Welcome Aboard, Dwane Casey
The Raptors announced the signing of Dwane Casey as their new coach for two years at $3 million after declining the option of Jay Triano’s contract. Similar to Tom Thibodeau in Boston, Casey as an assistant coach led his Dallas Mavericks to a championship with his defensive schemes in the NBA finals before leaving for another team as a head coach. Loaded with professional coaching experience, one of the most recognized among all his coaching stints was during his tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2005-06 season. Casey finished with 53-69 record with the Timberwolves and was fired at the mid-point of the 2007 season, where they were stuck at .500 (20-20). He was replaced by assistant coach Randy Wittman and went 12-30 the rest of the season (NY Times).
After the firing of Jay Triano, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo made known that he was looking for a head coach with an abundance of experience. Although the information was never officially released, the Toronto Raptors interviewed several candidates including Lawrence Frank (currently the Boston Celtics assistant). Other floating names were Ettore Messina (Italian basketball coach) and Maurice Cheeks (assistant for the OKC Thunder). For a long period of time after Triano’s release, Lawrence Frank was the leading candidate and odds on favorite to land the head coaching job with the Raptors. Unfortunately for Frank, the Dallas Mavericks – mainly known for their offensive abilities – made a surprising run and ousted the Miami Heat in six games with their incredible defense.
Dwane Casey was a catalyst for drilling a defensive mindset into the Mavericks in that series, which ultimately gave him the edge over Lawrence Frank. In the press conference announcing his hiring, he provided hockey analogies for his Mavericks through video and pointed out the strategic similarities between defending the net in hockey to protecting the basket in basketball. Although somewhat irrelevant, it’s interesting to point out Casey’s ability to think outside the box by incorporating other sports and their defensive philosophies, and applying them to the game of basketball. In a hockey obsessed city, Toronto sports mediums must already be jumping on his sack.
All joking aside, the Toronto Raptors desperately needed a head coaching change. Jay Triano has a great basketball mind and will still be a part of the Raptors staff as a consultant to Bryan Colangelo. It seemed unfair to Triano, who was completely dedicated to the rebuilding phase and was seemingly used like a pawn to develop the players on the current Raptors roster. Nevertheless, he did not provide the accountability that was required to discipline a young team like the Raptors, who finished with a 22-60 record in the 2010-11 season.
Casey has always been known as a defensive coach and emphasized that effort would be the most important trait when his players step on the floor:
“One thing I do plan to do in this upcoming season is to help this team develop an NBA defensive identity. I think that’s the number one goal with this team… I want to establish that culture of hard play. Offensively, we’ll be playing a playoff style of offense; a more freestyle flowing of offense… We want to trust the players offensively. But the way you earn that is on the defensive end of the floor.”
Dwane Casey acknowledged Triano’s work and assured the press that he would confide with Triano on extracting any information that is required from his players. As long as Casey provides the accountability that Jay Triano didn’t give and the intelligence that Sam Mitchell lacked, this hiring would be a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t take much to see that previous Toronto Raptor coaches were somewhat below par in comparison to other NBA teams, so seeing Dwane Casey take this position should be exciting for the Raptors organization and its fans.
Of course, much responsibility will be placed on Casey’s shoulders. Both Bryan Colangelo and Dwane Casey are signed to two-year deal contracts. A major challenge that Casey will face with regards to dealing with players is the inept Andrea Bargnani. Unlike Jay Triano, Casey emphasized his willingness to bench players that don’t place effort on the defensive end. Without a doubt, Bargnani’s laziness will produce a negative vibe surrounding the team. The best offensive player on the team should not be the best slacker. This does not paint a good image on the team, nor bodes well for its players. Dwane Casey will look to take Andrea Bargnani and change his defensive mindset (or lack there of), similar to how Dirk Nowitzki transformed into a defensive force for the Mavericks in the playoffs. “My charge is to make sure he gets that passion every night to be the best offensive player he can be and that he can give it to us on the defensive end,” Casey said. “The system has got to be where Andrea gets there on time, every time, consistently. We’ll drill that every day.”
Casey already has a relationship with shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (who seems to know everyone in the league) and demands respect from his players. He wanted to become a head coach to be respected; not to be liked. With a young core of Andrea Bargnani, Ed Davis, James Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, Amir Johnson and an upcoming draft pick, the Raptors must continue to develop their young talent and not make any foolish transactions to disrupt this rebuilding process. Implementing Casey’s strong personality to this young core is an essential part of the rebuilding process. The Toronto Raptors have no place to go but up from here on end. This is the perfect situation for Dwane Casey. And as Raptors fans, we’ll be watching him like hawks on the sidelines.
Let’s see what you got, coach.
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