Despite Toronto's slightly better record, the future is brighter in Cleveland, and a return to the postseason might come sooner.
The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers' first meeting of the season on Tuesday inspired this article, which seeks to compare the two franchises that were left behind. The fall for the Cavaliers without LeBron James was far greater than the Raptors without Chris Bosh.
The climbs back have been similar.
Dan Gilbert likely handled things the wrong way. We all chuckled when he suggested that Cleveland would win a title before LeBron James. The Raptors did their mudslinging with a little more subtlety and were not promising fans a championship. They also had a much better answer to replace Bosh in the lineup, moving former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani to play in Bosh’s power forward position.
Cleveland tried to replace LeBron with some Raptors rejects in Joey Graham and Jamario Moon, to name only a couple of the options they tried at the small forward position. Cleveland did use the LeBron James departure as way to strip its roster down to the bare bones.
Toronto didn’t do that as well as their counterparts in Cleveland.
They still have Bargnani, Calderon and some others who played alongside Chris Bosh. About the only guys that remain from the LeBron era in Cleveland are Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao.
Perhaps the best thing the Cavaliers have going for them is that they think they have a star player to replace LeBron James in Kyrie Irving. He came to Cavaliers by way of a first-round pick that they acquired in a trade with the L.A Clippers.
Many forget it was not Cleveland’s worst overall record that earned them the first pick in the 2010-11 draft.
That pick would earn them the fourth overall selection and they made a choice that will connect the Raptors and Cavaliers for seasons to come.
They decided to pass on Raptors' fifth overall selection Jonas Valanciunas and select Tristan Thompson, a Toronto native who played at Texas. The reason behind the choice was that they were not confident in when Valanciunas would be released from his contract in Europe, so they decided to go the safe route with Thompson.
The Raptors would have been faced with the unpopular choice of taking Valanciunas, who they clearly wanted, and passing on Thompson had this not been Cleveland’s pick. The two players are comparable so far when you look at Thompson’s rookie numbers to Valanciunas’ rookie numbers.
Where Valanciunas stands out from Thompson is that he shoots 51.3 percent from the field.
He also makes his free throws, shooting 70.7 percent from the line, compared to Thompson’s 55.2 percent from his rookie season. Thompson also only managed to record a 43.9 percentage from the field in his rookie year.
Where the Cavs might have the clearest advantage from the Raptors is in terms of their cap situations moving forward. According to the folks at HoopsHype, Cleveland has just over $28 million in committed money next season.
Compare that to the Raptors, who have already $47 million tied up in committed money.
That number isn't actually accurate, because they do not have DeMar DeRozan’s contract extension included. So add that in and you have a number close to $56 million.
The Cavs also have another lottery pick to look forward to, it would seem. The Raptors would have to land in the top three thanks to the Kyle Lowry trade.
If you look just at the young talent on these rosters, you could say that the Raptors might have the edge. That said, the Cavs likely have the best of the bunch in Kyrie Irving. It is a debatable point in terms of the overall talent level of the rosters.
At the end of the day, Dan Gilbert's nonsense rallying cries were just that.
In reality, the team he owns has done a solid job stripping itself down to its bare bones. Toronto tried to sell the departure of Chris Bosh as opportunity to re-tool and be stronger on the other side.
There was no way to legitimately make that claim in Cleveland.
In the end, the flexibility and young talent in Cleveland makes it look as if rebuilding and reaching the playoffs will be easier for them. The Raptors have their own group of young talent but lack the flexibility to really build around it.
If you were to make a bet on who has the easier path back to the postseason, you might want to bet on Cleveland. Even though the standings at the end of the season could tell a different story, Cleveland has positioned itself better after losing its star than Toronto.