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A Much-Needed Fresh Start for Dwane Casey

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COMMENTARY | Dwane Casey has to be as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning.

This week Casey found himself switching from wondering if he would get to coach the final year of his contract in Toronto to getting the green light to work with a general manager that will structure a roster based on his needs and wants.

No longer will Casey be forced by his general manager to play Andrea Bargnani to help increase his trade value.

Plus, if Kyle Lowry is being a headache, Casey won't need to put up with him or play him heavy minutes because the point guard he does trust was traded away.

Casey can now get back to giving out tough love and dictating minutes based on merit and who is willing to get at it on the defensive end.

Talk about a breath of fresh air and the kind of situation any coach would want.

When Casey first arrived in Toronto the team showed flashes of warming up to him as they improved from being ranked 26th in points allowed (105.4 points per game) to 9th while holding teams to 94.0 points during his first season as head coach.

The team showed a slight dip last season to finish 16th while giving up 98.7 points per game.

The problem Casey had last year was the combination of a roster lacking defensive-minded players and injuries that cut into his rotation. Besides Amir Johnson and rookies Quincy Acy and Jonas Valanciunas, which players on the roster are defense first guys? None. Throw into the mix that Johnson has averaged 20.8 minutes per game over his eight seasons in the NBA while Valanciunas and Acy were raw rookies adjusting to the NBA last season and it's clear Casey didn't have many options on the defensive end.

"I'm a defensive-minded coach," Casey told the media at his press conference this week. "I think defense first, and probably went too far to the right last year, offensively. We have to correct that. That's something we're going to address with Masai (Ujiri) to fit how we want to play. A defense-first team."

The mandate by Bryan Colangelo to focus more on the offensive end last season didn't help Casey or the team. The addition of Rudy Gay was meant to improve the team and fit the vision that Colangelo had for a free-flowing offense. The problem Casey was stuck with is he had a glut of wings on the roster and not experienced bigs to anchor his defense and he lacked guard who could pressure opponents on the perimeter.

There's no way to tell what Toronto's roster will look like come October, but based on what happened in Denver between George Karl and Ujiri, there's plenty of reason for Casey to feel optimistic that he will have more players to work with that fit his style of play.

It will be interesting to see what Casey can do with a fresh start and a general manager willing to deliver a roster based on his needs and wants.

Ryan McNeill lives in Toronto and has been covering the Toronto Raptors with media passes since the 2007-08 season. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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