U.S. Markets close in 2 hrs 10 mins

After failing to solve The LeBron Problem, the Toronto Raptors are at a crossroads

Masai Ujiri tries to even it out. (Getty Images)

NBA teams are loath to admit defeat in the first place, so imagine what fantastical sense of security and perspective it must take to cop to a generational defeat.

[Follow Ball Don’t Lie on social media: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Tumblr]

The Toronto Raptors are just about there. The team augmented its Game 3 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers with notes from Kyle Lowry on LeBron James’ looming presence, as told to Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical:

They’ve got LeBron James,” Lowry told The Vertical late Friday night. “Nobody’s closing the gap on him. I mean, that’s it right there: They’ve got LeBron James and nobody’s closing the gap on him.”

Mind you, this was still placed with the Raptors working with a game left in its season. The whole point of a Game 4, even with Lowry on the pine after his attempt to ignore the debilitating pain in his ankle proved too much of a task, is to close “the gap” on LeBron James. Lowry was already past that. He went on:

“I don’t know when his prime is going to stop,” Lowry told The Vertical. “I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon. I think he’ll be able to continue what he’s doing for a long time. But that’s basketball. You’ve got to find a way to beat the best.”

[…]

“LeBron ain’t breaking spirits here, but he’s just that good.”

Few would posit that the Toronto Raptors – winners of three straight Atlantic Division titles between 2014-16, a 51-win team in 2016-17 – are anything less than “good,” but the fact remains that LeBron and his Cavaliers absolutely outclassed the Raptors in four postseason contests this time around, winning by a total of 61 points in a four game sweep. Toronto is about to find out what certain personalities, general manager Masai Ujiri and Lowry sharing equal billing in this regard, do when they hit the wall.

All the hallmarks of this particular autopsy are well-worn, in ways that predated Cleveland’s surgical, seven-day elimination of the squad that also fell (in six) to the eventual champs in 2016.

Kyle Lowry has room to stretch this summer. (Getty Images)

Kyle Lowry would have opted out of the $12 million player option for 2017-18 even had LeBron James gone into dentistry, and for the first time in this relationship it appears as if the decision to retain Lowry as a Raptor for next season and beyond might not be the Raptors’ decision to make.

Lowry’s willingness to talk himself into committing to his 30s in Toronto, at the rate of in upward of $200 million, is for the summer to reveal. As is Raptors GM Ujiri’s insistence on retaining the team that was handed to him with prime parts in place back in 2013: Lowry on board, DeMar DeRozan developing under what grew into a wildly reasonable contract, Jonas Valanciunas already in hand.

DeRozan will make over $27.7 million a season between now and 2021, though, while Valanciunas (despite those nice enough 14-point, six-rebound contributions against the champs) can’t play on a lot of playoff nights. Recently-acquired Serge Ibaka looks but hardly plays like a perfect fit, something about working two different defensive positions for the Raptors during the postseason, while he and fellow big Patrick Patterson will work as unrestricted free agents this summer. The same goes for P.J. Tucker, defensive maven who still could not get in the way of LeBron James during this latest semifinal loss, same as DeMarre Carroll (two years, $30.2 million left). Every prominent option – the half-rebuild, keeping prominent parts like Lowry and/or Ibaka, any deals sending DeRozan and/or Valanciunas out – leaves the team wary of rubbing up against the luxury tax.

For a team that likes each other, but … you read what Kyle Lowry said.

Fresh starts are hard to come by for semifinal losers, the walk down the path toward destruction rarely comes without complication and regret. With DeRozan, Carroll and Valanciunas still under contract, the team isn’t exactly replete with salary cap room should Lowry, Ibaka and Patterson leave. More compelling is the idea that still wouldn’t exactly be Masai Ujiri’s team if he went for the half-rebuild: Toronto has waited for four years to see what Ujiri can do with a clean slate, and though this is the closest he’s come to a clean slate, the 2017 offseason hardly ranks as kitchen-clean.

DeMar DeRozan bodies up on LeBron James. (Getty Images)

Whatever he has left, whatever the Raptors have left to look forward to with Lowry on board, it won’t give the Cleveland Cavaliers pause. LeBron James seemed more bothered by his team’s third-string point guard situation this season than he did a Toronto team put together with the knowledge that championship contention (let alone NBA championships) would come through LeBron.

And if that deadening realization – that James and his defending champs treated Toronto’s would-be usurpers like room temperature pate at a convention nobody wanted to be at – wasn’t enough, then look what Cavs coach Tyronn Lue left Raptors fans with over the weekend:

“There’s a reason why guys like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller don’t have championships, because of Michael Jordan. And now, in this era, because of LeBron James.”

Lue (after one ring with James) isn’t fully aligning himself with the forces that made James’ previous championship runs so destructive, he’s just working as an observer in this field. This is what players like LeBron James tend to do to people – to teams, to cities, to generations of fans – when players like LeBron and Jordan get a team worth their time to run with.

What did Charles Barkley do with that? He got the hell out of Jordan’s bracket, forcing a trade out of Philadelphia and into Phoenix in 1992 after two semifinal losses to Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and a lottery appearance in Jordan’s first title year in 1991. Barkley moved west to the Suns for awfully little in return, unappealing-even-then rotation players and a fringe All-Star in Jeff Hornacek, but even the West provided a problem: Phoenix barely got out of the first round in 1993 prior to falling to Jordan’s Bulls in the Finals, and Western bracket failings in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Ujiri can’t even rank DeRozan alongside Charles Barkley’s MVP-styled play from 1992, even before considering what 2017’s version of a Jeff Hornacek return might look like.

Patrick Ewing stuck it out with his Knicks, signing a six-year deal in 1991 just a few months after Jordan won his first title in Chicago. Ewing committed (at $33 million total, the largest contract for a team sports athlete at the time) in full to lasting out Jordan’s prime on a Knicks team that had already lost twice to Jordan’s pre-championship Bulls. Ewing infamously (grinning, charmingly) guaranteed a Knick championship in just about each of his team’s failures to hit the summit, but not even three significant do-overs (the hiring of Pat Riley a year after Ewing’s contract agreement, a brief and uncommitted move to Don Nelson-styled ball in 1995-96, a full on championship-aimed rebuild behind Ewing in 1996) brought the Knicks to a title.

Reggie Miller stuck with his crew as well, signing a contract with the Pacers in 1991 and turning down Knick overtures during the summer of 1996 to stay with Indiana. By the time Miller and Michael Jordan’s Bulls met in the 1998 Eastern finals, Miller was actually beyond his peak and enjoying a bit of a second wind as a franchise star, and while those Pacers were one of two Eastern teams (the 1992 Cavaliers ranking as another) to take Jordan to seven games 1998, the Pacer impact (the team had missed the postseason the year before) hardly made a dent in Chicago’s championships run prior to the tussle in Jordan’s final year with the Bulls.

All three had their chances following Jordan’s retirement – Miller fell short in the 2000 Finals, Barkley’s last-gasp attempts with Scottie Pippen and an aging Houston club failed, Ewing wasn’t even on the court when his similarly banged-up Knicks met the Spurs in the 1999 Finals – but none got away with a ring. The Pacers, 76ers and Knicks have yet to win a title in the years since for reasons that can’t be blamed on the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, but the drought remains. Through the generations.

Fans in each of these outposts, though, still talk about the battles against as if they were recalling their team’s own championship run. Only eight teams have won an NBA title since 1991, which means huge scads of other NBA clubs have seen their championship drought outlast a pair (or more) of generations, but not every two-time loser gets to say they pushed Michael Jordan to the brink. Fans from New York and Indiana can certainly say as much, and they certainly appreciate their franchise’s move to sustain life as a thorn in MJ’s side, as opposed to the quick and sensible turnaround. Which probably would have only ended up with Joe Smith, anyway.

Toronto Raptors fans can’t say their team has taken LeBron James to the brink, though. Far from it. There is little to suggest that the Raptors have the makeup and versatility offensively to make the Raptors sweat, and though we don’t doubt the team’s temerity, signing up for another 82-game season for the right to stare LeBron (just a year and a half older than Kyle Lowry) down again seems daunting at this point. Enervating.

Then again, it’s only May, and the summer tends to change perspective for each NBA club. Still, it would be fascinating to see Masai Ujiri and the Raptors act upon what Kyle Lowry already told The Vertical, even if the team’s heart and soul was speaking at his lowest of professional moments.

