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Bud Or Bust? The Best Head Coach Prospects For The Raptors

It wouldn’t be hard to argue that the best bench boss currently available on the open market in the NBA is the Raptors former head coach Dwane Casey. He took a laughingstock of a franchise and molded them into one of the top teams in the Association over the past five years. However, for his own reasons, president Masai Ujiri made the decision to avoid the lame-duck coach issue for next next season by firing Casey instead of extending him.

It isn’t going to be easy finding a new head coach with a better record than Casey.

  • A five-time coach of the month and the 2018 NBCA coach of the year.
  • Five straight years in the postseason and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Three straight 50+ win seasons and a record of 320-238 (a 57.3 winning percentage) over his seven seasons in Toronto.
  • And the team’s two All-Stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, are strong supporters of his coaching.

The only knocks on Casey might be the facts,

  • He’ll be 62-years-old at the end of his contract next season and maybe Ujiri didn’t want to extend him into his mid-sixties?
  • He got swept out of the second round of the playoffs by LeBron James in each of the past two years?

However, it’s a good time to be looking for an NBA head coach. There is what seems to be an endless pool of assistant coaches deserving a chance at the big chair and three of them are in Toronto right now. Ujiri has a choice of two recently let go head coaches that have been to the Eastern Conference Finals in the last five years. Then there’s the laundry list of guys with jobs in the media that could possibly be talked into going behind the bench if Ujiri wants someone with a higher profile and other former head coaches who’d like another big payday.

Bud or Bust?

However, for the Raptors, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski says they are talking to the recently available former Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer and it’s a two-way battle with the Bucks for his services.

For a coach that has been around the league since 1996, Budenholzer won’t be 49-years-old until August and after 17 seasons in the Spurs organization, he was a top head coaching prospect when the Hawks nabbed him in 2013.

Budenholzer inherited a team that had been to the postseason for six straight years before he arrived in Atlanta, but had only one 50 win season and hadn’t gotten out of the second round.

With the Hawks, he was,

  • A two-time coach of the month and the 2015 coach of the year.
  • Made four straight postseason appearances until this past year’s tank job.
  • One 60 win season.
  • Credited with getting more out his roster than expected.

The Hawks made the decision to part company because,

  • Apparently Budenholzer didn’t want to coach a rebuilding team or isn’t the right guy for a long tour with an NBA Lottery team?
  • He got swept out the playoffs twice by LeBron James? and things weren’t getting any better.

Budenholzer is a respected head coach and he’d be a solid replacement for Casey, even if his record doesn’t quite measure up and he started from a better base.

He’d be a new voice, a coach the players should accept as knowledgeable and the transition should be relatively smooth. Whether Budenholzer can move the needle beyond what Casey was able to do over the past five years, however, is definitely a ‘to be determined.’

Why not Smash-Mouth Frank?

The Indiana Pacers former head coach Frank Vogel was known for coaching a physical style of “smash-mouth” basketball, a style that Raptors president Masai Ujiri has made a point of admiring on more than one occasion and Toronto knows Vogel well from the seven game first round playoff series in 2016 when the seventh place Pacers took the 56 win Raptors to the brink of any early postseason exit.

Vogel was inexplicably released by the Pacers after losing to Toronto in 2016 and was immediately picked up by the incompetent Magic who stuck him with terribly constructed roster. He was released by Orlando at the end of this season.

The 44-year-old Vogel was an assistant with the Celtics, 76ers and Pacers for eight years before being promoted to the head coaching job with the Pacers during the 2010-11 season. He turned that season around, making the playoffs and ending a string of four consecutive trips to the Draft Lottery.

Vogel had a very good run with the Pacers,

  • A four-time coach of the month.
  • Postseason appearances in four of five seasons, only missing the year Paul George was out with a broken leg.
  • Had two consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals (2013 and 2014)
  • In three playoff series against LeBron James, Vogel had a record of 7 wins and 12 loses.

The type of roster Vogel was most successful with is no longer in vogue, but this is a bright, young head coach who’d be well ahead in terms of the nuances of coaching NBA players over just about any rookie head coach. He got his players to play hard for him and he took a no-name roster, aside from Paul George, to a conference finals – twice.

It would be really interesting to see what he could get out of a roster as strong as Toronto’s. He may have the highest upside of anyone available.

Rookie Head Coach Prospects

If you are going to look outside your own organization for a new head coach, it would be hard to argue against stealing someone from the Popovich coaching tree. Becky Hammond and Ettore Messina are getting a lot of mentions as coaching prospects, but if the Raptors are going to go the rookie route, they’d probably be better served by staying in-house with the assistant coaches they know very well.

NBA D-League champion (2017) head coach with the Raptors 905, two-time NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse had a long playing career (1995-2013) has only been coaching since 2015, but he’s made an impact and made no secret of the fact he was hoping to get some interviews for NBA head coaching jobs after his G League season ended.

Stackhouse has presence, players like him, and he already has built relationships with virtually every young player on the Raptors roster. It’s a big move from the G league to the NBA and a lot of the things Stackhouse was able to do in Mississauga won’t fly in Toronto. However, spend just a few minutes with him and you’ll believe Stackhouse will be an NBA head coach and a pretty good one at that, so maybe you can just ignore all the things he doesn’t know yet?

NIck Nurse has been with the Raptors for five years and gets a lot of the credit for this past year’s offense. He’s 50-years-old, everyone in the organization and on the roster knows him, it’d be an almost seamless transition and maybe the offense would go up another notch with him running the show?

With over two decades in the NBA, Rex Kalamian has been a highly respected assistant with the Thunder and Raptors over the past nine years. He doesn’t get the same level of attention as Stackhouse or Nurse, but the organization knows him well and he’ll get his chance to make an impression before the team decides what to do.

While the Raptors have well qualified assistant coaches deserving of consideration, this team’s experience with rookie coaches should have them looking for someone with a lot more experience.

Others?

Here’s hoping the Raptors don’t get so desperate as to consider Stan Van Gundy, David Blatt, Monty Williams, Steve Clifford or Mike Brown.

Former coaches and current TV analysts Sam Mitchell, Mark Jackson, Kevin McHale,  and Jeff Van Gundy all have their good points, points that hopefully they’ll keep making from a broadcast studio.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Raptors Masai Ujiri Is Ruthless When It Comes To His Vision

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is a “nice guy,” as nice and polite a person as you are going to meet, but he’s proven himself to be ruthless when it comes to his vision for his team. No one survives in his organization solely on merit, you have to fit into his plan or you’re out.

Casey built his reputation by fleecing the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade as the Nuggets GM and as a result came to the Raptors as the Executive of the Year in 2013.

In his first big move with the Raptors, Ujiri fleeced the Knicks in the Andrea Bargnani trade in which he got a future first round draft pick (Jakob Poeltl). During the season, he unloaded (arguably) his team’s best player, Rudy Gay on the Kings. He then tried to unload Lowry on the Knicks, but owner James Dolan stepped in because the burn from the Bargnani deal was still fresh and Ujiri had to backtrack on tanking, but he proved no player is safe if they don’t fit his vision.

It’s easy to forget Greivis Vasquez and Ujiri were friends when Vasquez was shipped out to Milwaukee for a second (Norman Powell) and a future first (OG Anunoby) round draft pick. Even friendship is no protection from being dumped in a good deal.

Then there’s the case of Lou Williams. Third in scoring at 15.5 points per game, Williams won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award with the Raptors and Ujiri completely ignored him during free agency that summer despite William’s pleas from the wilderness that he’d like to return.

Ujiri traded away Terrence Ross who the Raptors had invested significant and painful “development” minutes in the failed 2014 and 2015 playoffs. The team needed three-point shooting, but Ujiri decided Ross wasn’t going to be the guy.

In a move that hurt locally, Ujiri traded away Cory Joseph from the “6” to create the salary cap space to sign journeyman three-point threat C.J. Miles. It was a good move in terms of pushing a culture change on the Raptors, but that was ruthless.

In many ways firing Casey was the equal in ruthlessness to anything Ujiri has done before and he did it a politely as possible.

“I just want to use this opportunity to thank Casey and his family for a great time that he has given us the last 7 years in the organization, the last 5 years I have worked with him,” said Raptors President Masai Ujiri as he announced his head coach wouldn’t be back for next season.

The winningest coach in Raptors franchise history with 320 wins to 238 loses, a franchise record 21 wins in the postseason, and the team’s only coach to ever win fifty games (56, 51, and 59 wins) in a season, the 2018 N.B.C.A. Coach of the Year was fired only a couple of days after Ujiri said this about him.

“I believe in Dwane Casey,” Ujiri said. “I believe in the work he has done.”

