It would be very harsh for Dwane Casey to be out of a job this summer – regardless of what happens to the Toronto Raptors in their third straight playoff appearance.
Having guided a Raptors franchise that won just 23 games in his first season as Head Coach to a 56-win campaign, Casey has slowly but surely gone about the sizeable task of turning the team into a true contender. But why is it that he’s now at risk of losing his job?
Following years of mediocrity, the Raptors are now realising their potential. Would it be rash for Casey to be shown the door? You bet.
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But even still, this postseason will likely decide whether Casey will be getting a paycheck in six months’ time…
The Man at the Helm
When Casey stepped in as Head Coach for the Raptors, he was tasked with righting a ship which was lacking direction. Chris Bosh had headed for Floridian pastures the previous season, and he had inherited a team devoid of leaders.
It was not a successful year, and there was talk of Casey being ousted. But the Raptors stuck with him.
A second successive losing season followed, but there were green shoots emerging from the cold Toronto soil – shown by the extra 11 wins Casey had recorded over the campaign.
“As far as where we are with our program, I like our guys, I like our team, I don’t like our record right now but I like the way we’re headed in the right direction, the growth of some of the guys, I like to watch that,” Casey told the Toronto Star back in 2012.
“I love developing, I love coaching, I love teaching, I love winning. That’s why I think most of us are in it”.
“The losing? You wish you were probably in the flower business or something like that when you’re losing but when you see the growth and you see the work you put in… then that’s what’s satisfying to you as a coach”.
However, after Bryan Colangelo stepped down as general manager, Casey could easily have fallen victim to Masai Ujiri’s takeover of the front office. But after seeing the development Casey mentioned first hand, Ujiri instead offered him the chance to continue, a move which helped earn him Executive of the Year honours in 2013.
Twelve months after giving Casey another chance, the Raptors weren’t losing anymore. In fact, they topped the Atlantic Division for the first time since 2007 and were back in the post-season.
Despite losing in the first round to the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto had grown to love the man from Indianapolis who had helped mould their team of misfits into a genuine playoff contender. He was rewarded with a three-year contract extension.
“From day one last summer Dwane has done an excellent job both on-and-off the court. There’s been growth from each player on the roster and the team’s identity of toughness and a desire to always compete has clearly been established”. Ujiri said via Raptors.com, upon extending Casey’s contract.
“We’re very excited to continue to grow and develop this team with Dwane as our head coach”.
Casey had clear backing, little did he know that he’d begun a rut which the Raptors are yet to escape.
The Playoff Bug
Following a first round exit to the sixth-seeded Nets in 2014, many put the loss down to playoff nerves. However, a full season later it seemed that it was a little more than just nerves which had stunned the Raptors in postseason play.
Despite playing superbly throughout the 82-game campaign, improving their record once again with 49 wins, the Raptors were swept by the Wizards in round one. It seemed that the Playoffs might’ve been a step too far for a team promising so much.
The electric atmosphere outside the Air Canada Centre was nowhere to be found. In just a single year, Casey went from Toronto’s hero to a man in the firing line. But he was bullish when questioned about his future.
“I say look at our track record as a coaching staff and we got better every year,” he told the Toronto Star.
“Our record got better, our players got better, DeMar DeRozan has grown. We should all be accountable. I’m very confident; I know what it takes to build a winning team. I haven’t forgot how to do that”.
“I’m very confident in the body of work that we’ve done here to take the program from where it’s been to where it is now and to go to wherever else we need to go”.
But the truth was that during those four games, Casey had lost the control he had over his team during the regular season. Defensively, they looked like strangers. Offensively, they were throwing up early shots which weren’t dropping.
Kyle Lowry had failed to turn up in four straight games in that forgettable playoff experience, but the weight was on Casey’s shoulders. However, with Ujiri’s trust once again behind him, Casey remained at the helm to help get the Raptors into the 2016 playoffs, and hopefully past that troublesome first round.
It’s Make or Break for Casey…
Once again, the regular season was no issue for Casey and the Raptors. Following last year’s playoff disappointment, they cruised to their third straight division title and second place in the Eastern Conference, ending with a franchise-high 56-26 record.
However, despite a record-setting campaign, this year’s playoffs could be huge for the future of Dwane Casey – even if his GM says otherwise.
“Everyone makes such a big deal, like, ‘Okay if we don’t make it past the first round, what will happen to Casey?’ Well, Coach Casey deserves to be our coach, that’s 100 percent, and I stand by that,” Ujiri told the Toronto Star.
“He deserves to be our coach in the future because he has put in the work, I think, to bring winning to our program.”
However, after losing the first game of their current playoff series with the Indiana Pacers at home, you have to feel that support for Casey could waver just enough to get his GM looking onto the coaching market – even if it’s just to sound out potential candidates.
There are a number of suitable candidates as well. The likes of Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, and George Karl are all free, whilst Patrick Ewing has also been quoted as wanting a head coaching role following the work he’s been doing in Charlotte.
Ujiri should, though, hold back from even looking at any potential suitors for the role. After all, the Raptors could still top Casey’s hometown team in the first round, and if they emulate their regular season form – even head to a conference finals appearance, possibly further.
But even if they do crash out at the first hurdle once again, following three years of solid and recordable improvement, to hang Casey out would be criminal considering the work he’s done to develop this Raptors franchise.
Either way, if Casey does leave Toronto - be it this season or in the future, there'll be plenty of organisations willing to snap him up.