In a move almost everyone saw coming, the Toronto Raptors announced they had come to an agreement on a three-year extension with Head Coach Dwane Casey just two days after their season ended. The Raptors Coach was charged with developing this young team and the future remains the focus of this organization.
If there is one thing above all else that Casey has proven he can do it is develop young players in a positive and now winning environment. The evolution of DeMar DeRozan has been dramatic over the past three seasons. Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas are progressing well under his guidance and Kyle Lowry surprised everyone with his leadership this season.
“We plan on growing as a team,” said President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri. “We are not going to make any crazy quick fix decisions here. We want to keep building and one of the things we talked about was continuity. On that note, I want to congratulate Coach (Casey) on a phenomenal year. I think Coach has really grown and we hope to keep growing and I think he deserves the contract that we have agreed upon and we will keep moving.
“We really thank the players, they played hard and I know we have a lot of decisions to make and we plan on making the right ones and going after aggressively our guys. We feel we should have some continuity and continue with this team, the core of this team. On that note, I wanted to congratulate Coach.”
Ujiri hasn’t changed his tune since the day he arrived in Toronto. The Raptors leader said he was going to give everyone a chance to show what they could do and he was true to his word.
“Masai could have made any decision when he first took over the job last spring,” Casey said. “He was true to his word, he gave all of us a platform to go out and prove and show – even the players – what you could do and that is all you can ask for in this business is an opportunity.
“This year was just the start of what we want to grow and develop with Masai as our leader and the guys that are coming back. I am very thankful to have an opportunity to continue the growing process, to be in charge of that. We have a lot of excellent young players to work with – their whole future is in front of them.”
What ultimately makes Coach Casey the right choice for the Raptors is, as Ujiri emphasized, continuity. Ujiri’s priority is to keep their core group of players together and build on this past season’s success, so has to find a way to bring back his three key free agents – Kyle Lowy, Greivis Vasquez, and Patrick Patterson – and having Casey signed to a new deal will make this task that much easier.
“Keeping our core group going forward with Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez, Patterson – those (free agents) are priorities for us,” Ujiri said. “If you want to build a team with young players, you have to build on continuity. When free agency comes, we have to attack our guys first.”
With Casey’s extension in place, there is every reason to believe Ujiri will get the job done with the Raptors own free agents this summer.
As critical as bringing Casey back to provide continuity, certainty and comfort to the Raptors free agents that Ujiri wants back in the fold is to keep this team progressing along last season’s path without taking a step back to learn the new systems, philosophies and nuisances of yet another head coach. The Raptors had changed head coaches far too often in the past to create any kind of culture or identity. A big part of the Raptors chemistry and success this season came from how Casey handled the players and got everyone on the same page.
At the season-ending media availability for the players, the importance of Casey’s return was laid out in no uncertain terms.
“I think (Casey) will be back as simple as that,” Lowry said the day before the announcement. “As a matter of fact, I am sure he will be back.
“This culture around here is unbelievable from top to bottom. I love this place. I love this situation. It is as simple as that.”
“The one thing I respect about Coach Casey is he has been consistent,” DeRozan said. “He has been the same Dwane Casey since he has been here, preach the same thing, told us to stick with the same principles and they work. Everything he said came together like he said it would and you got to respect Coach Casey, he never changed up. You could go in his office and knock on his door and talk to him, you could text him, he’s a player’s coach. He’s a great dude. Sometimes you don’t even look at him like a coach because you could go up to him and talk to him about any situation and I think that is what helped us a lot.”
“I just feel like we have been in it together,” said Johnson. “We definitely grinded it out to get to where we are now, it’s just been an amazing journey. We can keep working, keep continuing to get better. We have been sticking together to get better and better every year. Of course we’ve been through the ups and downs, but it’s just great to see how we have improved.
“I hope everybody comes back to be honest. To have the season we had, some people say this has been the best Raptors team we have ever had, so to get everybody back and build from there. You hate to see the season over, but you want to see us do it again and see how far we can take it.”
“I’ve built a relationship with Casey,” Ross said. “He’s been a great coach. He has taught me a lot, especially when it comes to defense. I give him a lot of credit for how I play on the court. I feel like he will be a big part of our team, so I would like him to come back.”
“This group of guys, it wasn’t just a team, it was like a family,” Valanciunas said. “It is really important to keep the same attitude, keep the same in the locker room.”
“You got to give (Casey) credit,” Vasquez said. “He did a lot for us. He really got better too. We all got better. He is a very humble guy, very family oriented, his wife and his kids are involved with the team and do great things outside basketball. He got us together. You got to give him a lot of credit. He has to be back after the year he has had.
“I remember one time I came into the office and we had a talk. His talk with me was very inspirational because he was talking about when he won a championship with Dallas. He even showed me his ring, the championship ring. This guy did so much and really got us right. As a leader, you got to give him a lot of credit. He did a great job. I think he got better throughout the season, we gradually got better and the coaching staff was great. He should be back because what a great job he has done.
“This was my first time being on a team where everybody accepted their roles, where everybody was per se happy,” Patterson said. “This was my first time being in a positive environment where everybody was supporting one another.
“It was great here. To build strong relationships with the staff, the organization, my teammates, embrace the city, the fans, overall, I had a great time.”
Casey has done the job former general manager Bryan Colangelo hired him to do. Casey changed the culture in Toronto. He gave the Raptors a system they could believe in and a Coach the players believed was on their side. Results alone would suggest the Raptors would extend Coach Casey’s contract, but results only tell half the story.
Casey was able to meet Ujiri’s demand to develop players, something made only to clear by starting two sophomores for most of the season and he did it while winning basketball games as well as the hearts and the minds of the other players in the locker room. It wasn’t the ‘Xs and 0s’ that won Casey a new deal, it was the ‘Jimmy’s and Joe’s’.
Ujiri had the type of coach he needed for his management style already in place when he arrived last spring. Sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good, but with Ujiri’s consistent luck, one has wonder?
A player’s coach with a knack for working with young players while creating a positive winning environment. As Johnson said, “some people say this has been the best Raptors team we have ever had, so to get everybody back and build from there… and see how far we can take it.” There was no way Coach Casey would not have been back.