Ujiri should believe in Casey. Casey has always worked with whatever collection of talent Ujiri has given him, played the style of basketball Ujiri wanted and turned the franchise around from one of the NBA’s easiest home courts for visitors to get a win at and into the team with the most wins at home last season.

Where Casey wasn’t necessarily the top on-court tactician among NBA coaches, he got all of his players to believe in his system and buy into the roles assigned to them and it’s the lack of that skill that usually gets coaches fired.

Many put the blame on Casey’s team getting swept out of the playoffs by the Cavaliers in the second round twice and a lack of playoff success was undoubtedly a factor, but when you are dealing with a guy as ruthless for his team as Ujiri, there’s bound to be a better reason than merely losing to LeBron James.

Casey was entering the final year of his contract with the Raptors this summer. A contract that would make him 62-years-old at its conclusion and it’s been suggested his agent was looking for an extension in years and dollars reflective of Casey’s record. This isn’t speculation and you don’t need a source to know this. Casey’s agent would be derelict if he wasn’t doing this and no coach and few teams want to be on an expiring contract during the regular season as it creates a veil of uncertainty that can be very distracting.

Ujiri had a decision to make. Does he commit to a coach that his two All-Stars, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, genuinely like and respect, but would be 66-years-old at the conclusion of a reasonable four year extension or does he dip into what looks like a very promising pool of free agent coaches for the next guy to lead his team for the another long stretch.

It was time to get ruthless once again. Avoid the lame-duck coaching scenario, dodge the possibility of committing to a coach into his mid-sixties and find the next leader for his players.

Ujiri wasn’t about to tip his hand about why Casey was fired or what he’s looking for in his next head coach. The Raptors are careful about their own image and trying to make sure every departure happens on good terms, but rationalizing why the move had to happen now isn’t that challenging. Ujiri is just plain ruthless when it comes to what’s best for his team.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Dwane Casey Is The Coach Of The Year

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who is currently going through his annual roasting by the local Toronto media for not getting past LeBron James and the Cavaliers again this postseason, is about to be recognized as the NBA’s Coach of the Year by the people that actually know something about the job – his peers, according to Mark Stein of The New York Times.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors has been selected as the National Basketball Coaches Association’s coach of the year for the 2017-18 season, according to two people with knowledge of the voting.

Casey will be formally announced as the winner of the N.B.C.A. trophy — later Wednesday

The N.B.C.A. introduced its own Coach of the Year Award last season, based on a vote of the league’s 30 head coaches.

Casey led the Raptors to a franchise record 59 wins and first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history after most pundits predicted his team would finish in the middle of the playoff pack with a mid-40s win season.

President Masai Ujiri had stripped the roster of veterans by sending out DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph in trades and permitting Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker to walk in free agency. He did this to reboot a “culture change” or, more accurately, to see what his young players like Delon Wright,  Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and rookie OG Anunoby could do if Casey was forced into playing them significant minutes. Ujiri then filled in the back end of his roster with undrafted prospects to ensure Casey wasn’t tempted to look to veteran help when things got tough.

The unexpected result was one of the best benches in the NBA this past season, something numerous other head coaches acknowledged during trips to Toronto.

Washington Wizards head coach Scott Brooks,

“In my humble opinion, (Casey) is the Coach of the Year.

“Their bench is really good. That unit just moves the scoreboard.”

It would be fair to say expectations for this year’s postseason got ahead of where Casey’s roster was at in their development as the bench was not effective against a far more seasoned Cavaliers rotation, but the NBA’s coaches had no trouble acknowledging the impressive season Casey was able to put together.

The N.B.C.A. Coach of the Year Award is separate from the NBA’s Coach of the Year voted on by members of the news media.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Show Unprecedented Improvement Under Coach Dwane Casey

Quietly north of the border over the past seven NBA seasons head coach Dwane Casey has led the Toronto Raptors out of the lottery wilderness to the top of the Eastern Conference in a show of unprecedented steady improvement in the modern game. It’s a feat that hasn’t been seen in over 35 years and has only been done twice before in NBA history.

Casey is the third coach in NBA history to improve his team’s win total in six of seven seasons. The others were Boston’s Red Auerbach (1955-56 to 1961-62) and Phoenix’s John MacLeod (1974-75 to 1980-81). – The New York Times

Inheriting a team that won just 22 times the year before he got there, Casey has won 23, 34, 48, 49, 56, 51, and 59 games in successive seasons. His win total in Toronto of 320 and winning percentage (57.3%) dwarfs any previous coach in Raptors history.

An unwavering coaching philosophy based on defense-first earned Casey the trust of his team’s star player (on arrival his only star) DeMar DeRozan because of his consistency. There never has been a reason to second guess Casey’s motives and his players appreciate it. It is the primary reason his players accepted the dramatic changes to how he wanted them to play this season with nary a complaint. 

Recognition of his achievements south of the border hasn’t come easily and, somewhat surprisingly, during his tenure there have even been calls for his head coming out of Toronto. Coaches may be hired to be fired, but the complaints about Casey have been beyond ridiculous.

Now with his fifth NBA Coach of the Month award in the past five seasons and a team exceeding everyone’s expectations, Casey has been getting some significant applause for what he has accomplished. ESPN’s Jeremias Engelmann puts this season in perspective.

Vegas bookmakers had the Raptors pegged at 47 wins, a drop of four wins from last season.

Cut to eight months later, and the Raptors’ bench is regularly mopping the floor with opponents.

the Raptors’ starting unit also outscores opponents by a healthy margin of around six points per 100 possessions. However, it’s the bench that comes in and usually puts the game out of reach.

the majority of the credit has to go to Casey and his staff for pushing all the right buttons, and ultimately creating the sixth-strongest bench since 1997 with an average age of just 25.

And as ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes,

They have surged past Boston and Cleveland, and by any metric, they are closer peers to the Western Conference superteams than to anyone in the East. They are the only team ranked in the top five in both points scored and allowed per possession.

They are unpredictable, harder to grasp. Casey has mothballed a lot of set plays. … Everyone is free to launch 3s and drive.

“We’ve been through the heartaches and the letdowns,” DeRozan says. “This time, with this new approach, we feel comfortable.”

To be blunt, DeRozan looked pretty comfortable in the previous two seasons as the second best scorer in the East. So it came as a surprise that he stayed comfortable giving up his own points to record a career best in assists this season.

The Raptors rode this new approach to a franchise record 59 wins and it’s an accomplishment deserving of recognition. However, Casey convinced his players to do it for a chance to go further in the postseason than ever before. If they have success in the playoffs, look for another franchise record for wins next season.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Do The Raptors Want To Win 60 Games?

By Frank McLean and Stephen Brotherston

Do the Raptors want to win 60 games? There are two schools of thought about rest versus rust and even about taking the risk of getting hurt in a “meaningless” contest. It’s easy to hear what you want to hear from the players and coaches at this time of year.

McLean:

The plan now for the rest of the way until the playoffs start this weekend for the Toronto Raptors is to work on things that have slipped in their game lately and give some rest to their starting five so they are fresh for what is expected to be a long playoff run.

Sunday night in their win over the Orlando Magic at the Air Canada Centre Jonas Valanciunas took the night off while Lucas Nogueira filled in for Jonas and Norman Powell took DeMar DeRozan’s spot.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Powell, in the first few minutes of the game, came down on his knee and limped in pain to the locker room. The good news is that he came back and scored 13 points.

Nogueira ended up with hamstring tightness and Fred VanVleet ended up with back tightness. So if the Raptors team bus on its way to the airport to leave for Monday’s game in Detroit stopped at an all night Staples and got some bubble wrap no one would be surprised.

After Sunday night’s game with the Magic, the Raptors have just two meaningless games left before the playoffs start. The NBA won’t let you cancel games, so the real goal is to not let anybody get hurt.

But don’t worry, Dwane Casey has a plan to keep this team sharp so that they are ready to go for game one of the playoffs.

“Just execution, attention to detail,” Casey was saying before Sunday’s game. “You’ve got examples all around the league where teams underestimate teams around the league that are so-called playing for the lottery, whatever they’re playing for, a rebuild, playing young players, giving young players minutes. Those young players are showing 29 other teams that they can play, too. They have their individual reasons why they come in and compete. If you let them get going and get confident, they can be beat. We want to work on some little things. We’ll sprinkle some things that we want to use next week every now and then in.”

Casey also want’s to make sure his second unit, a.k.a. THE BENCH MOB, gets back to form.

“I don’t know how well they have played. I mean they have played better but it’s not with the same execution and timing and speed that they had been playing with previously. So getting them back up to speed to where they have been playing execution wise offensively and defensively. These next three games are great opportunities for these guys to play.”

