Shortly after the Raptors wrapped up their season with a four-game sweep in Cleveland, the fate of head coach Dwane Casey quickly became the dominant storyline in Toronto.
The Raptors’ faithful, still feeling the sting of a third-straight playoff loss to LeBron James and the Cavaliers, seemed to share the belief that it’s time for a change. And when reports that Masai Ujiri was leaning towards a coaching change began to surface, the Raptors team president appeared to be on the same page with the fans.
It’s a big decision to make, one that Damon Stoudemire believes shouldn’t be made too quickly, but one day after the former Raptor weighed in on Toronto’s future, Ujiri dropped the hammer.
Dwane Casey has been fired by the Toronto Raptors.
With step one of the coaching change in the books, fans are left wondering who might succeed Casey to become the ninth head coach in Raptors history. Here are a few candidates that Ujiri will likely be considering for the job.
The former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, who was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2014-15 after a 60-win season, is one of the top coaches on the market. The former San Antonio Spurs assistant is widely regarded as one of the best coaches to emerge from Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree, making Budenholzer a very intriguing candidate in Toronto.
Known for developing talent and his creative approach, Budenholzer would surely make Toronto’s often-predictable offence a thing of the past. He’s one of the most complete coaching packages on the market, and the Raptors appear to be giving Budenholzer some serious consideration.
He may not be the answer for Toronto’s LeBron James problem — the Hawks were also swept by LeBron after that 60-win season in 2015 — but Budenholzer appears to be the front-runner early in Toronto’s hiring process.
When speculation on Casey’s future began, Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse quickly emerged as a rumoured replacement. And while promoting an assistant to the big chair is certainly not the sexiest decision, Raptors fans shouldn’t sleep on Nurse.
The Raptors’ revamped offence — which improved from 14th in the NBA in 2016-17 to second in the league one season later — can largely be attributed to Nurse. The improved pace and ball movement, with a focus on perimeter shooting, helped lead Toronto to its greatest season in franchise history.
Nurse was known as an offensive guru in the D-League before the Raptors hired him in the summer of 2013. His influence in Toronto steadily grew with every season, allowing Nurse to successfully impart his offensive vision with this year’s roster. And while the revamped offence had its struggles in the postseason, there’s no denying Nurse’s influence on Toronto’s record-breaking regular season.
Nurse might lack the kind of NBA head coaching experience that Raptors fans would be comfortable with, but he’s already proven that he can have a very positive impact on this team.
When it comes to head coaching candidates, Stackhouse is as green as they come.
The former 18-year NBA veteran retired from the game just five short years ago, making his coaching debut as an assistant with the Raptors in 2015. One year later he was named head coach of the Raptors 905, Toronto’s G-League affiliate, where he led the team to back-to-back Finals appearances including a G-League championship in 2017.
He was named G-League Coach of the Year in 2017, adding some more hardware to a burgeoning resume that is equally as impressive as it is short. He’s a defensive-minded coach, cut from the same cloth as coach Casey, and while it’s fair to assume the Raptors aren’t looking to hire Dwane Casey 2.0, Stackhouse will likely get a good look during the hiring process.
Much like Nurse, Stackhouse lacks the experience the Raptors may covet, but he’s done enough in just a couple of years to garner some serious attention. Toronto likely won’t be the only team giving him a look, as the Detroit Pistons are rumoured to be interested in Stackhouse after firing Stan Van Gundy earlier in the week.
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