After the Toronto Raptors were swept out of the playoffs at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri made it clear that the result was not acceptable.
”We are going to hold everybody accountable because we need to. We need, after that performance, we need a culture reset here. We need to figure it out. Yes, there’s been some success, but at the end of the day we are trying to win a championship here. To me making the playoffs is nothing. That was back in the day. Now we have to figure out how we can win in the playoffs. That’s the goal,” he told reporters at the time.
The owner did not specify what a “culture reset” meant.
Usually, a reset means that the head coach gets canned. But that didn’t happen to Dwane Casey, who is regarded as one of the best coaches in the NBA.
Or, it means that the team’s roster undergoes some changes. But, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and almost every member of last season’s team is back.
“We have to dig deep into everything we do,” Ujiri explained a short time after. “We can’t just pinpoint coaching. We can’t just pinpoint not making shots. [It’s] our attitude, our leadership, everything. The way we work together. I think those things we need to revisit and then get on with it.”
“The culture change is about the whole organization,” Casey, who worked with Ujiri to reinvent the team’s philosophy over the summer, said last week, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN. “It's not about offense and defense. Believe me, when he mentioned that, it was about all of us. Everything we do. From scouting, training, how we go about our day in the front office, it's included in that.”
It’s obvious that the changes they’ve made have paid off.
At 59-22, the Raptors hold the best record in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs and are therefore the No. 1 seed. They’ve made a number of changes in their routines along the way.
This season, the Raptors have given players more days off from practices, allowing them to do more individual work. They’ve also put more of an emphasis on weight training and conditioning and have individual programs set up for each player.
On the road, media availability is now scheduled before shootaround and after shootaround concludes, the team leaves together on the team bus after everyone’s done with their work. In the past, players would have all different schedules and would head back to the team hotel on their own. As a result, they’ve been a more cohesive bunch both on and off the court.
It remains to be seen if the Raptors can finally get over the hump and prove their doubters wrong.
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