Eric Smith’s Mailbag: Raptors’ biggest threats & early MVP votes

Jimmy Butler, left, had a huge night in the Bulls' win. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Each week this season, Sportsnet insider and voice of the Raptors on SN590 The FAN, Eric Smith, will answer your questions about everything happening in Raptorland and around the Association. Send your questions to @Eric_Smith on Twitter using the hashtag #askE.

Honestly, I don’t think there is.

LeBron James is a generational player. He is, arguably, among the five best of all-time. We are lucky to be able to see him in his prime.

And, just as teams in NBA history had to do against Michael Jordan and the Bulls, or Kobe & Shaq and the Lakers, you enter each season already knowing who the “favorite” is and how tough it’s going to be to beat the best. Ask the Pistons or the Pacers. Or the Kings or Blazers (and many more).

The Raptors are now in that boat in regards to James and Cleveland. They are not better than the Cavs. But can they be better with a roster-altering trade (that would likely limit your depth and potentially negatively affect team chemistry)? Or by keeping the stability and cohesion intact, and grooming a younger core that could help keep the Raptors contending during James’ final years, when he may be on the decline?

I guess we’ll find out.

Kevin Durant would have looked nice in a Raptors jersey though :)

The automatic reaction says: Boston. And they’re good. I like their team. They have a nice balance of youth and experience and a versatile roster up front, and in the backcourt. But if the playoffs started today I would still pick Toronto to win in a 7-game series against the Celtics.

The team I would be weary of?


If the playoffs started today, I would be feeling uneasy about the Bulls.

You can’t discount star power (and star calls) in the playoffs, so Dwyane Wade would be dangerous. I don’t have to tell you about Jimmy Butler and how he haunts Toronto—on both ends of the floor. And with Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis up front, along with the size and 3pt-shooting abilities of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic too, I think the Raptors could have issues. A Bulls-Raptors series would be a scary proposition.

On my MVP list today, Harden would be third. He’s a very close third to Russell Westbrook.

Triple-doubles aside, I think Westbrook is doing more with less around him. The Thunder don’t have as many wins as the Rockets, but Harden has more talent around him in Houston, and so Russ gets the nod for second.

So who’s first?

No, not LeBron James. What he’s doing in Cleveland this year (yes, with a fabulous team around him) is as good as any other season he has turned in. Sadly, too many folks have become bored by James’ greatness. And given that he’d likely be 4th on my list, I suppose I’m as guilty as others of not fully appreciating his dominance.

My first place vote— my MVP— would be Kawhi Leonard.

He’s a five (or more) tool player on the offensive end and as tough as they come on the defensive end— a true lock-down guy. His Spurs have the second-best record in the Association (including the third-most wins and second-fewest losses) and Leonard is easily the biggest reason why.

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