When the Toronto Raptors hired head coach Dwane Casey they were coming off their worst season since the turn of the century, a 22-win embarrassment. How things have changed. The Raptors have won more games than the season before for four years in a row – a franchise first and its just one of several trends this team hopes to keep up this season and beyond.
Casey won just 23 games in a lockout shortened 66 game schedule back in 2011-12, but this defensive-minded coach got an offensive-minded team to improve their defensive rating by 8.4 points to a respectable 104.5. The Raptors won 34 games the next year and set consecutive franchise bests with 48 and 49 wins in 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively.
Expectations are high after a busy off season. Nothing less than a new franchise record for wins will be acceptable during the regular season now, even if Casey wants to preach caution.
“Last year is last year, last year is in the rear view mirror,” Casey said. “We are facing this year now. We haven’t done anything this season.”
Despite significant changes to both the starting lineup and the second unit, continuity will remain a big reason for the Raptors continued success. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas have been in Casey’s starting unit on opening night in each of the past three seasons and this will be the first trio in franchise history to do this in four consecutive years if/when they start again to open the 2015-16 season. The trio of Alvin Williams, Vince Carter and Antonio Davis did it in four non-consecutive seasons between 1999 and 2003.
“I have watched DeMar (DeRozan) grow as a man and a player,” Casey said. “I have watched Kyle (Lowry) grow. We are watching JV (Valanciunas) grow right in front of our eyes. So it is always important to see guys grow and develop like that and take the steps they take.”
DeRozan is entering the player option year of his current contract as he becomes just the sixth player in franchise history to play his first seven NBA seasons in Toronto. The others include Jose Calderon (8), Vince Carter (7), Morris Peterson (7), Chris Bosh (7) and Andrea Bargnani (7).
“(DeRozan) and I are the last two left (since) Amir (Johnson) left,” Casey said. “(DeRozan) represents everything the program stands for. It’s a tribute to him as a young man.”
This will be Casey and DeRozan’s fifth season together and it should be the best one. Unless you are expecting a LeBron James clone to be joining your team, continuity matters.