Other teams that are gone until November:

– – – – – – –

Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

  • The King of Beers Is Now Only America's 4th Most Popular Beer
    Business
    Fortune

    The King of Beers Is Now Only America's 4th Most Popular Beer

    The King of Beers has lost its crown. Budweiser has held a place in America’s top three most popular beers since at least the 1970s, according to data from Beer Marketer’s Insights. For the last seven years, despite its falling status, Budweiser had remained firmly in the top three.

  • Uber driver in US illegally charged with 4 California rapes
    Tech
    Associated Press

    Uber driver in US illegally charged with 4 California rapes

    A Mexican man living in the U.S. illegally used his job as an Uber driver to target intoxicated young women and was charged Monday with raping, assaulting and robbing four victims, California prosecutors said. Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez drove women to their homes, assaulted them, and stole property including cellphones, computers and jewelry, officials said. DNA evidence helped lead detectives to Alarcon-Nunez, who was arrested at his Santa Maria home last week, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said at a news conference.

  • Google is honoring Nigerian soccer legend, Stephen Keshi with a doodle
    Sports
    Quartz

    Google is honoring Nigerian soccer legend, Stephen Keshi with a doodle

    Google is celebrating Stephen Keshi, former captain and coach of the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s soccer national team, with a doodle on Google Nigeria on what would have been his 56th birthday. Keshi is famous for being the one of the two people, alongside Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), Africa’s biggest soccer tournament, as a player and manager. Keshi first won the title in 1994 as captain of the Super Eagles and, 19 years later, won it again as manager leading a less-than-fancied Super Eagles side. He died in June 2016. In a soccer-mad nation where the sport is a national pastime and often a unifying event, Keshi was well-loved and is fondly remembered

  • India will have a $5 billion economy by 2025, PM Modi say...
    World
    CNBC Videos

    India will have a $5 billion economy by 2025, PM Modi say...

    The youth of India is strengthening the country's economy, Narendra Modi said.

  • 'Get to Higher Ground Immediately.' Tsunami Warning in Alaska After Massive 8.2-Magnitude Earthquake Off Kodiak
    News
    Time

    'Get to Higher Ground Immediately.' Tsunami Warning in Alaska After Massive 8.2-Magnitude Earthquake Off Kodiak

    Authorities in Kodiak, Alaska, are telling residents to move to higher ground after a strong earthquake struck nearby, prompting tsunami warning for a large swath of coastal Alaska and Canada’s British Columbia while the remainder of the U.S. West Coast was under a watch. The earthquake, initially reported as a magnitude 8.2, was recorded about 175 miles southeast of Kodiak Island early Tuesday morning. Warnings from the National Weather Service sent to cellphones in Alaska warned: “Emergency Alert.

  • Wealthy millennials aren’t investing their money
    Business
    Quartz

    Wealthy millennials aren’t investing their money

    Millennials with money in the bank are big on saving—but they’re not so eager to invest. A new report from Merrill Edge, a retail banking division of Bank of America, which surveyed over 1,000 affluent Americans, paints a portrait of a young generation that prides itself on thrift. When asked what they can rely on most in 20 years, millennials’ top choice is their savings accounts (66%).

  • Tesla Driver, Passed Out Drunk, Tells Highway Patrol Autopilot Was in Charge
    Finance
    Fortune

    Tesla Driver, Passed Out Drunk, Tells Highway Patrol Autopilot Was in Charge

    The California Highway Patrol (CHP) says a driver was found passed out in his Tesla with a very high blood alcohol content on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge on Friday. The driver, according to CHP, claimed the car had been “set on autopilot” in an apparent attempt to defend himself. Driver explained Tesla had been set on autopilot.

  • Atlanta and these four other cities are most likely to get Amazon’s new headquarters: Tech analyst
    Business
    CNBC

    Atlanta and these four other cities are most likely to get Amazon’s new headquarters: Tech analyst

    With Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) narrowing its list of potential cities for its second headquarters last week, one Wall Street technology analyst believes he knows which of the remaining candidates have the inside track for the economically game-changing project. GBH Insights' Daniel Ives predicts five cities out of the new list of 20 candidates have a better chance to get Amazon's second headquarters than the rest. Amazon announced Thursday it narrowed the list of potential sites for its second headquarters to 20 locations.

