What should the Raptors do with the NBA’s Coach of the Year?
Obviously it’s a terrible look to get swept in the second round as the conference’s 1 seed. It’s an even worse look to go 2-12 versus Lebron in the playoffs over the past three years (conference semis in 2016 (4-2), 2017 conference finals (4-0), 2018 conference semis (4-0). All of these tough losses have come in seasons where the Raptors were considered “contenders” because of the strong play of All Stars Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan with a rotating cast of solid role players. As the dust has settled on yet another playoff disappointment this year, while the Raptors core has taken their lumps, coach Dwane Casey and his future with the team has seemingly been pushed to the forefront.
First things first, you’re crazy if you don’t think Dwane Casey didn’t deserve to be named the NBA’s 2018 coach of the year. While Brad Stevens and the Celtics have made an impressive run in the playoffs despite having an injured, young and inexperienced roster, the award is inherently a regular season award. So if you ignore the playoffs I think it’s clear that the award should’ve gone to Casey (or Mike D’Antoni).
This year the Raptors finished with a 59-23 record, good for first in the Eastern Conference and second in the entire NBA. Casey led one of the youngest playoffs team (average age of the roster was 25.5) after completely overhauling the team’s offensive schemes. The new offense incorporated free ball movement, more three point shots and less isolations (although many do speculate that Nick Nurse was maybe the point man on this offense overhaul). This yielded an offensive rating of 113.8 which was the second-best mark in the league. On the other side of the ball the team was also elite with a 105.9 defensive rating. This regular season excellence made the eventual playoff choke job all the more gut-wrenching.
Right now Casey is the 4th longest tenured coach in the NBA behind Greg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle. The Raptors have come a long way since Casey was hired in 2011. In his first season at the helm, the Raptors finished with a record of 23-43, Demar Derozan was only 22 years-old and Andrea Bargnani was the team’s leading scorer. Woof.
While Masai Ujiri has gotten the bulk of the credit for turning the Raptors into a regular season juggernaut, you would be foolish to overlook the impact that Casey has had on the team. While Masai has seemingly done nothing but mine gems in the draft and find free agency bargains, Casey has a very good reputation on the development side of coaching and has garnered the respect of most players that have suited up for him. I think that is most important asset is his ability to bring out the best efforts in his players. The list of players that have broke out under Casey’s tutelage is long: Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams, Norm Powell and Fred Vanvleet to name a few off the top of my head.
Now the knocks against Coach Casey are obvious. He isn’t exactly a visionary in terms of rotation building (case and point the 35 year-old husk of Luis Scola started 76 regular season games and 9 playoff games in 2015-16 season for a second seeded Raptors squad). Casey also is known to be a subpar play caller:
While I understand the reasoning for moving on from Casey, I don’t think he should be fired just because of Cleveland series. Quite frankly it was kind of bullshit that Casey was widely criticized for sticking with their typical rotation in the Game 1 and 2 losses–a rotation that should be noted included two all stars and the best bench in the NBA–only to be further criticized by others for altering the rotation in Games 3 and 4. Everyone had an opinion on Casey this postseason and not a single one of them was nice. But short of going out there and guarding Lebron himself, there wasn’t a lot that Casey could’ve done to realistically beat Super Saiyan Lebron and his rotating cast of hot shooters. Disclaimer: I’m starting to hate watching the Raptors in the playoffs.
At the end of the day, while I actually do like Dwane Casey and respect the hell out of him as a coach, the Raptors might need to shake up the coaching staff if the team ever wants to get over the hump. A decent Golden State Warriors team fired Mark Jackson in 2014 after a posting a 51-31 record. While the Warriors were already a good team, the team found another gear under Steve Kerr and in hindsight the firing paved the way for the dynasty that we see today.
Now it is farfetched to think that firing Casey would have a similarly significant of an impact as Jackson with Golden State. There just are not any Steve Kerrs just lying around unemployed this offseason. But there are solid candidates. Mike Budenholzer, Steve Clifford, and Stan Van Gundy are all respected names. Internally Jerry Stackhouse, Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian are all highly-regarded options that have been inquired about by other teams around the league.
I myself am pretty torn on this subject. After five straight disappointing playoffs, there just has to be a change. You can’t keep the status quo and expect different results. They’ve already significantly changed their roster over the years–at least without blowing it up and moving on from Demar or Lowry–and at the end of the day I would feel more comfortable shaking up the coaching staff before you consider moving Masai. Quite frankly it’ll be a lot easier to change the coaching staff than it will be to alter a roster that is right up against the luxury tax with no draft picks this summer.
On the other hand, there aren’t many great coaching options out there and quite frankly you can do much much worse than Casey so maybe they should just hold onto him… The Raptors are going to roll into next year with the same cast aren’t they…