The Toronto Raptors tried everything to go toe-to-toe with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2017 NBA playoffs.
They traded for P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka. They fought valiantly in the postseason. And it couldn't have mattered less.
The Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Raptors right out of the playoffs with a 109-102 win Sunday in Game 4, leaving Toronto with some big questions this offseason. Was this the end of an era? Did LeBron break up another Eastern Conference opponent?
The answers will come in the days ahead, starting with who coaches this team next season.
Here are four major steps the Raptors can take to try to change their destiny instead of being eliminated by The King each postseason.
Look for a Dwane Casey replacement, but don't be hasty
Most NBA observers are speculating Casey has coached his last game for the Raptors, which would seem reasonable.
Casey has restored Toronto to respectability since he took over as head coach in the summer of 2011. He's also shown he doesn't have what it takes to coach this team up to anything approaching the Cavaliers' level.
That's no knock on Casey; few, if any, coaches could prepare this roster for a slugfest with LeBron James. But Casey was supposed to install an elite defense in Toronto, and the Raptors haven't always lived up to that expectation.
Still, Casey is a solid coach who has his players' respect. Unless the Raptors identify a coach they genuinely prefer over their current leader — maybe a George Karl or a Jeff Van Gundy, or even a Sean Miller from the college ranks — they're probably best-served bringing Casey back for another year or two to keep mentoring this team.
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Let Serge Ibaka go in free agency
Trading for Ibaka this season was a smart move that gave Toronto a hypothetical chance in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It just hasn't panned out.
Ibaka is too physicially limited these days, as the Cavaliers exploited his injuries on every possible possession in the second round. Cleveland forced Ibaka to chase stretch-fours all around the court and dared him to shoot from deep on the other end.
Toronto will face great temptation to keep Ibaka, as he remains one of the better free-agent power forwards in this summer's class, and the Raptors will have basically zero cap space to find a replacement.
But giving Ibaka any kind of lengthy deal would sink Toronto for years moving forward. Better to take a slight step back at the position for now then mortgage the future.
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Understand that Kyle Lowry is the future of your organization
The Raptors have two paths forward, and Lowry will determine which route they choose.
If he decides he's had enough, Toronto enters a precarious rebuild. It still has DeMar DeRozan's monstrous contract on the books, and his lack of 3-point shooting complicates the Raptors' need to enter the modern era. But that's a long-term concern.
Without Lowry, all Toronto should worry about is adding as much talent as possible on short-term deals that offer flexibility in potential trades with other teams looking to dump salary.
If Lowry wants to return to Toronto, on the other hand, the Raptors should do everything they can to bring him back. There are injury concerns, and he's a bit undersized as well. He's also one of the best available point guards on the market and the heart and soul of this team.
Still, this Lowry-DeRozan backcourt has reached its peak. If Lowry is back next year, Toronto has to hope a disgrunted Western All-Star can change the Raptors' fortunes.
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Try to fleece Doc Rivers in a DeMar DeRozan trade
There's blood in the water in Los Angeles, and Masai Ujiri should be circling the Clippers like the shark he is.
If Blake Griffin wants out of L.A. — and that's a solid probability — he'll look to head to a team with another All-Star in a cosmopolitan city.
Toronto fits the bill perfectly. He'd have a Chris Paul-esque point guard who's not quite as ornery as CP3 in Lowry, one of the best front offices in the NBA and a weak Eastern Conference outside of LeBron James.
Don't forget: While we focus on Paul's playoff failings, Griffin hasn't made a conference finals in his career, either. The Raptors could offer a chance to remedy that hole in his resume.
Of course, Toronto's cap situation complicates things. Short of shedding a ton of salary, the Raptors have no route to signing Griffin in free agency.
But what if Doc Rivers is desperate enough to want an "All-Star" in return for Griffin? What if he'll take DeRozan — especially if the Clippers lose their starting shooting guard, J.J. Redick, as well?
A sign-and-trade between Toronto and Los Angeles would work wonders for the Raptors. From there, you can build out your roster around your dynamic stars over the next two or three years, hoping the Lowry/Griffin pairing is enough to attract veteran 3-and-D wings and a rim-protecting center.
It's a pipe dream, to be sure. The alternative is obscurity, though, so why not dream big?