Even as Game 4 was still going on between the Raptors and Cavaliers, the score already out of hand, the question was getting asked: is it time for Toronto to move on from Dwane Casey?
According to a report today from TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, sources are apparently indicating that the Raps’ management group, headed by president Masai Ujiri, may indeed be inclined to make a coaching change. And that means we may be nearing the end of Casey’s seven-year tenure with the Raptors.
Here’s what Lewenberg says specifically:
The evaluation period is ongoing but, according to sources, the Raptors are strongly leaning towards making a coaching change.
The rest of the piece documents the things we already know (including some of Dwane’s obvious internal replacements: Jerry Stackhouse, Nick Nurse, Rex Kalamian). Casey is without a doubt the best coach the Raptors have ever had, overseeing the franchise’s best seasons in memory — the 2016 run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the back-to-back-to-back 50-win seasons, the 59-win, first place year we just enjoyed. He’s earned his tenure in Toronto the hard way: by patiently building a winning program, one that he (and we) could be proud of over time.
Remember, it’s not nothing that Casey came to the Raptors as they were getting over being jilted by another star player (Chris Bosh). They were another bad team stocked with only a couple of actual NBA players (and dudes like Andrea Bargnani and Linas Kleiza), and thought of as a complete joke — if they were thought of at all. That the team has steadily improved over time is at least in some part due to Casey. He was there to help guide DeMar DeRozan towards success (for which the Raptors’ star gave him credit earlier today), introduce Jonas Valanciunas to the rigours of the league, and turn Kyle Lowry into the All-Star we all know and love. Obviously it takes good and dedicated individual players to become the best versions of themselves — and a prudent general manager to put the roster together in the first place — but having a coach who cares is good too.
But while Casey, now at 61 years old, was able to make the Raptors respectable, he hasn’t been able to get them over the LeBron James-sized mountain in their way. Perhaps no coach could with this group of players. Perhaps it is indeed an impossible task nowadays to unseat the King. (It’s funny to consider now that Casey was the architect of the defense that helped defeat James in the 2011 Finals. Well, OK, it’s funny to me.) Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
There will undoubtedly be Raptors fans out there who will say Casey was not a great coach; they will say he was merely OK, a solid personnel manager who nevertheless always looked a step slow to adjust while games got out of control. The Raptors seemed to always come undone in the most significant moments of the playoffs — was this Casey’s fault, or the players? Was he figuring out the best ways to maximize the roster, preparing them in the most thorough way for what was to come, or not? It’s impossible to say what goes on behind closed doors in a basketball team’s locker room, but we all saw what happened on the court.
That said, no one on the Raptors, or around the organization, has a bad word to say about Dwane Casey. No member of the media will claim to have any problem with him either. The players he coached all went hard for him, and appeared to genuinely buy into the idea that he was doing his utmost to lead them towards success. Casey tended to reward that effort.
That Casey ultimately failed to get the Raptors a championship this season, or any season, is a stark reminder that most coaches and teams end up here, defeated. Through that lens, it feels vaguely obscene to even suggest he should be “fired.” It’s Casey himself who would be the first to tell you its a long road to the NBA title, one that takes a lot of focus, energy, and drive.
If nothing else then, assuming he is indeed relieved of his head coaching position, Casey should always be remembered as the man who got the Raptors to take their first steps in the belief they too could make it to the end.