One of the good things to come out of Sunday’s game was C.J. Miles who has been in a bit of a shooting slump as the season winds down scored 22 points and was 5-10 from the three point line. That’s where he makes his money and the Raptors need him to be consistent from there for them to have any post season success.

So let’s get the week over and start the weekend so the playoffs begin and let’s hope no one gets hurt before the real games begin.

Brotherston:

The Raptors have a chance for 60 wins and coach Casey wants it. He doesn’t want 60 at the risk of injury and he is going to gives certain players a day off, but it’s a goal he values going back to his days as an assistant coach in Seattle from 1994 to 2005.

“It does (mean something to win 60),” Casey said prior to the game against Orlando. “I think in Seattle we won (60) three times and it’s a milestone. I think it’s something that you want to accomplish. It’s not the end-all. We’d like to do it. Probably not at the expense of overplaying players, but it’s important.

“There are very few times in your organization’s history or time that you have an opportunity to win 60 and it’s kind of a good mark to have along with winning your conference.”

Kyle Lowry just hates to lose and will have to be told to sit down if Casey thinks he needs a rest over the next two games.

“I’m playing,” Lowry said emphatically after the win over the Magic. “I haven’t been playing as many minutes this year so it’s a little bit different for me. I don’t need the rest.

“I just want to play.

“First of all, winning is always important. Every game we play. We can’t worry about this, that and the other. Every single night from the first game of the season we play we can’t worry about (getting hurt). That’s how we got to approach it.”

The Raptors will get at least a couple of days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, so unless someone is nicked-up, getting a day off is more of a nice thing to get rather than a needed break. However, Casey, who plans to keep using a 10+ man rotation in the postseason, doesn’t want anyone to get hurt now. It’s just, as Lowry points out, not something he can really worry about.

Maybe Casey makes Lowry and Serge Ibaka take the night off on the back-to-back in Detroit, but he’ll still expect his players to go for the win. After the season is over, reaching 60 wins for the first time in franchise history will have been a goal worth achieving.

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey

Hey Raptors Fans, This Is What Success Looks Like

The Toronto Raptors have won 48, 49, 56 and 51 games over the past four NBA seasons and at 54 wins with 9 games remaining are likely to have the franchise’s first ever 60 win season this year. But even in the midst of an 11 win 2 loss month of March, doubters remain. Hey Toronto, this is what success looks like.

It’s been a while now that the Raptors players have looked listless, unfocused and possibly bored with the process. Once they got a double-digit lead in games over the rival Cavaliers and a nearly insurmountable lead on the second place Celtics, there just hasn’t been many situations that would really make a difference.

“We went thru it in Dallas, we went thru it in Seattle, so it’s not anything that’s new to our team,” head coach Dwane Casey said to explain the Raptors lack of focus in the win over the Nets. “It’s an NBA phenomenon.”

The Raptors have been starting games without the defensive intensity they showed earlier in the season. Up until March the Raptors were top 10 in fewest points allowed in the first quarter (26.2 points allowed) and finished the quarter up a respectable +1.9 points up on their opponents, but this month they’d dropped to 23rd at 28.8 points allowed and a misleading +0.1 points differential as its often been up to the bench to make up for the starters early malaise.

Call it boredom, a lack of focus, or just the realization they can beat most of the teams in the NBA if they just play hard for the last six minutes of the game. But as coach Casey points out, this isn’t anything new. In reality, this is what success looks like in the finals days of the regular season.

When you have a 50 win team in March, can the playoffs start soon enough?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey

It’s Over: Dwane Casey Is Your NBA Coach Of The Year

As the seemingly hoped for collapse by the Raptors never materialized, recognition of what head coach Dwane Casey has been able to accomplish in Toronto this season was becoming just to hard to ignore. The pundits had already started to recognize Casey as Coach of the Year worthy and after his team completed the sweep of the NBA’s first overall Houston Rockets on Friday night, it’s over. Just give the man his award.

A couple of days prior to the big win over the Rockets, the NBA Writers Blogtable had unanimously picked Casey as their number one choice for Coach of the Year.

Steve Aschburner:  Casey has helped to reinvent the Raptors after another disappointing playoff exit last spring

Tas Melas:  Casey got multiple-time All-Stars to buy in to a new style of play. I thought it was unthinkable. That’s real coaching right there, and the bench’s success just puts it over the top.

Shaun Powell:  My choice by a large margin is Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors. I love how he has adapted and evolved his system to fit the needs of his players, and how the bench has developed.

John Schuhmann:  The Toronto Raptors are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ve changed their offense, have actually been more improved on defense.

Sekou Smith:  It’s not often you see a coach with his seasoning and stature scrap what’s been working and completely revamp his offense. Casey has always been a defensive mastermind, but to do what he’s done on the other side of the floor has been simply tremendous

On court success alone often isn’t enough to for an NBA head coach to get noticed. Every team and every coach comes into the season with certain expectations and the expectations for the Raptors upcoming season weren’t all that good.

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton was forecasting the Raptors as 43-44 win team early in August.

ESPN’s Summer Forecast and  Bleacher Report pegged the Raptors at 47 wins.

Using its CARM-ELO system, FiveThirtyEight.com evaluated Toronto as a slightly better than average team prior to the start of the season.

After back-to-back 50+ win seasons, even the positive predictions had the Raptors taking a step back this year and reasons weren’t all that hard to understand. Ujiri had shipped off veterans DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph.  Key rotation cogs P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson were lost to free agency and the only veteran addition was journeyman three-point specialist C.J. Miles.

President Masai Ujiri made it clear he was going to see what his young players and rookies could do and to be fair, no one knew in advance how this would turn out. Casey was going to be under the gun to get a team of two All-Stars, three veterans and a host of unproven players still on their rookie deals playing together and, by the way, change how the team had played in those previous 50+ win seasons.

Casey didn’t just succeed. He blew the doors off of everyone’s preseason expectations.

After 65 games, the Eastern Conference’s first-place Toronto Raptors (48-17) have a 2.5 game lead over Boston and a 10 game advantage over the clinging to third place Cavaliers. FiveThirtyEight.com projects them to win 61 games. They are beating teams by an NBA second best points differential of +8.6 and that young bench has the best Net Rating in the league (as a five-man unit). Only the Western Conference’s Rockets and Warriors have more wins (51).

Their style of play really has changed dramatically from the prior year. This season the Raptors are hoisting an NBA third most three-point shots (32.9) and are top 10 in assists (23.8) compared to last year when they were bottom 10 in three-point attempts at 24.3 and dead last in assists (18.5).

The changes were made in response to Ujiri’s frustration with not being able to get by the Cavs in the postseason. The Raptors two All-Stars had proven they could carry this team in the regular season, so the buy-in by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan was going to be as critical to Casey’s ability to make the changes needed as his ability to accelerate the development of his young players.

Give credit where credit is due. Casey has succeeded on both fronts.

Coach of the Year is a regular season award, so that handful of stubborn Raptors’ doubters should have nothing to say. What Casey has been able to accomplish this season is in a word amazing and there should be no argument from anyone on that front.

(Yes the season isn’t over yet, but as far as Coach of the Year goes, this one’s in the bag.)

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Dwane Casey

Casey And The Raptors Slowly Gaining Respect

For some fans and “experts” being the winningest coach in Raptors history and the only coach to ever lead Toronto to the Eastern Conference Finals isn’t enough to acknowledge the team with the best record in the East with only 25 games left this season should be considered the best team in the East, but slowly, grudgingly, this team and head coach Dwane Casey are gaining respect. And they deserve it.

As of the All-Star break ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight calculates that the Raptors are the only team in the East with a puncher’s chance (20%) at winning the NBA Championship and have a better than 50 percent chance of getting there.

 

ESPN’s NBA BPI Playoff Odds gives the Raptors an Eastern Conference best chance at a championship (26%). The Celtics are at dismal 3.6 percent and the Cavs at just 0.3 percent. Although the Cavs have started to reverse their downward slide with a trade deadline roster re-make.

These days the Raptors head coach is getting regular high praise from the opposition’s game callers as Toronto at 41-16 has built a two-game lead over the Boston Celtics and a 6.5 game bulge over the Cavs, but this wasn’t the way the “experts” thought this season would go. The preseason prognosticators had the Raptors as low as sixth place in the East and now Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports  has Casey on his short list for Coach Of The Year.

This season, he is among the small group of coach of the year candidates. It’s not just because of the Raptors’ record

Casey changed the way the Raptors play.

Casey implemented offensive changes. They shoot more three-pointers and run fewer predetermined sets, making them less predictable.

Defensively, they switch more, a sign of versatility on a deep roster.

