Casey spent seven seasons on the Raptors bench, winning 57 percent of his games and leading them to the playoffs five years running, including a 2016 Eastern Conference finals appearance. His teams have won 50 games for the past three years, culminating in a franchise-record 59 victories this season.
Why would the Raptors fire the Coach of the Year?
With Casey’s regular-season success came a number of earlier-than-expected exits in the playoffs, including second-round sweeps at the hands of LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers the past two years. After losing to the Cavs last season, he revamped Toronto’s playing style to fit the NBA’s pace and space era and developed one of the deepest teams in the league, and then produced the same result.
Measuring a coach’s success by his record against LeBron is an untenable standard, and his Cavs have ousted the Raptors each of the past three years. Many a team has fallen prey to the same fate.
But if Toronto has NBA Finals aspirations, the organization needs another shakeup. The front office has little roster flexibility after paying Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka a combined $165 million last year, one summer after giving DeMar DeRozan a max extension, so firing the coach is the only alternative.
Who do the Raptors turn to now?
The Raptors are behind the game here, if only because they played further into the season than any of the other seven teams looking to replace their head coaches. The Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns have already taken three candidates off the table, hiring James Borrego, David Fizdale and Igor Kokoskov, respectively, and three of the other four teams are well into their searches.
As Dan Devine reminded us earlier in the week, the Raptors have three potential in-house coaching candidates: assistant Nick Nurse, who was credited for installing Toronto’s faster floor-spacing offensive model this season; Rex Kalamian, a longtime assistant who was on the Oklahoma City Thunder staff that reached the 2012 Finals; and Jerry Stackhouse, who has coached Toronto’s G League affiliate since 2016, leading the Raptors 905 to the developmental league’s 2017 championship.
Otherwise, Toronto is chasing the same talent pool that every other team in need of a coach is cycling through now, a list that includes recently fired head coaches Mike Budenholzer and Stan Van Gundy.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri has strong interest in former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, according to coaching sources. Dwane Casey, meanwhile, is likely to emerge as a contender for one or two of the league's other four vacancies.
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 11, 2018
Budenholzer’s Hawks, of course, were also twice swept by LeBron’s Cavs in 2015 and 2016.
Where do the Raptors go from here?
There is some question as to how desirable a job this is in Toronto. With Lowry and DeRozan forming an All-Star backcourt, Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas manning the middle and a deep bench, the Raptors have proven capable of capturing the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 overall seed, and they’re probably one talented wing away from being true contenders. Who wouldn’t want to coach that team?
But the Raptors may also be fading fast from that window. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are loaded with young talent ready to burst into contention, and there’s always LeBron, whose free-agent decision looms large for a Toronto team that has proven incapable of getting past him. Casey did an admirable job, and whichever coach comes next will be immediately measured against him.
Good luck maximizing that roster more than Casey did these last few years. Should they have pushed the Cavs to six or seven games this season? Sure, but it’s entirely possible the Raptors have already reached their ceiling, no matter who comes in with a fresh voice and a fresh system. We’ll find out.
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