  • No One on Earth Can Deal With Susan Sarandon Rolling Up to the SAG Awards in Sunglasses
    Entertainment
    Time

    No One on Earth Can Deal With Susan Sarandon Rolling Up to the SAG Awards in Sunglasses

    It’s a well-established fact that Susan Sarandon isn’t afraid of making a statement, whether that means letting Twitter users know that she was having the “worst time” at the 2016 DNC or in the case of Sunday night, taking to the 2018 Screen Actors Guild Awards red carpet to stun viewers with some serious glamour with a sequined gown and a pair of very fabulous sunglasses. Sarandon, who walked the red carpet alongside her Thelma & Louise co-star Geena Davis, sagely protected herself from the bright sun pounding down, with a pair of mirrored shades that nicely complemented her glittering navy blue gown.

  • 3 Stocks That Look Like Apple in 2008
    Business
    Motley Fool

    3 Stocks That Look Like Apple in 2008

    In January 2008, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) had only released the iPhone about six months prior, and in the U.S. it was available only through a single cellular carrier. Even with its positive reception and early success, few people were expecting the

  • Will this “potentially hazardous” asteroid hit the Earth? Take a look yourself
    Science
    Quartz

    Will this “potentially hazardous” asteroid hit the Earth? Take a look yourself

    If you’ve not already heard about it, the Daily Mail would like you to know to the following: ‘Potentially hazardous’ asteroid the size of the Burj Khalifa is heading towards Earth at 67,000 mph. It is the largest space rock to brush past our planet this year and previous research has found a rock of this size could plunge Earth into a mini-ice age if it hit. What are the chances of it hitting the Earth? NASA says zero. The asteroid called 2002 AJ129 will fly safely past the Earth on Feb. 4. The same is true for previous warnings from the Daily Mail for other asteroids, such as “lorry-sized” 2017 YD7, which safely flew past the Earth on Jan. 3, or “rogue asteroid” 2010 NY 65, which did the same

  • Bank of America Is Eliminating a Popular Free Checking Account
    Business
    Money

    Bank of America Is Eliminating a Popular Free Checking Account

    Bank of America is ending a free checking account often used by people with low incomes, now requiring customers to keep more money in their accounts in order to avoid a monthly fee. The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank this month is moving all of its remaining eBanking customers to standard core checking accounts that charge a $12 monthly fee unless the customer receives a direct deposit of $250 or more or a minimum daily balance of $1,500, the Wall Street Journal reported. The move has been ongoing since 2015.

  • Finance
    U.S.News & World Report

    3 Helpful Rules for Investors as the Dow Goes Up

    The Dow is climbing, and with it, investors' hopes and dreams. The Dow Jones industrial average shot past the 25,000 mark for the first time in January -- and just a week later, topped a new milestone of 26,000. Because while you may think you know everything you need to know about the stock market (and maybe you do!), this is not your parents' or grandparents' Dow.

  • At Least 30 Children Have Died From This Season's Flu. Some of Them Were Perfectly Healthy
    Health
    Time

    At Least 30 Children Have Died From This Season's Flu. Some of Them Were Perfectly Healthy

    Thirty children have died from confirmed influenza-related causes so far this flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) most recent weekly report, released last Friday. CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald has described the 2017-2018 flu season as “very active,” and has said that much of the country is experiencing “widespread and intense flu activity.” During a Jan. 12 press update, Fitzgerald said that influenza A, H3N2, has been the most common strain of flu virus reported this year. “These viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older,” she said.

  • Business
    Forbes

    Ford Is The Next GE And Shorts Should Be Salivating

    After writing extensively for Forbes on GE’s plummet in the past few months, it was striking that both GE and Ford delivered negative guidance to the Street last Tuesday. Ford’s truth bomb —delivered at the Deutsche Bank Global Auto Industry Conference — was particularly destructive. Ford CFO Bob Shanks noted that 2018 earnings were likely to be in the range of $1.45-$1.70 versus a preliminary read on 2017 EPS of $1.78 (full results are due Wednesday.) So, in the midst of the Trump jump in the U.S. and data showing an increasing rate of growth in almost every other major global economy, Ford is predicting — at the midpoint of its guidance range — an EPS decline of 10% in 2018. How can things be going so well in other sectors and not for Ford?

  • :FBI text message bombshell may be a conspiracy to disrupt election: Judge Napolitano
    Politics
    Fox Business Videos

    :FBI text message bombshell may be a conspiracy to disrupt election: Judge Napolitano

    Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano on new revelations from the FBI text message controversy.