Ujiri took a chance with this season’s roster. With a mantra of let the young guys play, he handed Casey a roster with few veterans, but lots of rookies and unproven players still on their rookie deals, and told him to see what he’s got. Apparently this was the right call and Casey deserves a lot of the credit for making it work.

“One of the hardest things to do in any sport is win and develop at the same time,” Casey said. “Our guys have worked hard and gotten better.”

But Casey is making it work. DeRozan is turning in an MVP-caliber season, and Lowry is an All-Star for the fourth consecutive season.

Rookie forward OG Anunoby, who is in the starting lineup, center Jacob Poeltl, forward Pascal Siakam, guard Fred VanVleet – all in their second seasons – and third-year guards Norman Powell and Delon Wright form a promising and productive youth movement.

Casey didn’t need to say it – again, as he says it every year he’s been in Toronto, but….

“We’re still not a finished product”

If coach Casey can lead this young roster to a first place finish in the East, he deserves to win Coach of the Year.

As Rob Mahoney says in Sports Illustrated,

None of this would be possible without Casey, whose seven years of equity in Toronto allowed for the Raptors to change shape. The NBA has seen its share of smart, well-intentioned coaches promise their team a more modern style. But there is always some star to cater to, some veteran to indulge. What made Toronto’s conceptual exercise into reality was the trust that Casey and his staff had built.

Continuity is often an undervalued asset in the NBA where coaches are seen to be hired to be fired, but it’s been the All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s trust in Casey and Ujiri’s willingness to give young players a chance to show what they got and his head coach a chance to show he can grow with his roster that has created this year’s version of the Raptors.

Casey’s success this season was finally thrust into the spotlight when he was announced as a head coach at the NBA All-Star Game, an honor reserved for the first place team in each conference (subject to certain restrictions). It wasn’t enough that he is coaching a Raptors team that set a franchise record for wins at the halfway point in the season and has real chance at surpassing the team’s previous best of 56 wins from two seasons ago. It took an All-Star appearance to get noticed.

This core has never been better. This franchise has never been better. For that, the Raptors can thank Casey, their third representative at this weekend’s All-Star festivities.

Maybe those talking heads on the ESPN and Fox talk shows should stop drooling over LeBron James in the hopes of yet another Cavs/Dubs Finals re-match and acknowledge there are other teams making noise in the NBA this season.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri kisses Dwane Casey

Raptors Get A Third All-Star

With the win over the Lakers on Sunday night the Toronto Raptors secured the team’s third representative at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game, head coach Dwane Casey.

The Raptors came close in the previous two 50+ win seasons and it took a franchise record setting first half for the team to land the honor for their coach this year. 

“It’s been three years in a row we’ve had a chance to do it and we finally did it,” exclaimed Raptors four-time All-Star Kyle Lowry. “It’s pretty special for a guy that’s come from where he’s come from and worked so hard. A team that was supposed to blow it up a couple of years ago and now we’re here.”

Casey, ever focused on “the program” and player development deflected the praise to management, ownership and the players, but he should be proud of how far he’s brought a team of predominately young players so far so fast.

“To put a light on our program and (let everyone) see what we are doing is the most important thing,” Casey said. “It’s also for the players. They have done something to this point (in the season.) It’s an honor for the program.”

The Raptors will be in no lower than second place in the East when the decision about who will coach in the All-Star Game is made. Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (currently one game ahead of the Raptors) coached the All-Star Game last year and is ineligible this season.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Is 52 Points From DeRozan Enough For Next Christmas?

By Frank McLean

Now that the holiday season is over and we all head back to work or school about ten pounds bigger than we weighed before December 24th from all the food we stuffed ourselves with, fans of the Toronto Raptors wondered why weren’t the Raptors included in the five pack of Christmas Day games?

Well fans you are not alone. The Raptors organization was asking that same question before Christmas and again it’s the same old refrain of the team just not getting any respect south of the border.

In a scrum with the media during the home and home series with Philadelphia just before the Christmas break Dwane Casey lamented that he wished they were playing on December 25th.

“I wish we were in that group,” Casey said. “I think we have earned the right to be there. We are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. I don’t know if it is advertising ? I don’t know what the reason is? Our record shows we deserve to be one of those teams.”

Casey has a point. After their overtime win on New Year’s day over the Milwaukee Bucks where the Raptors improved their overall record to 25-10 and an NBA best 14-1 at home, good for second in the NBA East behind first place Boston Celtics and a game where DeMar DeRozan broke Vince Carter’s record for points in a game by scoring 52, he has a point.

The problem is the Raptors do not resonate with ESPN and TNT the NBA’s national television partners in the United States and as a result they do not resonate with the fans in the USA.

Now the Raptors have been featured in one of the Christmas Day games – once. It was 17-years ago in 2001 when NBC had the national television rights in the US and the Raptors visited Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks.

They Raptors lost 102-94, but that was a moot point, NBC in those days couldn’t get enough of Toronto because they had Vince Carter.

Carter was big in the US and playing in Canada did not make him invisible in the states. He won the 1999 Rookie Of The Year award, he went out and won the slam dunk competition at the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland and he had his 51-point game, which until Monday was the club record, on an NBC game of the week against Phoenix. People watched the Raptors when they were on national television in the US because of the man Chuck Swirsky called “Air Canada”. Kids in the US wanted Carter’s jersey the same way kids now want LeBron James or Steph Curry’s now.

This current group of Raptors have no one on their team that’s popular as Carter was back in the day. ESPN reported that this year’s Christmas Day games that they aired on their network or ABC had a 39-percent increase over last year’s games.

Would putting Toronto on affect those ratings? Well that’s the impression I get.

Here is the reality, regardless of the numbers DeMar DeRozan is putting up he does not have the publicity in the US that Carter had. Nobody is demanding that ESPN or TNT put the Raptors on regularly because they want to see DeRozan or Kyle Lowry. But they can’t get enough of James or Curry.

Now when you have the LeBron James Cavaliers and Steph Curry’s Warriors playing in three straight NBA Championship’s and the fact they are the two most popular players in the league you know that’s why they always get to play Christmas Day.

But why does no one want to watch DeRozan? In the last three weeks alone he has had two monster offensive games. We mentioned Monday’s club record 52-pointer, but five days before Christmas he put up 45-points in a comeback win in Philadelphia. He is one of the most exciting players to watch right now who is having the best season any Raptor has ever put up.

So what do the Raptors need to do? Short of their PR department putting a gun to ESPN and TNT’s head I don’t know.

The reality is the Raptors need to keep putting pressure on first place Boston for the lead in the East. Get back to the Eastern Conference Finals win it and get to the NBA Championship. Even if they don’t win the title that seems to get you an automatic Christmas Day game since one of them is always a rematch of the previous seasons final.

The only alternative is for DeRozan to keep having monster games so sooner or later ESPN and TNT will have no choice but to feature the Raptors on Christmas Day.

Maybe next year?

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Halfway To A 1,000 Games, Coach Casey Keeps On Winning

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey quietly reached a milestone on their west coast road trip last week when he coached his 500th game with the basketball team.

In his seventh season with the team and following their win this past Sunday at home against Sacramento his won-loss record is an impressive 281-223. Currently they are sitting third in the Eastern Conference with a 20-8 record. They are definitely on pace for a third straight 50 win season and dare we say, maybe 60 wins.

The 20-8 record is impressive because of the tough schedule the NBA came up with. The Raptors have already played 16 road contests, in which they have completed all but three of their west coast visits and have won nine to go with the best home record in the league at 11-1.

The 20-8 mark is a lot better a start than anticipated because the team made a complete 360-degree change in how they play offense with constant ball movement and a lot more three-point attempts.

Looks like to me they caught on a little quicker than what many people thought.

But defense first is still Casey’s first commandment of playing winning basketball and they are in the top-10 in fewest points allowed per 100-poessions. When he came to Toronto, the team was 30th, dead last in defense.

It’s remarkable that into his seventh year as coach Casey has not lost his team. It doesn’t matter what professional sport we are talking about, a head coach’s shelf life is typically slightly longer than a quart of milk sitting in your fridge. Players after a few years just seem to tune them out.

Listen to the testimonials from his current stars.

“It’s been a long, long, long journey. It’s a testament to him sticking to all of his guns and understanding his principles that he came in here with,” said DeMar DeRozan who is the only Raptor left on the roster from Casey’s first season with the team.

“Look at him now, he holds the record for wins and games coached, everything, you’ve got to give him credit for that.”

“Always you face some ups and downs, some bumps, some downhills, but, if you are able to get back and if you are able to stay strong over those bumps, you are real then,” Jonas Valanciunas said of Casey.“He knows what he’s doing, he’s a great dude, he’s a great guy. He’s humble, he’s trying to win. That’s all that matters.”

And this from Kyle Lowry who has bumped heads more than a few times like a son does with his father.

