"Draft picks? I want you to play some defence!"
Last night's win over Boston might not have helped Toronto's tanking hopes, but the HQ argues that it said a lot about the positive direction management has this franchise headed in.
This post was supposed to be about Andrea Bargnani.
It was supposed to be about the Toronto Raptors, shutting him down for the remainder of the NBA season, a move that was completely logical considering the club's push for the NBA draft lottery.
However in the wake of last night's improbable win over the Boston Celtics, I'd be remiss not to discuss the job Dwane Casey continues to do for the Toronto Raptors. Casey coached arguably his least-talented version of an NBA team ever, to a win over a Celtics club that had been one of the hottest teams in the league. His Raptors struggled offensively all game, but simply out-worked Boston throughout, winning categories like rebounds and free-throws in convincing fashion.
Now to put things in perspective, the Celtics played this game from the second quarter to about five minutes left in the fourth, like they didn't care. Their offense was non-existent as they refused to move the ball, settling for jump shot after jump shot. At one point it seemed like the only play the C's were capable of running was either giving the ball to KG for a jump shot from the elbow, or a Mickael Pietrus three-pointer.
Boston scored only 27 points in the second and third quarters combined, so it's not like Toronto dominated this one from the get-go. The C's shot themselves in the foot over and over.
Boston finally locked in and made their run but thanks to some tremendously clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch, Toronto held on for the win. DeMar DeRozan and Linas Kleiza combined to go eight of eight from the free-throw line in sealing the win.
But let's go back to Casey for a second here.
I mean, could he not coach, as I noted last night, a team of penguins to victory? His troops could easily have folded under the weight of a 20 to 13 early deficit but despite some putrid shooting, kept working and continued to cut into the Celtics lead. Considering Casey was relying on three players fresh from the D League, two of which were attempting to replace Jose Calderon at the 1, last night's win was perhaps the most impressive of the year, and makes you long for next season, when hopefully Casey will have some top tier talent to work with.
And that's why it's pretty hard for me to be upset at this victory.
Sure, the "tank" stops and wins by New Jersey and New Orleans last night are wasted, but isn't this the kind of effort and coaching display fans have been begging for for years?
More importantly, it's not like the Raptors didn't give it their all in terms of providing the Celtics with an advantage. As noted off the top, the club shelved Andrea Bargnani for the rest of the season prior to the game, while Jose Calderon failed to play this one too. Boston just played down to their opponents' level.
Or in actuality, even below it.
The real takeaway for me last night was not just that Casey can coach, and that Alan Anderson, despite some not so efficient shooting, should be on this roster next season, but that Bryan Colangelo is finally getting it.
In previous years we saw BC swing for the fences with this club, making last-ditch efforts to reinforce a team that in reality, needed to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. The best way to do that was via the draft and that meant losing games.
But instead of facing that reality, Colangelo opted to add pieces like Shawn Marion, boosting a doomed club's win totals when in reality, losses were the logical course of action. My fear was that again this season, BC would take this same path and Raptors' fans would be left on the outside of a promising lottery, looking in.
I'm happy to report that hasn't been the case.
BC moved Leandro Barbosa at the trade deadline, and likely had the final say in other moves such as shelving Jerryd Bayless and Andrea Bargnani, decisions that can at face value can only help the club's draft lottery chances. Other key players like Calderon and Kleiza have missed games, games I get the feeling they might have played had a playoff seed been on the line.
Look, I hate the idea of tanking as much as anyone but it's a logical reality under the current NBA draft system. For your club to rebuild, I firmly believe you need management that understands and accepts this reality, even if they don't overtly come out and say "are you kidding me, of course we're trying to lose as many games as possible!"
It's now evident that Colangelo gets this idea (even if it perhaps took the success of an OKC or Memphis to cement it) and is looking to play the game too. He's done his part, and now it's up to Toronto's competition these final six games to do their part.
Because as was made perfectly clear last night, Dwane Casey and his crew aren't rolling over for a higher draft pick.
Nor should they.
While Bryan Colangelo may have had next year's club in mind since the start of this season, Casey is looking to win here and now, and establish a culture and attitude that's already set up for when BC indeed brings in reinforcements for next fall.
This is the way a coach and GM should work, in unison, and it's a refreshing sight for Raptors fans.
It's just unfortunate that it's taken the entirety of Colangelo's regime to get to this point.