March 25, 2012
Casey could be Raptors best coach everIt's not the most vaunted title, but Dwane Casey has a chance to be the Raptors' greatest coach
By Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency
The case for Casey is as compelling as the many areas that need to be addressed, as strong as the lack of mental toughness that exists on the roster.
Dwane Casey may never win a coach of the year award, may never get the Raptors out of the first round of the playoffs, let alone get them into the post-season, he may never single out two athletic studs in front of his peers and he may never get embroiled in some conflict with management that leads to his departure.
But what Casey has a chance to accomplish is emerge as the best head coach the Raptors franchise has seen, one of those titles no one really wants to embrace given the long history of change Toronto has experienced.
On Monday night, the Raptors begin a five-game homestand in what amounts to one of those few moments when an actual routine can be executed in a season of flux and unconventional scheduling and practice time.
On Monday night, Toronto’s original head coach, Brendan Malone, returns for the second time this season, a man of high character who took the high road when the Raptors showed him the door following the inaugural season in 1995.
It was only in hindsight when original players such as Damon Stoudamire would realize the impact Malone had on that team and the culture he was trying to establish by winning with veterans at the expense of exposing flawed kids who had no business being on this level.
In many ways, Casey has a lot of Malone in him — an old-school coach who demands accountability, who wants players to earn minutes.
Darrell Walker would try to make the most out of a bad situation, only to flee when Isiah Thomas lost his ownership struggle.
Butch Carter is the best head coach Toronto has seen, a guy who once double-teamed an inbounds pass, a guy who broke down every mistake Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady would make and use them as both a teaching tool and as an example for the rest of the team.
Coaching is so much a product of the players that have been assembled, but there’s no more subtle a sign of a presence as a play that gets run following a timeout.
Much like Carter, Casey has that knack for drawing up a play that actually leads to an open look.
Further evidence was provided in Saturday night’s overtime loss in Chicago, a night when the Raptors should have won, but ultimately will end up as winners in the big picture when the May draft lottery plays out.
It would be a night that would serve as a microcosm of the season, a night that saw the Raptors shorthanded and in the end come up short when two open looks by Andrea Bargnani wouldn’t drop, when three of four free throws late in overtime couldn’t be converted, when Luol Deng barely beat the buzzer on a put back that was more a function of bad luck than execution.
More than the re-emergence of Jose Calderon as a true NBA point guard, the encouraging signs shown by DeMar DeRozan and Bargnani’s continued inability to deliver with a game on the line and the ball in his hands, this season must be remembered for Casey’s coaching.
Sam Mitchell would help win the franchise’s first and only division title, but it came in a year when the East was inept and basically half of Toronto’s roster had career seasons.
If Mitchell were that good a head coach, he would have gotten another gig.
Lenny Wilkens brought calm, but the talent he had should have netted Toronto a berth in the NBA championship.
Jay Triano was in a no-win position, while Kevin O’Neill crashed and burned in a one-and-done only the NCAA tournament could produce.
Casey has a chance to replace Butch Carter as the best head coach in Raptors history, but so much will depend on the quality of players he gets to coach next season and how the core of this group learns the concept of mental toughness.
“Our guys played with heart and with toughness,’’ Casey said when he huddled with the media in the aftermath of Saturday’s 102-101 loss to the Bulls, who would officially claim a playoff spot. “I promised them that if we continue to play like that and we get some more guns in, that style of play will win the NBA.”
He’s right and it’s obvious to anyone who knows anything about basketball that Dwane Casey is the right man for the Raptors.