“I don’t think our coach is ever happy, honestly. But that’s the one thing about our coach, he’s hard on us, and he’s tough on us. But we know that he wants us to be a championship calibre team, and that’s what we push for, and that’s why we respond to him so well.”

When you check out social media there are still people demanding that Casey be fired which again proves that it is the worst invention in the history of man when you hear some of the stuff being said… and it’s not just with respect to basketball.

Dwane Casey is the best thing that’s happened to this franchise period.

Casey was hired by former general manager Bryan Colangelo and when Masai Ujiri took over he could have fired Casey and brought in his own man, but he stayed with him and as a result the team has increased its win total from 23 in his initial season to 34 the next year then 48, 49, 56 and 51 last year. The Raptors are on pace to win more than 56 games this season.

If there is somebody better out there go get him, but I don’t see Greg Popovich or Steve Kerr leaving their current jobs.

I don’t think when Casey arrived in Toronto many pundits thought he would last 500 games. Hopefully, he gets another 500 games on the bench and maybe a trip to NBA Finals will finally come about.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Toronto Raptors Are The Rodney Dangerfield Of The NBA

By Frank McLean

On Tuesday I dropped in on the Toronto Raptors practice just to get an idea of how they were getting ready for Thursday night’s curtain raiser for the 2017-2018 NBA season. And the talk again, like it seems every year for the last four years, is that this team gets no respect. They are the Rodney Dangerfield of the National Basketball Association.

If you are old enough to remember Rodney, he was the comedian who based his stand-up act on him getting no respect from anybody in the world. In the basketball world, this is your Toronto Raptors.

Many of the pundits, and yes those pundits are in the United States, do not think the Raptors have a shot at finishing in the top group in the Eastern Conference again. The worst insult comes from the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” ESPN, who picked the Raptors to finish sixth in the East. This is the same group that listed DeMar DeRozan the 39th best player in the league, but that’s another story for another time.

Looking at the body of the Raptors work for the last four seasons this does not make any sense.

They have made the playoffs four straight seasons, including an appearance in the 2015 conference finals. Two 50 plus win seasons the last two years and an all-star starting backcourt of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

New Raptor C.J. Miles he can’t understand it because he has had to play against this team over the last four years.

“How does anybody write a story and not talk about a team that was third in the East last year?” Miles questioned. “It’s a little weird. I didn’t really think about it. From the outside looking in as a guy who’s a fan of the game and watches games and watches everybody play, I looked at them as an elite team and when I walked into the arena they felt like an elite team when you played against them.

“Second or third in the East and now they don’t even say your name, like, how does that happen”?” a flabbergasted Miles added.

Head coach Dwane Casey feels that this should light a little fire under his teams butt.

“It should (put) you off,” Casey said. “There are still 82 games to be played. We should take that as a line of disrespect because we went from tied with Cleveland all the way down to fifth or sixth of wherever they have us. Paper says one thing and all the predictions say one thing, but it’s up to us as a team to go out and compete and show they’re different.”

For DeRozan this no respect thing is just another year at the office.

“Nothing changed,” DeRozan explained. “Same old thing. For us, we’ve got to go out there, worry about ourselves and at the end of the day, it don’t matter what we do, pretty sure they’ll say the same things.”

DeRozan added that since the core of this team has been together for so long the is a comfort level that has led to their success.

“Camaraderie and chemistry is hard to come by. So when you have that sense of comfort, knowing guys as individuals, on and off the court, you have a different comfort zone when you go out there in the big moments, understanding each other,” he added.

“That kind of goes a long way and it actually wins you games in the NBA. You can tell teams that have been together for years, just off the strength of that, they can pull out victories over more talented teams.”

What to expect this year?

Well if this team stays healthy, they should have a good shot for a third straight 50 win season.

This should upset the pundits south of the border who only talk about Cleveland, Golden State, Boston, Houston and maybe San Antonio as the only worthy teams to talk about playing in the NBA Finals.

Let’s face it, ESPN really wants a Cleveland-Golden State Finals part four because according to them, there are only two players in the NBA and they are named James and Curry.

So starting Thursday night let’s see if “WE THE NORTH” can get a little respect that Rodney never got.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Is Dwane Casey Coaching For His Job This Season?

Coaches are hired to be fired, so as the fourth longest tenured head coach in the NBA with six years under his belt in Toronto, is Dwane Casey coaching for his job this season?

Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler seems to think so even if the lack of recent advancement in the postseason is pretty hard to blame on Casey.

Unexpectedly, the Raptors won and became one of the up and comers in the East, keeping Casey on the bench.

Casey has done a remarkable job, especially when you consider how many drafted players have not panned out in Toronto, as well as some of the questionable free agent moves the club has made.

Since president Masai Ujiri’s arrival the Raptors have enjoyed a level of success previously unseen in franchise history and that’s despite the numerous stumbles along the way as Ujiri has tried to improve the roster within the financial restrictions imposed by his profit conscious ownership.

However, keeping Casey around and extending his contract for three more years in the summer of 2016 hasn’t been one of those stumbles.

The only team to actually stop the Raptors in the last two postseasons has been a Cavaliers squad with the highest payroll in the NBA and, well, LeBron James.

Casey had led his team to more victories than in the previous season for five straight years, only slipping back to 51 wins last year after setting a new franchise record for wins in a season with 56 in 2015-16 and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. A slip, however, that should have been anticipated with the roster Ujiri handed to Casey last summer.

The Raptors fortunes turned around on one easily identified impact trade when Ujiri sent Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray to the Kings for Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez on December 9, 2013.

However, Ujiri’s best moves since then have involved other trades and re-signing his own free agents. The draft and free agent acquisitions from other teams haven’t exactly been helping out his head coach.

Ujiri is adamant about developing “his own” young talent and without a draft pick in 2013, the youth movement started in earnest the next summer and, hopefully, mercifully, has finally peaked this year.

2014

Bruno Caboclo was drafted 20th overall as an 18-year-old project player in 2014 and has yet to play a meaningful minute in the NBA.

“I want to almost blame myself for bringing him too soon to our team,” Ujiri said about Caboclo.  “It’s almost like he’s gone thru college on our team.”

Ujiri traded for the draft rights to the 2013 16th overall draft pick Lucas Nogueira and also acquired the veteran Lou Williams for John Salmons, a solid trade by any measure.

However, Nogueira played his first meaningful NBA minutes last season and then lost his spot in the rotation to rookie Jakob Poeltl.

Lou Williams was the sixth man of the year, but he was a square peg in a round hole, costing the Raptors badly on defense. He didn’t fit and was allowed to escape in free agency that summer without even a phone call.

2015

Ujiri signs DeMarre Carroll to a four-year $60 million contract, but the “3-and-D” forward is rehabbing or hurt for nearly his entire stay in Toronto and Ujiri had to pay the Nets with draft picks to take him this summer.

With the 20th pick Ujiri selects Delon Wright, but the young point guard has only played in 27 games in each of his first two seasons. He looks very promising and is destined for a bigger role this season, but as of yet hasn’t been any significant help to the Raptors.

Ujiri traded Vasquez for second round pick Norman Powell and a 2017 first round pick (OG Anunoby). Powell has been an impact player in both postseasons and could be Ujiri’s best draft pick while in Toronto.

Ujiri signs former first overall pick Anthony Bennett. He appeared in 23 games before being cut.

2016

In 2016 the youth movement is in full effect with Ujiri adding three rookies to Wright, Powell, Caboclo and Nogueira. That made seven players on his roster and only one Casey could have any confidence in heading into the season (Powell).

Ujiri drafted center Jakob Poeltl ninth overall who was accurately described as the player least likely to be a bust in the draft. Poeltl will be an effective NBA rotation player maybe as soon as this year or next.

Forward Pascal Siakam was drafted 27th overall and pressed into the starting lineup because of an injury and an obvious lack of depth on the roster. The 38 starts were good for Siakam, but it was the equivalent of asking Casey to coach with one hand tied behind his back.

Ujiri then added undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet as his fourth point guard. VanVleet shows promise and might be good enough to take on a backup role as soon as this season, but last year it meant Casey didn’t have enough forward depth.

The plan at forward was free agent Jared Sullinger, but the big man broke his foot in preseason, later admitted being fat cost him the season and the Raptors dealt him at the trade deadline. Can’t blame Ujiri for an unanticipated injury, but that didn’t help his coach.

2017

When Pro Bball Report asked Ujiri prior to the 2017 draft how many young players he could have on his roster for next season, he answered “17” and from what he’s done, that wasn’t too far off.

All seven players on rookie deals are back from last season. Lorenzo Brown and Malcolm Miller have been added on the new two-way contracts. Invited to training camp are Alfonzo McKinnie, Kennedy Meeks, Kyle Wiltjer and K.J. McDaniels to fight over two open roster spots.

