The 2012-13 Toronto Raptors are one of the tougher teams to watch in the NBA. Though the squad has been a part of a series of close losses, they don't appear to be working through contests with the same joie de vivre that a team like, say, the 2001-02 Golden State Warriors would. All terrible teams have their low points, their dark days to work around; but something about this Raptor squad feels different, and tougher, and sadder.
That's just me, watching from a TV in Indiana. Take it from longtime Raptor observer Doug Smith, of the Toronto Star, who pointed out that the team is playing with "lethargy that envelopes this group at key times in games and the mood is dark almost consistently." Doug goes on to encourage some sort of breakup of sorts, some moves to be put in place because "something's gotta give before people start punching each other."
Usually when a team is excused of going through the motions, it's the coach that takes the blame for being unable to rouse the players. Toronto's head coach is Dwane Casey, though, someone who has long been noted for getting the best out of lacking rosters, and someone who has turned in some of the better coaching jobs of our recent area — coaching the 2006-07 Minnesota Timberwolves to a 20-20 record before he was fired (replacement coach Randy Wittman coached the same, healthy squad to a 12-30 mark), and turning these same Raptors into a respectable outfit in his first year at the helm in 2011-12.
With the rumors swirling, Casey took to the candid. Pointing out to the National Post's Eric Koreen that he's well aware of how this league works, what's expected of him, and what he can expect when others are expecting. As in, something more than a 4-18 start. From Koreen's interview:
"That's part of the NBA," Casey said. "We're all professionals … That's part of the job: We live in a glass bowl. I live in a glass bowl, that's part of the territory when we sign up. We're all men. I've explained that to players, you've got to perform. Trade rumours, firing, whatever it is, we all have to perform, we have a job to do. We can't go into a shell and say, 'Please go away, please go away.' No, we've got a job to do. I've been through tougher times."
"I'm going to continue to do it until they tell me I'm not here anymore. If they feel like I'm the issue or the problem then that's fine, too. I haven't been told that, so I wake up every morning at six o'clock ready to come in, ready to get to work and have my big-boy pants on."
I agree with everything but the "big-boy pants" reference. It's well-understood, and it's given us some chuckles along the way, but the only people that need to be told to put on their "big-boy pants" are toddlers that have dressed themselves in pajamas in advance of a family dinner outing. Not NBA coaches or All-Star power forwards.
The Raptors are suffering, though. Most of the team's more prominent are injured, and the group has dropped back to the 30th ranking in defensive efficiency that Casey dragged them kicking and covering from in 2011-12 when the Raps finished a passable 14th. No team wants to deal for Andrea Bargnani, the market-minded vultures are circling and offering precious little for Jose Calderon, and the team can't seem to turn the corner into the occasional win despite respectable seasons from rookie Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan (relative to his earlier play), Calderon, and especially Ed Davis. Guard Kyle Lowry has continued his borderline All-Star play, but he's also missed games as a result of his all-out hustle.
The way Toronto is losing, though, is making things uneasy for all involved. The team is last in the NBA in point differential, losing by an average of 7.5 points per game, but they've also paired nearly as many blowout losses with defeats that could have gone either way. Combine those late-game failings with the sluggish work in the one-sided affairs, and you have a coach under the microscope.
Which would make sense, if it weren't for the fact that the hiring of Dwane Casey remains one of the few bright spots in GM Bryan Colangelo's tenure.
This is Colangelo's team. He's had six and a half years to construct something lasting, and only managed two first round postseason appearances based on the work of a big man in Chris Bosh that he inherited from the previous regime. Drafting Bargnani was a miss, but re-signing him was a huge mistake that he had years to steel himself against, and Colangelo's curious moves can't be blamed on the tired excuse (shot to hell over a decade ago) that players don't want to sign in Toronto to play. Colangelo, dating back to his time in Phoenix, has not acquitted himself well. That's the absolute nicest way we can put it.
All while we applaud Casey for putting it in grown man's terms. Possibly while wearing his "big-boy pants."