier-1.25, , cole -2.5, bird man-2 , charmers renounced, 3million for salary cap slots.
    Mcbob sign afterwards with -5.05 MLE, Danny Granger 2.05 ( S & T) , Beasley -2, Ennis-1,
    Sign ray -4. Sign 2 other stiffs

  • Tinmann

    I think the Cavs jump to the favourite in the East.
    Lebron is that good.
    Miami fights for a playoff spot. Bosh cries again.

    • truth be told

      Miami will win more games and be higher seeded than the Raps this season. Book it.

  • Jensan

    Happy Lebron has decided to return home . At Miami learned to be a leader and will help the young guns .
    Cavs have three 1st draft picks in 2015. Solid team and that is after they make a trade or two

  • ddd

    melo is back with knicks so that’s good for us because the bulls won’t get a good wing scorer

  • IROR

    I’m interested to see how good a coach Spoelstra is without LeBron. Every expert says he doesn’t get enough credit for HEATs success, he’s going to have to earn that respect all over again without bron.

    Also, Miami is still a dangerous team if they can make shrewd use of their remaining cap space. Deng seems like a good fit.

  • Junior Qamar

    I cant believe theres no input on the future of Canadian basketball due to Lebrons decision to return. Canada now has the 2nd best international team if mentored by Lebron. I cant picture a better place that Lebron could have chosen. Im excited to see how he impacts the Canadian boys. Wiggins needs a good mentor before coming down to the raptors in 3 to 4 years. I cant see the cavs resigning Wiggins if hes still on their roster after his rookie deal is up. The cavs would have way too much money locked up to lebron, kyrie and likely another superstar. This could be pivotal to getting Wiggins in Toronto earlier than expected and mentored by Lebron James. Cavs r now my 2nd favourite team. Ive never had a team I loved other than the Raptors but the Cavs are startig to win me over. Raptors vs. CAVS Eastern Cofference finals!

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      I share your Canada B-Ball enthusiasm and actually my response on twitter to the James signing was:

      Tamberlyn’s Tip-Off @TTOTambz · Jul 11
      So #James will be playing with FOUR Canadians, funny he’ll be helping to groom part of Team Canada BBall team of future! #RTZ #NBA

      • Junior Qamar

        Whose the 4th…wiggins, bennett, thompson …?

        • Tamberlyn Richardson

          Dwight Powell

  • Jamshid

    East is becoming much more balance and now we have multiple good teams. Raptor will get really challenge this year.

    • IceManLikeGervin

      I don’t see 49 wins as the East only has 1 team still in 100% tank mode- 76ers, everyone else is seemingly trying to get better by adding players & getting injured players healthy again for 2014-15.

  • Digitking

    Thankfully the Raps play in the Atlantic…
    – The Knicks were terrible last year considering they’re bringing back most of the same core (less Chandler) I don’t see how that changes this year. The season after (2015-2016) might be different once they can get Amare & Bargs off the books.
    – Brooklyn looks might go into full tear down mode this year if things don’t start well to get under the cap. It also depends how well Deron & Lopez come back from pretty significant injuries & surgeries.
    – Philly & Boston are going to be racing for the bottom again.
    So odds seem to favour the Raps winning another division which will guarantee a top 4 playoff seed unless there’s a couple of really bad injuries to the team.

  • vino

    Yes, it will take time for the Cavs to get to their full potential… but I say it will be much sooner than most here predict. David Blatt is an excellent coach. He has always maximized the results given an underdog roster since his days in Galil Elyon – small Israeli team that beat the great Maccabi in early 90s.

  • Rupert

    Clevland and chicago are pretty clear one and two miami is not that good relax the more importantly the raptors should be favorites to win the atlantic

  • ZQ

    Completely off topic but…
    How does Marvin Williams get a 2yr 14M deal with charlotte
    This is getting out of hand
    We paid on the high end to keep Pat and Gravy and they cost less than a guy who’s done nothing for years
    MU rocks

  • Erik Gooden

    Miami will be much worse and Cleveland much better than this article proposes. Miami is now fringe 8 seed – possible lottery – Cleveland will be the best team in the East.

    • IceManLikeGervin

      Miami won’t be in the lottery- barring injuries they will potentially be a top 4 team in the East in 2014-15.

      Miami currently has- Bosh, McRoberts, Deng, Wade & Chalmers as starters.

      Norris as back up PG. Haslem as back up PF. Granger backup SF. PF Birdman may resign. PF RLewis may resign. PF Beasley may resign. SG James Jones may resign. SG James Ennis & PG Shabazz Napier as end of the bench rookies.

      Plus Riley will make 1 or 2 more moves to bring in some talent- don’t write Miami off yet sleep on them at your own risk as they still have certified championship pedigree up & down their roster. Even Shabazz has won 2 NCAA titles….

      Cleveland should be much improved but not the best in the East unless they add some more players via trade ie KLove, then they might be but it all depends on how free agency shakes out in the end.