The Raptors won the LeBron sweepstakes too

July 14, 2014, 11:16 AM

The only way this off-season could have worked out any better for the Toronto Raptors and Masai Ujiri would have been if, as rumored, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony left the Eastern Conference.

Yet here we are: The big dominoes have fallen and there is no longer hegemony in the NBA East. LeBron James will make the young Cleveland Cavaliers prohibitive favourites even if Kevin Love doesn’t join him.

But there is no “Big Three” anywhere anymore; the Miami Heat are less of a force without James and Anthony has consigned himself to another trip through the wilderness with the New York Knicks. Pau Gasol is in the conference, but Trevor Ariza has left a Washington Wizards team that was as much in the ascendancy as the Raptors. Even better, James can opt out after this season or the next even though he says he won’t.

In the meantime, how smart does Ujiri look getting point guard Kyle Lowry locked up before all that freed-up Heat money started looking for a place to land? Here’s a lesson: If there’s a move you need to make, the sooner the better, regardless of whether there’s a premium attached. Speaking of which…

DO SOMETHING, ALEX!

The Toronto Blue Jays have hit the all-star break running on fumes after a 2-8 road trip, but their proximity to first place and the biological clock of both the team and a nervous fan base have everybody expecting a big trade from GM Alex Anthopoulos.

(Actually, that big deal has been anticipated for a month, no?)

But here’s some food for thought: It is understandable that Blue Jays fans want Anthopoulos to drop the hammer on 2014, given the weaknesses of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees and the early hole the Tampa Bay Rays dug for themselves. Unsaid is the notion that as long as it’s the Baltimore Orioles the Blue Jays are chasing, hope will never be dead.

Still, keep in mind that there is expected to be a 2015 season (at last report) and given the state of the market and everything we’re led to believe from the Blue Jays brass, neither Melky Cabrera nor Colby Rasmus will be back. Toss in the fact that Casey Janssen is a free agent and Ryan Goins isn’t a lock at second base, there will be holes in the lineup.

Anthopoulos would be wise then to eschew rental players or short-term fixes if it means giving up pitchers Daniel Norris or Aaron Sanchez, which would be the focal point of any acquisition since reports of Dalton Pompey’s lure for other organizations seem to have been exaggerated. Ideally, the GM needs to land an everyday player with some contract mileage left—and those trades can be difficult to make at the deadline.

WHAT I LEARNED, Vol. 1, EDITION 1

The things you learn in a week of hosting a radio talk show:

– Chicago Blackhawks senior advisor Scotty Bowman thinks Jonathan Toews, signed to an eight-year contract extension along with Patrick Kane, is a combination of Steve Yzerman and Jacques Lemaire, noting that Lemaire’s subtle two-way talents didn’t always earn him the requisite credit on those great Montreal Canadiens teams. Interesting comparable.
Full interview here

– Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey already knows one thing about first-round pick Bruno Caboclo. “Believe me, Bruno is not two years away from being two years away, I can tell you,” Casey said from NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Casey also believes the length provided by both Caboclo and fellow Brazilian Lucas Nogueira in practice will test his own players. “(It) gives us some resistance… we haven’t had.”
Full interview here

– The FIFA World Cup is over for four more years but the under-20 women’s World Cup hits this country in August ahead of the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Head coach John Herdman took time out from his responsibilities as an analyst on CBC-TV’s World Cup coverage to talk about the Canadian program and the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallists.

The future is bright in a country that is third in the world in female participation in the sport—but, “You would have thought there would be a big pool of players who are 22, 23, 25 years old that would replace players who are into their 30s, but we haven’t got that. We’ve got to squeeze every last bit of bounce from that generation and we’ve got to work in the 16 and 17 year olds.” Herdman’s philosophy? “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”
Full interview here

QUIBBLES AND BITS: Sportsnet’s John Shannon has been reporting the Blackhawks might trade defenceman Johnny Oduya to get some salary relief. … Dan Uggla is on the outs in Atlanta and could be designated for assignment. The Blue Jays tried to trade for him both when J.P. Ricciardi was GM and during Alex Anthopoulos’s tenure. … Adam Proteau of The Hockey News started an interesting conversation in light of LeBron James’ decision to return to Cleveland, wondering if Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning would bring his talents to his hometown of Toronto as an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Making it more interesting was that Stamkos’ Twitter account, @RealStamkos91, favourited a link to the story.

TWITS

Friday wasn’t a banner day for those of us in the media business and not surprisingly Twitter had a hand in it. James picked Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins to craft his “I’m Coming Home” letter, choosing one of our best and brightest instead of one of the noisier voices on the NBA landscape. It was a return as elegant as “The Decision” was tacky.

Somewhat bizarrely, it elicited this Tweet from Chris Broussard of ESPN, one of those voices paid not to get scooped by Lee Jenkins:

Wow, nothing like using an anonymous source to confirm James’s own words.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show form 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan and Baseball Central from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. ET on the Sportsnet radio and television network.

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