In the NBA, when a new front office regime assumes control, it’s common to see a team-wide house-cleaning from which no player, coach or front-office employee is safe. Starting from scratch is better than starting with scraps.
Last season, the Memphis Grizzlies made an unlikely run to the Western Conference Finals, besting the Clippers and a Russell Westbrook-less Thunder along the way. At the helm of the Grizzlies’ surprising success was Lionel Hollins, the architect of Memphis’ vaunted, gritty defense. Despite his success, Hollins’ contract was not renewed at the end of the season. The writing was on the wall for Hollins long before the end of the season, given the reports of an old-school versus new-school schism between him and new executive John Hollinger.
A similar incident could have occurred this year north of the border, as Dwane Casey led the Toronto Raptors to their first playoff appearance since 2008. Like Hollins, Casey was in the last year of his contract and faced a new, analytically-bent regime change guided by Masai Ujiri. It also didn’t help Casey’s cause that he wasn’t Ujiri’s “guy,” just a holdover from the previous regime. When the Raptors hired prized, up-and-coming assistant Nick Nurse, it appeared Casey would be nothing more than a lame duck in his final season in Toronto (starting the season 7-12 didn’t help matters, either).
Then December ninth rolled around, and with it, a fresh beginning, as the Raptors traded Rudy Gay to the Kings. The rest of the story is familiar by now, and one of the best of this season that was, for the most part, a barren wasteland of narratives.
But would Casey’s success matter? Or would he find out, like Hollins before him, that a great story doesn’t trump a team’s grand schemes. That answer came today in the form of a three-year extension for Casey.
Dwane Casey has agreed in principle to a three-year contract to remain the head coach of the Toronto Raptors, according to the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith. The deal will be worth a little less than $4 million per season, according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge.
In his third season at the helm, Casey’s Raptors went 48-34, the best regular-season mark in franchise history. That was good enough for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
(via Eye On Basketball)
The Raptors’ post-Gay explosion slammed shut the door that led to native son Andrew Wiggins donning a Raptors uniform. But as one door closed, another swung open, inviting a basketball renaissance in the city of Toronto.
While Ujiri may be disappointed that the Raptors won’t have a top pick in this summer’s star-studded draft, it’s not as if that was his only strategy to build the Raptors into contenders. Ujiri’s always been one to play the short game while considering the long game, balancing a competitive present with a flexible future. Extending Casey holds true to that managerial ideology.
The extension gives Ujiri the chance to see what a full year’s worth of a team that ranked ninth in the league in both offense and defensive efficiency – scoring 107 points per 100 possessions while surrendering 102, per NBA.com/stats – post-Gay can do. If the Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry, pivotal to the Raptors’ transformation and the team’s production proves sustainable, terrific. If not, the Raptors have young, valuable assets they can flip for a franchise player or draft picks. Dwane Casey may not be the coach to lead the Raptors to the championship, and that’s fine – the Raptors aren’t quite there yet. They still need to develop their young players like Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, an area in which Casey’s proved adept. So even though Casey may not be The Guy, he’s the The Guy Right Now, perfectly suited to Toronto’s needs, at least for the moment.