No really, they actually are. They are a better team in nearly every conceivable statistical category. If you doubt this assessment, it is important to remember that the Raptors finished with a top-five defense, while the Cavaliers’ defense ranked 29th. The Raptors also won 9 more games than the Cavs, something that better teams usually do. Because if your team wins more games than the other team, it usually means that your team is better. It’s simple math.
However, it surprises no one that the Raptors now find themselves down 2-0 to the Cavs. And it’s not because Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan haven’t played well (they’ve been fine). Or because they just haven’t shot well (they rebounded from a poor shooting performance in game one to shoot 54% in game two).
They just don’t have LeBron James on their team.
It really is painful to watch. The Raptors made plenty of strides this year in improving their offense, which included reducing the amount of isolation plays and emphasizing ball movement. They truly were the best team in the East. But it just doesn’t matter when the King comes to town. And now I can only picture LeBron James as Thanos telling a broken Raptors team “I hope they remember you.”
For years, the Toronto Raptors have pushed and pushed against the immovable wall that is LeBron James, the best player in the league (and of all time?). Time and time again, they have fallen short, only to run it back again with the same core. Now to be sure, there is honor and respect in this. After all, the Memphis Grizzlies stuck to the same core longer than they probably should have, all while knowing that they would likely never win a championship. And that’s fine. Sometimes the journey is worth more than the inevitable destination.
But with that journey comes a hard lesson: You can enjoy a good, fun team for as long as you want. That team can even have some great players. However, it takes a transcendent talent—or a group of them—for a team to truly be able to compete for a championship, especially in the modern NBA. You need a Kevin Durant, LeBron James, or Stephen Curry if you want to have a real shot at glory.
That’s why this terrible season is a blessing in disguise for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Yes, it hurts to watch the NBA playoffs knowing that the Grizzlies aren’t playing right now. It was also hard to suffer through 61-point losses and generally awful basketball for most of the year. But as site manager Joe Mullinax said earlier this week, sometimes you have to go through the fire to get to the glory.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, the Grizzlies were likely never going to advance far in the playoffs even if everyone had remained healthy. They may have had some nice wins near the beginning of the season, but they just don’t have the talent of the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets. It would have been another “good journey but predictable destination” type of season. The fans and season-ticket holders would have been satisfied, and Chris Wallace would have run the whole thing back next year.
Yet this terrible season, this fire that the Grizzlies have gone through, has given them the chance to be so much more.
When the Grizzlies use their top pick in June, they will have the chance to draft a transcendent player who could one day lead them to the Promised Land, an opportunity they would have never had if everything had gone according to plan this season. Perhaps if Luka Doncic does become the best European player ever, or if Trae Young does become the second coming of Stephen Curry, the Grizzlies can finally become a true title contender.
That’s not to say that the Grizzlies have to give up on the core of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol that has brought so many memories. Even after a season out of hell, the Grizzlies should be in the thick of the playoff race once again next year, except they will now have a potential franchise centerpiece to also add to the mix.
Throughout the entirety of the “Grit ‘N’ Grind” era, the Memphis Grizzlies epitomized “good, but not great”. They were fun, memorable, moving, and inspirational—but flawed all the same. The journey was always awesome, but many fans have always longed for something more.
And now they finally have a real chance of getting it.
The Grizzlies will probably not get the next LeBron James. There will likely never be another LeBron James. But they do have a real opportunity to get a transcendent talent. And if LeBron is any indication, it’s definitely going to take one if the Grizzlies will ever be able to make a championship run.