LeBron James just sent a harsh reminder to the rest of the Eastern Conference
In case you haven’t heard, LeBron James is pretty good at basketball. His most recent reminder of this came in a four-game sweep of the Toronto Raptors. Yes, the same Toronto Raptors group that was coming off of a franchise record 59-win season, and who earned the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Following their playoff exit last year (which was also because of the Cavaliers, who swept them), many felt Toronto should hit the reset button on its franchise and break up the backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Instead, the Raptors ran it back and shelled out a 3 year, $65 million contract to Serge Ibaka. Now, after this latest humiliation at the hands of LeBron, the Raptors are left with no first round pick in the upcoming draft and a core consisting of aging, overpaid players who are clearly not good enough to compete in the playoffs.
This dilemma the Raptors have now found themselves in is precisely why the Atlanta Hawks chose to rebuild.
It’s fair to say LeBron James may have already submitted his place on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore of all-time greats and has shown no sign of decay over the years. At 33 years old, he keeps playing at such a high level and has beaten some of the best the Eastern Conference has had to offer. Some of those are – Boston’s Big Three two years in a row (2010-11, 2011-12), Paul George’s Indiana Pacers four times (2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2016-17), the current Toronto Raptors three years in a row (2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18), and even the 60-win Atlanta Hawks (2014-15).
The harsh truth is no matter what that 60-win Atlanta Hawks team did with its roster following their swift sweep in the ECF to the Cavaliers in 2015, the team still wouldn’t have had a shot to beat LeBron.
Following the 2014-2015 season, the Hawks were left with a decision to either re-sign free agent DeMarre Carroll or let him walk and save some cap space. The Hawks ultimately decided on the latter, letting “The Junkyard Dog” walk from the team, which in turn led him to sign with the Toronto Raptors for a very generous contract of 4 years, $58 million. This showed to be the beginning of the end of the 60 win Atlanta Hawks roster as Carroll played a key role in Coach Bud’s system on both sides of the ball. Carroll is what most teams would consider a “glue guy” and losing him was just the beginning of the snowball effect for the Atlanta Hawks.
Over the next couple years, the Hawks continued to dismantle the 60 win team, allowing the following transactions to happen: Al Horford joining the Boston Celtics, Jeff Teague traded to the Indiana Pacers, Kyle Korver traded to the Cavs, and Paul Millsap signing with the Denver Nuggets. The starting five from of that magical 2014-2015 team had now been completely torn apart.
So where are we now?
The Hawks have realized they won’t have a chance to compete in the Eastern Conference as long as LeBron James is still around and playing in the East. Hitting the reset button on this team is the best decision they could possibly make.
Deciding to rebuild now has left the Hawks with the opportunity to draft a true superstar in this year’s NBA Draft. The Hawks haven’t had this high of a pick since 2007, when they selected Al Horford with the 3rd overall pick.
Rebuilding now also leaves the Hawks with flexible cap space to find the right pieces to keep around for the future as they won’t be stuck in the financial hole the Raptors currently find themselves in. The Raptors will now have to face the reality of getting bashed by LeBron in the playoffs again and again for the next couple years (barring that LeBron stays in the Eastern Conference after this summer’s upcoming free agency).
The Hawks also have tremendous building blocks to build around in the future in Taurean Prince, John Collins, DeAndre Bembry, and Dennis Schröder. Building through the draft seems to be the way to go as we continue to let these young guys develop their games and politely step aside as LeBron continues his warpath through the East.
Let’s be clear; this roster is not built to win now and to expect something from them this soon would be ridiculous. However, Taurean Prince has shown to be a true gem from the 2016 NBA Draft Class with John Collins following suit after an impressive rookie campaign, which has opened eyes around the league with his freakish athleticism. The best thing this fan base can do is be patient and wait out the LeBron James era in the East before expecting the Atlanta Hawks to become competitors again.
Thankfully, Atlanta didn’t have to learn this lesson the hard way. Toronto did it for us.
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