The Toronto Raptors didn’t waste any time. The day after the team’s elimination from the NBA Playoffs, General Manager Masai Ujiri signed coach Dwane Casey to a new 3-year contract. Are we happy about this?
The coach has just completed his third season at the helm of our team, and it’s the first time he’s had a winning season. That statement covers more than his Toronto tenure; he was 53-69 in a season and a half in Minnesota before getting canned there. For an NBA coach to have lasted so long without winning is exceedingly rare in an impatient world. Masai must be convinced his coach, whom he inherited rather than selected, has the ear of his players.
Dwane Casey has many positives as a coach. He stresses defense, and his players buy in, or they sit. He’s not afraid to take a chance; promoting Terrence Ross to the starting lineup as our small forward ran contrary to the conventional wisdom, which would have been to put the veteran John Salmons in the spot. Perhaps most importantly, he’s managed to coax improved play from everyone on the roster. Would Kyle Lowry have had such a dazzling season with someone else coaching? That’s obviously unanswerable, but the fact remains: Kyle did have his best pro season under Casey’s tutelage. Will Kyle return to our colours? I’m sure Masai, a clever man, took the positive relationship between Kyle and Casey into serious consideration when deciding to re-sign our coach. Had Masai been concerned that Kyle would take a “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us” attitude towards Dwane, I suspect the coach’s contract extension would have been delayed, or not offered at all. One can always find a coach, but experienced and talented point guards are perpetually in short supply. DeMar DeRozan was named an All-Star for the first time. Jonas Valanciunas made significant strides at centre. Nando De Colo arrived from San Antonio where he’d received no playing time, and very shortly was contributing. Coach was able to find useful roles for all the arrivals from Sacramento.
So am I on-side with Casey’s return? Yes, with reservations. I’m not wild about a lot of turnover in assistant coaching ranks, as I think it’s an indicator of unhappiness and dissension. The ’12-’13 assistants included Tom Sterner, Scott Roth, Micah Nori and Johnny Davis. Only Sterner was back in ’13-’14; I will be watching with considerable interest to see whether Dwane retains any of this year’s crew. I don’t think there’s any need for help on D, but I’m not happy about tactical decisions on offense. Our 1-6 record in overtime games is cause for concern, as is our lack of buzzer-beaters, most glaringly in Game 7 of the playoffs. Jay Triano was the most creative tactical coach we’ve ever had, and I’d love to see him back as an assistant responsible for drawing up post-timeout and last-shot plays.
Our coach is coming back, and our GM isn’t going anywhere. This summer should be one of stability, unlike the roiled waters at MLSE a year ago.