The Raps’ recent winning ways have created a new set of issues for Dwane Casey to juggle. The team is on the cusp of returning to relevance as a playoff contender, which was unthinkable 2 weeks ago. Going 8-2 since December 14 with a revamped roster has changed the dynamic in Raptor-land. For emphatic proof of how strange the Raptors’ season has been to date, we need only compare last night’s starting lineup against Sacramento with that which tipped off the first game against Indiana. One name remains the same: DeMar DeRozan.
Coach doesn’t have a Starting 5 & scrubs; he’s comfortable using everyone he’s got save Aaron Gray & Quincy Acy – a Playing 10, if you like. Even Landry Fields has re-entered the rotation & not done any harm (pushing oft-injured Linas Kleiza to the bench-warming status of Gray & Acy?). Coach is employing the hoary cliche “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to make out his starting lineup, for which I don’t blame him. However, the magic can’t last. Mikael Pietrus is not an NBA-quality starting Small Forward, nor Aaron Gray a Centre, as they will soon find out next time we lose 2 straight.
Coach will continue to give heavy minutes to DeMar & Jose, & everyone will roll in & out of games depending on match-ups & hot (or cold) hands. He’s found excellent roles for capable veterans like Amir Johnson & Alan Anderson, & has to get some credit for the development of Ed Davis. Furthermore, Coach seems to have gotten buy-in from Kyle Lowry (which is a tribute to both coach & player) that’s he’s the backup Point Guard until Jose Calderon plays himself out of the role or is traded.
That’s the present – what about the future? If January’s 9-6 record [c'mon: let's be optimistic] lifts the Raps into 10th place in the East, the question of win-now or develop-the-kids will be top of mind. Our injured Euros, Andrea Bargnani & Jonas Valanciunas, return in early February. How Coach will find minutes for them is anyone’s guess, but he must figure it out. Bargs will be spotlighted in anticipation of a trade, but whose minutes will he swallow? Assuming a trade is consummated, the player(s) coming back will need to be worked into the rotation, otherwise why bother? Valanciunas is the only Centre on the roster with upside, & must get on-the-job training. Likewise, Terrence Ross, another rookie with sky-high potential, won’t get better on the bench.
If Dwane Casey, who’s had several seasons’ worth of adversity crammed into this season’s first few months, can somehow maintain his sanity & manoeuvre this squad into a playoff berth, he’s got to be in the argument for Coach of the Year.
Brian Boake is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.