  • 3 Things IBM's New CFO Wants You to Know
    Business
    Motley Fool

    3 Things IBM's New CFO Wants You to Know

    International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM) announced a surprise executive shuffle earlier this month, just one week before it reported its fourth-quarter results. Martin Schroeter stepped down as CFO, moving to a new role as senior vice president, global markets. The fourth-quarter earnings conference call was Kavanaugh's first chance in his new role to explain to analysts and investors how IBM's transformation efforts were shaping up.

  • What the Market Completely Missed From Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Fourth-Quarter Results
    Business
    Motley Fool

    What the Market Completely Missed From Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Fourth-Quarter Results

    Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI) was full of surprises this past quarter. Out of everything Kinder Morgan reported last quarter, that delay took investors' focus and was the reason shares slipped a bit last week. Kinder Morgan quietly returned more cash to investors last year.

  • Johnson & Johnson takes $13.6 billion charge related to new U.S. tax law
    Business
    Reuters

    Johnson & Johnson takes $13.6 billion charge related to new U.S. tax law

    Also on Tuesday, U.S. appeals court upheld a ruling that invalidated a crucial J&J patent on its blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug Remicade. U.S. President Donald Trump signed the new U.S. tax law late last year, and many large U.S. corporations and drugmakers have said they will take advantage of its new, lower tax rate on repatriated foreign earnings and cash.

  • Why General Electric Took Another Hit
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Why General Electric Took Another Hit

    In a development that CEO John Flannery described as "deeply disappointing," General Electric Company (NYSE: GE) was forced to take a $6.2 billion after-tax GAAP charge relating to its insurance portfolio. GE Capital's dividend (contributing to GE) did come to $4 billion in the first half but was promptly suspended pending the review.It gets worse.

  • Wal-Mart's Pay Increases Hide a Dirty Secret
    Business
    Motley Fool

    Wal-Mart's Pay Increases Hide a Dirty Secret

    Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) has always been a lightning rod for the debate on living wages. Critics contend the company has built its success on the back of low-wage employees, noting that many of Wal-Mart's employees are dependent upon government assistance. New CEO Doug McMillon has done an admirable job reversing this criticism.

  • These 2020 Presidential Hopefuls All Voted Against Reopening the Government
    Politics
    Fortune

    These 2020 Presidential Hopefuls All Voted Against Reopening the Government

    On Monday morning, the Senate advanced a temporary spending bill that would end the government shutdown. A total of 48 Republicans and 33 Democrats voted for the bill, while two Republicans and 16 Democrats voted No. Among those that voted against the temporary bill were several Presidential hopefuls.

  • Elon Musk presents LA tunnel plan
    Business
    BBC News

    Elon Musk presents LA tunnel plan

    Elon Musk's Boring Company has presented plans to build a Hyperloop tunnel under Culver City, California. The plans were presented at a council meeting on Monday by Jehn Balajadia, operations co-ordinator of the firm. She said: "The purpose of Boring Company is to alleviate soul-destroying traffic and augment public transit." Mr Musk, also chief of Tesla Inc and Space Exploration Technologies Corp, didn't speak at the meeting. A report by the Culver City manager's office stated: "The Boring Company has proposed a privately funded human transportation tunnel that would run underneath the Westside of Los Angeles. "The tunnel would contain a high-speed underground public transportation system in

  • How Citigroup (C) Stock Stands Out in a Strong Industry
    Finance
    Zacks

    How Citigroup (C) Stock Stands Out in a Strong Industry

    Major Regional space is seeing solid earnings estimate revision activity, and is in great company from a Zacks Industry Rank perspective. This is arguably taking place in the Banks - Major Regional space as it currently has a Zacks Industry Rank of 40 out of more than 250 industries, suggesting it is well-positioned from this perspective, especially when compared to other segments out there. Meanwhile, Citigroup is actually looking pretty good on its own too.

  • Business
    InvestorPlace

    Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Isn’t Going to Be What It Once Was

    There’s no two ways about it: Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A, NYSE:BRK.B) stock, under the guidance of legendary stock-picker Warren Buffett, has been a better bet than the broad market for any portion of the past 50 years of Berkshire’s existence. While the S&P 500 mustered a heroic 22% gain in 2017, BRK stock — the A shares as well as the B shares — advanced nearly 30%. Will the next 50 years be as fruitful for current and would-be Berkshire investors?