Ujiri drafted injured forward OG Anunoby 23rd overall and the hope is he’ll be ready for training camp, but there’s no guarantee he’ll even play this season.

Ujiri could have 10 players on rookie contracts and only five players with at least five years experience on his roster for this season.

“You got to give (the young guys) a shot to play and that’s just the way our team is built,” Ujiri told Pro Bball Report.

He should have said, ‘that’s just the way I’ve built this team.’

In every way Ujiri has upped the level of difficulty for Casey to win more games than last year and advance further in the postseason. Guys like Powell, Wright, Nogueira, Poeltl, Siakam and even VanVleet had better be ready to step up or it could be a tough year for their head coach.

This happened despite the annual promise of being willing to spend to win. However, that’s never actually happened in Toronto, so no one should be holding their breath expecting the Raptors ownership to actually risk a penny of their massive and growing profits. (The Raptors ownership group just signed a new building naming rights deal that pays them a record $40 million per season.)

“I don’t have to build a team the way Cleveland is built,” Ujiri pointedly told Pro Bball Report. “We don’t have to do that.”

Casey is under contract for this season and next, so it’s unlikely Ujiri would make any coaching moves during the season no matter what happens. As Kyler points out,

It’s highly unlikely the Raptors make a coaching change in-season, but with how much the Raptors have locked themselves into this current roster, Casey is the only thing they could really change if they can’t get the job done this season.

While Ujiri says the goal is to beat the Cavs and thinking about it keeps him up at night, he hasn’t exactly provided Casey with any veteran depth in case of injury or attempted to use his “excess” salary (Carroll) to try to package with those draft picks he gave away to acquire an impact player or even just someone proven/useful now.

This summer was all about getting below the luxury tax threshold and adding young cheap talent that might be useful in the future.

“I don’t just think about Toronto Raptors for today. I think about the Toronto Raptors five years from now too,” Ujiri said.

“All we are trying to do is set up ourselves to try and become competitive, to put yourself in the position to maybe compete for a championship.”

The key words from Ujiri were “try” and “maybe” as the Cavs are the overwhelming favorites again this season and advancing past them shouldn’t be how Casey will be judged this year.

If his main guys – Lowry, DeRozan, Miles, Ibaka and Valanciunas – stay relatively injury free and the young guys – Wright, Powell, VanVleet, Nogueira, Poeltl, Siakam as a group continue to show progress – it’s fair to expect another 50-win season. It’s fair to expect a return to the second round of the playoffs with anything beyond that depending on favorable matchups.

However, Kyler is right that the four-time Eastern Conference Coach of the Month Dwane Casey could be on the way out after this season if he isn’t seen as getting ‘the job done.’ Coaches are, after all, always coaching for their job.

Getting the job done as Ujiri has built this team, however, is merely keeping the veterans on board with your program and seeing the young players develop. Ujiri hasn’t given Casey the tools to expect more than that – yet.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

What The Raptors Rotation Could Look Like Next Season

There are plenty of clues coming out about what the Toronto Raptors rotation could look like next season. President Masai Ujiri isn’t exactly trying to hide what he believes in and the direction he will be taking his team.

When doing the rounds with his corporate masters recently. (The Raptors are owned by Rogers and Bell who control Sportsnet and TSN respectively.) He did his best to clarify his comments about “culture change” and any perceptions regarding head coach Dwane Casey and his All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

“Our culture is pretty good,” Ujiri told Tim and Sid on the Fan 590 just to set the tone for the entire interview.

“I am the problem solver here,” Ujiri said in regards to re-signing Lowry (and just about anything else.)

“I am confident (coach Casey) can pull those things off.”

As he has said since the beginning of his tenure as president (and general manager), Ujiri believes in developing his own talent and it is something he is doubling down on under the new CBA.

“The new CBA means a lot of players are going to stay where they are at,” Ujiri explained. “That’s just how it works. The way (the CBA) is constructed a lot of teams are going to have the ability to keep their own players. So we have to figure out ways with our own players.

“Drafting and developing our players is a high priority for us. We have to develop from within.”

There aren’t any false hopes about Paul George or Jimmy Butler arriving in Toronto anytime soon.

Ujiri is confident Lowry will re-sign with Toronto and not without a lot of justification. The Raptors and coach Casey made Lowry a three-time All-Star, his best friend is DeMar DeRozan, and they will pay him $30 million plus a season to stay.

He is equally confident about Serge Ibaka and more than few media reports suggested Ibaka wanted to be traded to Toronto. Ujiri has the checkbook to re-sign Ibaka to a $100 million plus contract as well. P.J. Tucker almost came out and said if Lowry comes back, he’s coming back.

It shouldn’t take a leap of faith to figure out what type of ‘culture change’ Ujiri wants. He has always wanted a ‘tougher’ team and absolutely no one can ignore the need to have an excess of three-point shooting today.

Fortunately, the Raptors got a glimpse of what their future could look like in their first round series with Milwaukee.

On opening night, the Raptors starting line-up should look like this:

PG Kyle Lowry 22.4 ppg, 7.8 3FGA, 41.2% 3FG
SG DeMar DeRozan 27.3 ppg, 1.7 3FGA, 26.6% 3FG
SF Norman Powell* 15.6 ppg, 4.1 3FGA, 39.7% 3FG
PF P.J. Tucker** 5.8 ppg, 2.5 3FGA, 40% 3FG
C Serge Ibaka** 14.2 ppg, 4.5 3FGA, 39.8% 3FG

* Powell as a starter in 18 games last season
** Tucker and Ibaka as a Raptor after the All-Star break

A three-guard lineup of Lowry, DeRozan and Powell tore thru the Bucks in the postseason and represents the direction the NBA is headed but with a toughness that fits with coach Casey’s preferred style of play.

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

Powell will guard bigger players and was effective as a rookie guarding Paul George last year which is no small feat. It’s time to put Ujiri’s player development to the test and insert Powell into the starting rotation from day one.

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

Tucker is just plain nasty. A combo forward who can guard either spot against anyone, just putting him into the starting rotation could be considered a culture change for the Raptors.

“The most dirty, rugged, nasty (person) you’ll ever see,” Tucker describes himself.

It looked like Ibaka had lost a step during the playoffs, but that’s only if you forget he was playing on a sore left ankle. Prior to that Ibaka was switching out onto guards and stuffing them at the three-point line. He represents a huge improvement in mobility and versatility over a traditional center like Jonas Valanciunas.

This is a starting lineup that stretches the floor and can panic defenses trying to simultaneously guard the three-point line and the paint. Even DeRozan should be expected to improve on last season’s three-point shooting over the summer. No one should be surprised if he’s hitting 33 percent or more of his open threes next year.

Who backs up these starters isn’t even close to being decided, except for some obvious things Ujiri must be considering. Cory Joseph and a group to be determined including possibly one or more not even on the roster yet.

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph

There will be battles for minutes off the bench and Ujiri could/should be looking to make moves to create opportunities for some of his young guys to develop or just to get a little closer to the luxury tax line. Bringing back Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker will put the Raptors $15-25 million into the tax unless Ujiri can shed some salary.

As much as Ujiri wants to develop his own guys, this may the time to sell high on Jonas Valanciunas and the unproven but very real possibility of him developing a three-point shot. With a salary of just $15.5 million and two years left on his deal, Valanciunas will have value on the trade market.

The temptation to keep DeMarre Carroll around will be high as his trade value is suspect. Although injuries have prevented him from showing what he can do in Toronto thus far, he remains a decent three-point shooting forward in a league where three-point shooting forwards are in demand. However, if Ujiri could move his $14.8 million in salary, it would really help lower the luxury tax bill. (Even if next year is finally the season he starts without being hindered by injury.)

Moving Valanciunas and potentially Carroll opens up minutes for last year’s rookie center Jakob Poeltl and forward?/center Lucas Nogueira.

Poeltl impressed as a rookie and seems poised to take a big step next season assuming Ujiri opens up a spot in the rotation for him. He doesn’t have any range on his shot, but he rebounds, has soft hands and good mobility for a big man. In keeping with Ujiri’s mantra of developing his own players, this is one guy that needs to play.

It probably hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ujiri or Casey, but Nogueira had a team fifth best plus/minus of +3.1 points last season. Sure he lost the few minutes that were available at center to Poeltl after the All-Star break trades, but Casey made a concerted effort to try him out at power forward and those efforts weren’t completely in vain. NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Nogueira

Look for Nogueira to be battling it out for minutes at the four (and maybe the five). Pascal Siakam, who started 38 games at power forward for Toronto last year but has a questionable jump shot, possibly a player to be traded for, or even the Raptors draft pick (if it’s someone like UCLA’s T.J. Leaf) could be in the mix at the backup four spot.

