The Toronto coach spoke highly of James after the Raptors’ season ended in Game 4 to Cleveland on Monday.
“You’re looking at probably one of the guys that’s going to go down as one of the greatest ever,” Casey said. “It’s a match-up nightmare for anybody.”
James also spoke on this year’s rookie class as a whole, giving it high praise by putting it in the same sentence as his own draft class from 2003, which included Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.
“You look at the rookie class from this year, it’s probably the best since 2003,” James said with a smile and laugh.
After undergoing a promising transformation this season and heading into the playoffs with seemingly everything working in their favour, it was Groundhog Day all over again for Toronto as they met an all-too-familiar ending.
The Raptors were swept soundly in four games by James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs, one year after suffering the exact same fate at the exact same point.
Toronto were also beaten in six games by Cleveland in 2016, meaning they’ve now failed three straight seasons to dethrone James.
The previous two exits undoubtedly stung for a franchise that seemingly plateaued as good, but not great. The pain of this year’s elimination, however, feels like something more.
The Raptors are the first number-one seed to be swept in a series prior to the conference finals since the current 16-team format was introduced in 1984.— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) May 8, 2018
This was supposed to be the Raptors’ time to get over the hump and vanquish their demons. While they were clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference this season, Cleveland were a weaker side than in years past. Star power, depth, home-court advantage… you name it, Toronto had it on their side.
The one thing they didn’t have and what ended up mattering more than anything was James himself.
Which is why as much as it seems like the Raptors should blow it all up instead of continuing to bang their heads against the wall, the best approach might be patience.
Toronto aren’t without their warts – their All-Star backcourt has a tendency to either go missing or revert to an archaic style in the playoffs – but this may well be a LeBron problem and not a Raptors problem.
There’s a chance James is playing out West next season, and even though the Celtics and 76ers will continue to get better for the foreseeable future, the East will be more open with the best player on the other side of the bracket.
Even if James stays though – which seems like more of a possibility with every game Cleveland win in the playoffs – there’s something to be said about being a middle-class team. After all, only one franchise can raise a banner every year. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.
That doesn’t mean the Raptors shouldn’t pivot and be more bold with their moves. But maybe that means trading one star, or firing Dwane Casey – not going nuclear and tearing it all down by pressing the detonation button.