In the Toronto Raptors’ last 2 games, Jonas Valanciunas, the team’s first-string centre and most untouchable man on the roster, played an average of 16+ minutes. That’s about half the PT of the rest of the starting five. While there may be any number of innocuous reasons for JV sitting more than playing, I’m going to risk looking foolish by offering another, seemingly unrelated perspective.
There are three critically important “suits” in the Raptors’ hierarchy: Tim Leiweke (President of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment), Masai Ujiri (General Manager) and coach Dwane Casey. Of these gentlemen, two (Leiweke & Ujiri) are the New Kids On The Block, and as close to untouchable as any executives on the planet. Casey, by contrast, is on the last year of his contract, after being recruited by Ujiri’s predecessor, Bryan Colangelo. Dwane Casey will keep or lose his job (which we can assume he badly wants to keep) based on the play of the Raps this season. In short, he needs to win now.
Ujiri, Casey’s immediate boss, is under no such pressure (neither is Leiweke, who will depart this conversation). Our GM can take a 2- to 4-year view of where he wants the Raps to be. The current roster does not consist of “his” players, with the very minor exception of a few benchwarmers. Ujiri is deeply interested in determining whether the young players the Raps have stockpiled are keepers. To that end, I’m sure he wants to see Terrence Ross, Quincy Acy and definitely JV, in the heat of battle. How do they respond in crunch time? Casey, on the other hand, may not have the slightest interest. If playing his veteran lineup (DeRozan, Gay, Johnson, Lowry & Fields(!)) will produce a close victory, that’s what Coach will do. Note: Acy hasn’t touched the floor yet.
Sure, Casey may say afterwards the opposition was going small, or he wanted ballhandlers on the floor, or JV was in foul trouble, but it’s all a smokescreen. Keeping the kids nailed to the bench will stifle their development, but from Casey’s perspective, that’s collateral damage. From his boss Ujiri’s, it’s a disaster.
A coach and his GM with contrary goals is far from desirable, but hardly unusual in pro sports. What will be interesting is whether the Raps can keep this brewing rift under wraps.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor 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.
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