If Carroll is traded, the Raptors could be thin at small forward. Tucker can play both forward spots, but this could quickly become a big hole. It wouldn’t be a shock if Ujiri traded for a small forward prospect as no one will be planning on Bruno Caboclo being ready to play in the NBA next season – hoping maybe, planning, not a chance.

Backup guard is potentially the most interesting spot. NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Cory Joseph

Cory Joseph will continue backing up Lowry and as his three-point shooting was dramatically better up until the All-Star break last season, look for Joseph to solidify his hold on the role by coming into training camp after another summer of improving his shooting.

Delon Wright looked good after coming back from injury late last season, but he has competition from a potentially better three-point shooter in Fred VanVleet. Wright has more versatility than the undersized VanVleet and showed potential guarding the wing, but Casey hasn’t shown any reluctance to playing Joseph and VanVleet together. This could be the best and most predictable battle for minutes on the roster.

The Raptors starting lineup will be good, better than last season and another 50+ win campaign will be expected, but as Ujiri has said, that isn’t the goal.

“If we are just going to be stuck in second, third, fourth every year and some years we are disappointed in the playoffs and some years we are happy – that’s not the goal,” Ujiri stated. “The goal is to win a championship.

“The way we have played hasn’t worked the past three, four years to take us to the highest level and it’s one of those things we have to figure out a way.

“I hate losing to those guys (the Cavaliers). It drives me crazy.”

To get past the Cavs, it will take more than a better starting lineup and developing young players while the Cavs boast the highest payroll in the NBA doesn’t make it any easier.

Ujiri has to find a way via trade or a big step in the play of one/some of his young guys, but it has to be consistent with what he believes in. A copycat move isn’t going to work against LeBron James in the East or the Warriors in the West.

“We are not saying we are going to change completely to the way another team plays or copy another team.”

Ujiri has to find his own blend of grit, toughness and three-point shooting. Someone(s) out of Powell, Poeltl, Nogueira, Wright, VanVleet, Caboclo, a rookie, or an undervalued trade prospect had better take a huge step forward or next year will be another year Ujiri doesn’t get past the Cavs.

Although Ujiri really didn’t say anything new during his recent media tour, (if anything the Raptors president has been consistent since day one), in case you missed it, you can listen to Ujiri on Tim and Sid here.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Serge Ibaka Kyle Lowry 2017 collage

Basketball Insiders Think Raptors Will Stay The Course

Options for Raptors president Masai Ujiri next season are limited and his best scenario will be to stay the course says Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler in his look at the future in Toronto.

1.  Attacking the free agent market to get better next next season isn’t an option as Ujiri has no real cap space to work with again this summer.

even if the Raptors said no thank you to all of their free agents, they would enter the off-season with $24.188 million in cap space. Said differently, that’s not even room for one max free agent.

2. Kyle Lowry will re-sign with the Raptors. For lots of reasons other than just the money. Lowry loves his life in Toronto and considers DeMar DeRozan “family.” Besides, there just aren’t many landing spots out there for a 31-year-old All-Star point guard that wants to win and get paid.

As much as people want to speculate about the future landing spot for Lowry, the likely outcome of the situation is he re-signs in Toronto on a whopper of a contract.

3. Serge Ibaka wanted to be traded to Toronto and the Raptors have done everything they could to make Ibaka love the move. Over and over again Ibaka has said he wants to play more at center and coach Casey accommodated him and not just to make Ibaka happy. Ujiri wants changes and Ibaka is the kind of change (a stretch-five that blocks shots) this team is looking for. Expect Ibaka to be back on a new $100 million plus contract.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri had been after Ibaka in trade for some time. Most in NBA circles believe that Ibaka made it clear to the Magic the only team he wanted to land with was Toronto

4. Patrick Patterson is likely the odd man out in free agency. He’s a “3-and-D” power forward that seems to get hurt every season and then loses his stroke. The Raptors would like to keep him as a backup power forward if the price is right, but the risk in free agency is he gets priced out of his value to Toronto.

As good as Patrick Patterson has been for the Raptors, he may be priced too high if they can reach deals with Lowry and Ibaka.

5. P.J. Tucker is a guy Ujiri acquired to fill a gaping hole at combo-forward and he impressed big time during the postseason. The Raptors want him back, but Tucker made it really clear after the season he wants to come back only if the Raptors are keeping their big name free agents – especially Lowry.

P.J Tucker has said he’d like to be back with the Raptors and his price tag might be reasonable enough to work even if the Raptors pay out big money to Lowry and Ibaka.

6. Ujiri will be active in the trade market, if not right away in July, later in the summer as teams are trying to fill holes in their rosters or ahead of the trade deadline. Moving one of his big contracts like DeMarre Carroll would make paying the luxury tax bill from re-signing his own free agents much less painful.

the situation becomes easier if the Raptors can off-load a bigger contract that no longer fits the plan going forward

Even Jonas Valanciunas could be on the block if the goal is to start Ibaka at center and let the cheaper Lucas Nogueira and  Jakob Poeltl compete for the backup center role.

As much as Jonas Valanciunas has meant to the Raptors, moving his $15.46 million salary would solve more problems for the future than he does as a player.

The Raptors are a 50 win team that been to the postseason four straight years and to stay on the radar in hockey-mad Toronto, that’s pretty much the floor and Ujiri knows it. The Raptors will “try to change the culture,” but they aren’t going to tank to do it. At least not voluntarily.

Look for head coach Dwane Casey and his two All-Stars, Lowry and DeRozan, to be back in Toronto again next season putting together another 50 win season and hoping they’ve found the magic (Ibaka) that can take them up another level. As Kyler explains, they don’t have much choice.

Be sure to check out all of Kyler’s analysis here.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Coach Dwane Casey Isn’t Going Anywhere, Deal With It

By Frank McLean

I might be turning into an old crotchety sports writer, but I have had enough of the trolls on social media and sports radio callers which former New York Daily News writer Bob Raissman used to call “The Valley Of The Stupid”.

I don’t mean to ruin your day, but Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is the least of the Raptors problems. He is not going anywhere.

The cries of Casey has got to go have been loud and clear since the loss in game one and a couple of questionable efforts in the Milwaukee series, but he is not the problem.

In the six years he has been in Toronto he has coached this team to three Atlantic Division titles, four straight trips to the playoffs and a 261-215 regular season won-loss record which is a .548 winning percentage.

And let’s not forget the last two years the team has won back to back 50-win seasons.

His body of work earned Casey a three year 18-million dollar contract extension which means with 12-million dollars roughly left to be paid out, he ain’t going nowhere.

The players like Casey which in this day and age in the NBA is the most important thing that coach has to earn for job security. The team has not given up on him, the effort is there on the court, it’s just that this group as a whole is not good enough to dethrone Cleveland and that’s not Casey’s fault, he did not put the roster together, that’s Masai Ujiri’s mess and we will talk about that at a later date.

If the players don’t like coach, especially the team superstar, he is at the unemployment office.

Ask David Blatt who was run out of Cleveland by the Cavaliers real General Manager and President of Basketball Operations LeBron James.

And Casey has not given up on his team either, he made that clear on Saturday in his daily media availability. He still thinks they are close to making a legitimate run at Cleveland. He hasn’t gone John Torterella on his guys.

“I like our team, it’s the most talented team we’ve had but it does take time when you are trying to integrate those pieces those pieces together and timing.”

The problem is how close is this team to Cleveland and Casey says that he is not sure.

“If and when it’s hard to say, if is a huge word in that situation because this group hasn’t had a training camp or time together to against him (a roster with Ibaka and Tucker) but I like this group we have the right pieces in place.”

Now if you can find someone who can coach better than Casey go out and get him. But the only guy I can think of would be Greg Popovich and if he leaves the San Antonio Spurs it will either by retirement or he passes away to the great basketball court in the sky while he is still employed there.

Any other coach with a similar resume to Casey would be a lateral move, and don’t say that maybe a different voice is needed. Some moves need to be made on the roster and that will happen by necessity or by players leaving by free agency.

You saw what happened in Indiana this year after Larry Bird did not renew the contract of Frank Vogel, the Pacers regressed.

In six years there Vogel ran up a 250-181 regular season record and five playoff appearances. His crime with Larry Bird was that he had the nerve to give Paul George a three minute breather in their playoff games against the Raptors.

Vogel was out of work about two weeks before the Magic hired him and if Casey left Toronto he would be employed before June. There are a lot of bad NBA teams that would jump at him.

Dwane Casey should not be fired, he is not the problem and there is nobody better out there.

