When teams fail, Coaches are the first to bite the dust; players and executives tend to follow a bit later but men and women closest to the action are normally the first to go.
Looking around the NBA, the number of vacant Head Coaching jobs gives a clear picture of what happens when teams don’t meet their targets.
After New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns appointed David Fizdale and Igor Kokoskov as new head coaches, Detroit Pistons dimmed the light by parting ways with Stan Van Gundy.
Toronto Raptors are coming off a bad bad series against Cleveland Cavaliers they got swept by the latter. Losing four straight games is bad enough; losing four straight games as the first seed is an outright embarrassment.
This is why Raptors Coach Dwane Casey’s time at the club is rumored to be running out. Coupled with prior series losses in the postseason, the Raptors have consistently fell short of expectations at the hands of Cleveland and more specifically its team leader, LeBron James despite taking Raptors to new heights.
Casey has been named Coach of the Year by the NBA Coaches Association. He gained the prestigious award ahead of front runners Steve Kerr of Golden State Warriors, Quinn Snyder of Utah Jazz and Nate McMillan of Indiana Pacers.
Seeing the harsh treatment consistently meted out to Coaches, perhaps naming Casey as the best in the group is a way of influencing Toronto Raptors to keep him on the job. But beyond what might be termed sympathetic votes, Casey has done a great job to be maintained at post.
Should he get fired, it is very likely he will not be out of work for long but the reason he might be out of work is because Casey did too much of a great job and is buckling under the weight of its tremendous success. Starting out with the Raptors in 2011, Casey has transformed Toronto’s NBA team to a big finalist contender on the back of successive seasons with at least 50 wins.
That mark moved to a franchise best 59 wins this past regular season. Before Casey came in, Raptors had just five playoff appearances to their name, under him that mark has been topped season after season. The team made its postseason semifinal debut under him, its conference final debut under him and won its first pair of games in the Eastern Conference Final.
Despite having a big market, Raptors are unable to get free agents partly down to Toronto’s frigid conditions and taxes. Casey and his backroom staff have been at the heart of player development turning questionable talent like DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to All Stars. Through the draft, non lottery picks such as Delon Wright, Fred Van Vleet, Pascal Siakam are on track to have long productive careers in the league. DeRozan rightly framed the importance of Casey in his development stating, “All of my success, I’ve got to credit Case”. For the record, DeRozan is a multiple time All Star, who won gold with Team USA at the 2016 Olympics after starting out as an elite athlete with little to his overall game.
Lowry was at best a backup Point Guard in the league who had failed to elevate Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets in a starting role after getting drafted in 2006. In Toronto, Lowry has morphed into an A-List Guard who signed a three year, $100 million contract coming into the season. Like DeRozan, Lowry played and won gold with the US in Brazil a couple of years back. While many point at Game 4’s lack of effort from the Raptors as major reason to let Casey go feeling he has taken the team to its limit, the greatness of LeBron James beat Toronto by a point in overtime in Game 1. James bested himself by sinking a buzzer beating jump shot to win Game 3.
The series was quite close at many points largely down to Casey’s tinkering and boldness to bench DeRozan the entire fourth quarter in Game 3 and start Serge Ibaka from the bench also in Game 3. Seeing how Kevin Love got his production up in the series when guarded by Jonas Valanciunas, Casey moved the Lithuanian from the starting unit in Game 4 despite Valanciunas playing well against the Cavs. Plus he got the team ranked 29th in team assists last season to rank sixth in the same category this season.
All the wins and improvement matter little when the team constantly misses out on the big dance but that should not cost Casey his job.Getting psychological help for a team that sulks best against LeBron and an elite defender tailored measured for James should be enough to see Raptors achieve big things.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter