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.
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.