Now the roster that’s another story.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Playing For Pride On Sunday

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said all the right things after Game Three, Sunday’s game against the Cavs is for pride. You don’t want to end your season at home.

So if I’m Casey I put on my Dr. Phil hat and my speech is… okay guys we have won four games in a row before right so it’s not so hard right.

Sam Mitchell used to drive me nuts during his time coaching with the Raptors. During his media scrums because was always using the saying, “it is what it is guys”, to describe whatever predicament the team was going through at a particular time.

Heading into Sunday’s fourth game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in this Eastern Conference Semifinal, which the Cavaliers have made the Raptors look like the victims of a drive by shooting, “it is what it is for the Raptors.”

The Raptors have to win four straight games to go to the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight year which after watching how the Cavaliers carved up the Raptors in the first 1:52 of the fourth quarter in Game Three with a quick 8-2 run that tuned into 20-3, well it just showed that the Raptors are not in their class.

So if you are Dwane Casey what is your motivational speech to his teams?

During the regular season the Raptors had four-four game win streaks along with two three game streaks and a pair of six game win streaks, but in those win streaks they didn’t have to play four consecutive games against the Cavaliers.

Casey also needs to let his team know exactly what he said about them to the media in his post-game thoughts after Game Three.

“I’m still proud of our guys, I think we have a lot of fighters in that locker room. We came up short, but I do like how they responded. I loved the way DeMar DeRozan responded after they killed him saying that he couldn’t score.”

Casey has got to make sure that he has not given up on them because you know human nature after you have been beat like the Raptors have been beat you might give up on yourself.

Meanwhile over in the Cavaliers locker room they don’t seem to be taking for granted that they have this Game Four locked up and a sweep in their pockets.

LeBron James said after game three that the most important thing is to come out on Sunday and play their game.

“Our coaching staff once again will give us a game plan and it is up to us to go out and execute. It is a quick turnaround game on Sunday, we do not to be thinking about sleep or getting rest. We need to be thinking about what we need to do to execute defensively and offensively coming into Sunday.”

Now you can hope, and if you are one to grasp at straws, you can hope that the 3:30 start and maybe Toronto’s outstanding nightlife might make the Cavaliers a little hung over and a soft spot to beat-em. But I doubt it.

It is playoff time and party time comes when Adam Silver hands the Cavaliers the championship trophy in June.

But upsets do happen in sports. Saturday’s Kentucky Derby was not run on paper. 20-horses went to the gate and ran a race.

Maybe the Raptors can win one maybe two, but they have to win four straight. It is what it is. Game Four is all about playing for pride.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

It Took A Lot For Casey To Wake Up Jonas Valanciunas

Through the ups and down of the Toronto Raptors three previous playoff runs under head coach Dwane Casey one thing remained constant, Jonas Valanciunas (“JV”) stepped up and played big, but not now. It took a lot for Casey to get JV to wake up and play up to his potential this year.

In Valanciunas’ first 23 playoff games prior to this year he averaged a double-double 12.4 points and 10.2 rebounds on 57 percent shooting. He was a force and a go-to-guy when DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry were struggling.

This year was a different story. JV was sent to the bench shooting 37.5 percent from the field after his team went 1-2 in their first three games against Milwaukee. Casey could use the excuse that the matchup with Bucks backup center Greg Monroe was better, but Milwaukee’s starting center was a rookie, so it would have been reasonable to expect more.

In hindsight it was unfortunate Valanciunas bought the excuse and willingly went to the bench. It would have been better if he’d bristled at the demotion.

After getting past the Bucks with a 3-0 run and JV coming off the bench, Casey put Valanciunas back in the starting lineup in Game One against the Cavs and to put it bluntly, JV stunk.

It wasn’t easy to tell Valanciunas he’d be coming off the bench for Game Two with the undersized Tristan Thompson starting for the Cavs, but Casey had to do something to shake Valanciunas out of his malaise.

“I think the hair is up on the back of his neck a little bit,” Casey said prior to Game Three. “A little teed off that he is coming off (the bench). My hat goes off to him cause he has been starting the entire year and because of matchup situations and trying to win the series he has had to come off the bench.

“He is still one of the top centers in the league and it takes a lot for him to come off the bench. He is trying to show everyone I’m not a backup center in this league. Which he’s not. He’s just doing it for the fact that we needed that matchup in the last series and also we tried to take advantage of that in this series.”

Finally the demotion to backup center in Game Two woke JV up and he led Toronto in scoring with 23 points in just 20.2 minutes.

“He’s a good player on the low post,” Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said prior to Game Three. “Uses his shot fakes well, gets to the basket, can make a jump shot, but they play thru Kyle and DeMar a lot, so that being said, he’s a third option on his team. What he did in the last game is a little different than what he did in the past. He did make some shots last game.”

He make some shots in his next game as well. Back in the starting unit because he earned it, Valanciunas was second in scoring on the Raptors with 19 badly needed points on 8-10 shooting.

In his first seven games this postseason, Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points on a disappointing 46.8 shooting, but since being woken up by Casey that’s jumped to 21 points on 78.3 percent.

The improved play from Valanciunas hasn’t been enough for the Raptors to steal a win from the favored Cavs, but at least the team has looked better than in Game One and that could matter in what is likely the final home game of the year for Toronto on Sunday.

“We are going to show what we are made of,” Valanciunas said about Game Four. “We are going to come in and give up or we are going to come in and fight. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, we need to come here and fight and leave everything on the court.”

Welcome to the fight JV. Game Four is all about pride and we’ve seen how well JV and the Raptors can play when their backs are against the wall.

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

Jurassic Park Toronto Raptors

Raptors Fans Need To Step It Up In Game Five

Maybe it isn’t safe to even passively call out your own fans, but head coach Dwane Casey has asked the Raptors fans to step it up in Game Five.

“Yesterday’s environment (Saturday in Milwaukee), it was a hostile environment,” Casey said. “I hope our fans are the same way against them, the way they were against us. They were on us. I mean it was loud (at) the game.

“Our hard play helped us in the second game there, but the first game, it was very loud, it was one of the loudest. I think Portland a few years ago, when I was in Dallas a few years ago was loud, San Antonio was loud, even in Seattle and Utah, but Milwaukee was really really loud in game one at their place.

“We have a great crowd too, but that crowd was hot. Hopefully our crowd will come out (Monday) night and be the same way, which I know they will.”

If Casey wanted to make a bolder message, he would have compared this year’s Raptors playoff crowd to those of the past three years when the Air Canada Centre was full and deafening long before tip off and throughout each game.

Jurassic Park too used to be full and heavily featured inside the ACC because of the overflow crowds, but not this year.

“Have you been here before?” DeMar DeRozan said last year when asked about the ACC crowd. “We got our home crowd energy to feed off.”

The Toronto Raptors previously enjoyed a significant home court advantage inside the Air Canada Centre and outside Gate Five in Jurassic Park. It was loud inside and loud outside, so loud in fact that even the Raptors used to struggle with the noise level in every playoff at home in the Dwane Casey era. Visiting teams couldn’t help but notice the crowd impact.

By comparison crowds inside the building for the first two games this year showed up late and sat on their hands until the in-game announcers told them to cheer and Jurassic Park crowds looked suspiciously light, especially if you compared them to the crowds for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

For the first time in living memory, Leafs fans have been louder than Raptors fans and that shouldn’t sit well with the faithful. The Raptors fans used to be the biggest part of their home court advantage in the postseason.

Casey’s right, it is time for Toronto Raptors fans to get back in the game. Getting out-cheered by Milwaukee should be embarrassing.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Coach Casey Has All The The Right Buttons Pressed

In his Game Five preview, Basketball Insiders David Yapkowitz has the Toronto Raptors taking a 3-2 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night as head coach Dwane Casey has all the right buttons pressed against this less experienced foe.

The playoffs are all about adjustments, and Dwane Casey definitely made some big ones that got the Raptors right back in this series.

Benching Jonas Valanciunas was a move that paid off.

Serge Ibaka excelled at center.

Powell hit all three of his (three-point) attempts and kept the Bucks defense on their heels by staying aggressive.

A smaller but effective move that also paid off was Casey’s decision to play Delon Wright more than Cory Joseph.

The Bucks, on the other hand, have their work cut out for them if they want to steal another game on the Raptors’ home court.

Be sure to check out the full preview.

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Overlooked has been Ibaka playing on a sore ankle, something that has definitely been affecting his jump shot and perimeter defense, but should be getting significantly better with each passing day.

Playing big with both Valanciunas and a hobbled Ibaka on the floor at the same time didn’t work against the longer more athletic Bucks, but Casey’s Game Four rotation neutralized much of what Milwaukee had been using to take advantage of their more experienced and higher seeded opponent.

 

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson