There’s a lot that can be said about Dwane Casey’s time in Toronto, but at the top of the list is that he was a class act the whole way through.
Speaking with The Athletic’s Michael Lee, the former Raptors head coach said he felt no ill-will toward the team’s championship run and that it, in fact, served as confirmation that Toronto was headed in the right direction all along.
“What it did, it reinforced what I was I doing,” Casey said. “And that group took it over the hump and finished it. The foundation, what we were building, how I was building it, was good. Running the same offense, same defense, same philosophy, same things we built there for seven years, so it enthused me. I was happy for the players, for the country and the team. It really energized me, that what we were doing was right. I took that with it, more than jealousy.”
Casey was dismissed the same year he won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, after leading Toronto to a franchise record 59 wins but bundling out of the playoffs with a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. A championship winner as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, Casey sparked an incredible turnaround for the Raptors franchise by taking a 60-loss team and helping morph it into a team that consistently flirted with 50 wins and made five straight playoff appearances, including a maiden Eastern Conference Finals voyage in 2016. He has every reason to be proud of what he achieved with the franchise, even if the team failed to live up to its regular-season billing in the playoffs.
“I wasn’t there to see it through fruition but you can’t take away the numbers and what we accomplished. Again, it’s not a championship. But I don’t know if we were really ready or built for a championship with that group,” Casey said. “They had to add (Marc) Gasol, and Danny Green and Kawhi (Leonard) to that foundation that was there, to go ahead.”
It’s true. No one will ever know how the Raptors would have fared if Casey was still at the helm with players of the ilk of Leonard, Gasol and Green, and the playoffs showed the value of having championship-level experience and a true superstar on the team. Would he have made the adjustments Nick Nurse made over the course of the playoff run? That’s where history suggests no. Toronto got swept out of the playoffs on three separate occasions, and he showed a clear inability to adjust on the fly during the post-season. It’s hard to say that was simply down to the players at his disposal.
In his first season with the Detroit Pistons, Casey led the team to the eighth seed with a 41-41 record, before getting swept in the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks.