Four years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat via free agency and the team went from a perennial NBA power to a team that has been in the draft lottery every year since.
That same season, another team lost a premier free agent to the Heat and that team has recovered very nicely despite not having as good of a record as the wine and gold had the year before James left.
That would be the Toronto Raptors, who lost Chris Bosh, and yet they will enter the playoffs as the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. And they did it despite not having the top pick in the draft twice since Bosh departed.
The Raptors won just 22 games the first year after their star free agent left, compared to the 19 games the Cavaliers won in the first season of the post-James era. So, there wasn’t much difference that first season.
The following season, Cleveland added first overall pick Kyrie Irving and the fourth choice in Tristan Thompson, who was selected one pick ahead of Toronto, who picked center Jonas Valanciunas, who sat out the following season because of a contractual situation in Europe.
The Raptors went 23-43 in the strike-shortened season, while the wine and gold were just two games behind, finishing up at 21-45.
In year two of the post-superstar era, Toronto traded for guard Kyle Lowry and drafted Terence Ross with the eighth overall pick in the NBA draft. Cleveland chose Dion Waiters with the fourth overall pick.
The Raptors also traded for Rudy Gay using Jose Calderon and former first round pick Ed Davis, and saw a player picked before Bosh’s last season with the team, DeMar DeRozan, blossom into a budding star.
Toronto jumped to 34 victories last season, while the young Cavaliers went 24-58, mostly because they won just four games the last two months of the season.
This past off-season, led by new GM Masai Ujiri, the Raptors traded former first overall pick Andrea Bargnani to New York for Steve Novak, some expiring contracts and draft picks. They also added Tyler Hansbrough as a free agent.
With DeRozan’s emergence, they were also able to deal Gay to Sacramento during this season, for John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, and Chuck Hayes, who have contributed greatly to the team’s success this season.
Cleveland also added some veterans to the roster this year in Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes, and the team improved over the second half of the season, playing .500 ball, but a horrible first half of the season has them currently with 12 less wins than the neighbors to the north.
The key move for Toronto looks to be trading a starter and a first round pick for Gay, and then swapping him out for some key role players once DeRozan replaced him as the primary scoring option.
That is to say, they traded from strength. They had Lowry, meaning Calderon was superfluous, and DeRozan’s play made Gay expendable as well.
The Cavs had plenty of talent tied up in two positions (point guard and power forward), but hasn’t used it to their advantage.
Hopefully, even though they started rebuilding at the same time, the Cavaliers are a year behind the Raptors and the 2014-15 season will signal the wine and gold’s return to Eastern Conference prominence.
However, the Cavs can tell you about the “process” all they want, but another team went out and started winning games.
It’s another reason to take a good hard look at the organization this summer.