Dwane Casey suffered a heartbreaking end to his season on Sunday, but he got a pretty solid consolation prize on Monday:
That'll buy a lot of subway passes.
The Toronto Raptors made the three-year contract extension official in a Tuesday press conference. Cathal Kelly of The Globe and Mail reports that Casey will be paid $11.25 million over the course of his new deal, with the Raptors holding a team option on the third and final year.
"From day one last summer Dwane has done an excellent job both on-and-off the court," said Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri in a team statement. "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."
Casey was fresh off a stint as a highly regarded defensive assistant for the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks when Bryan Colangelo hired him to take the Raptors' reins before the 2011-12 season, and soon learned that building a winner was a bit more difficult without versatile veteran stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. After compiling a 57-91 record and making consecutive lottery trips in his first two years at the helm, Casey entered the 2013-14 season with his future in Toronto far from secure, especially after Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke reassigned Colangelo, the exec who hired Casey, and hired 2012-13 Executive of the Year Ujiri away from the Denver Nuggets to take over the Raps' rebuilding effort.
The coach's odds didn't look any better after Toronto stumbled to start the season, losing 12 of their first 18 games, before Ujiri made what some considered to be a bottoming-out move, trading small forward Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings along with backup bigs Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray in exchange for a quartet of reserves: point guard Greivis Vasquez, power forward Patrick Patterson, swingman John Salmons and forward/center Chuck Hayes. But the offensive possessions previously used by Gay redistributed to the likes of point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, Lowry and Vasquez unlocking pick-and-roll chemistry with athletic big men Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, and more minutes at the three spot made available for rising sophomore 3-and-D wing Terrence Ross, Toronto began to take off.
The Raptors posted an Eastern Conference-best 42-22 mark after the trade, working as a top-10 team in both points scored and allowed per possession. DeRozan became the team's leading scorer and earned his first All-Star berth. Lowry probably should have joined him, but didn't, which actually helped him earn more recognition as one of the league's most underrated two-way performers. Valanciunas and Johnson became consistent double-double threats whose relentless work on defense, in setting screens and in crashing the glass endeared them to the Air Canada Centre faithful and opened doors for the Raptors' emerging scorers.
Instead of finding themselves fighting for ping-pong balls in the basement of the Eastern Conference, the Raptors found themselves, with Casey earning praise for his work in getting the best out of his young charges, especially All-Star DeRozan and free-agent-to-be Lowry. A fair amount of that praise came from the Raps themselves, according to CBSSports.com's James Herbert, reporting from the Raptors' season-ending media availability on Monday:
“One thing I respect about coach Casey, man, he's been consistent,” DeRozan said. “He's been the same Dwane Casey since he's been here. Preached the same thing, told us to stick with the same principles and they'll work. We did it, and everything he said came together like he said it would.“ [...]
“He got us together,” point guard Greivis Vasquez said. “You gotta have him a lot of credit. He's gotta be back after the year that he has done.“ [...]
“I just feel like we've been in it together,” Johnson said. “We've been here, we've been through the ups and downs…we definitely grinded it out to get to where we are now. It's just been an amazing journey, and hopefully we can keep working, keep continuing to get better.”
Casey does have his detractors, and he has struggled at times with decision-making in areas like lineup juggling, clock management and late-game fouling situations. But after three years, the defensive culture he was brought to Toronto to install seems to have taken hold, and the Raptors players — and new boss Ujiri — appear to have bought into his vision for success moving forward. I'd be tempted to say that you can't put a price on the definition and development of an identity, but it appears that just have — it's worth just under $4 million per year.
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