Draft pick? Casey wants to win

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey barks instructions to his team during a preseason game against the...

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey barks instructions to his team during a preseason game against the Celtics at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Dec. 18, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:59 PM ET

TORONTO - Dwane Casey’s Christmas wish list is a long one.

It befits a first-year head coach in Toronto who has his work cut out for him.

Understand, though, it is not Casey’s job to be patient. His general manager and the media that cover the team can point out the realistic expectations of a team that doesn’t have a true centre and doesn’t have more than probably one or two guys on its entire roster that can create his own shot.

There is no denying that what Casey doesn’t have is a much longer list than what he does have.

They can point out how it really is in this team’s best interest to lose now and win on draft night.

But Casey isn’t built that way. He is here to take what he has on his roster and make the best of it.

Nobody is asking Casey to lay down because anyone who would have that authority knows he would be wasting his breath.

Casey is a competitor just as is DeMar DeRozan and Jerryd Bayless, and, yes, even Andrea Bargnani.

All their lives, they have stepped on basketball courts and the goal was to win.

“I want to win,” Casey said. “I want to compete, I want to build. We have so many fundamentals that are lacking — screening, physical style of play. To even think about the playoffs, we have to build that. Once we build that, then we can start thinking about making the playoffs and being a top tier team.”

Those plans don’t have to change for Casey and they shouldn’t have to change for anyone playing under him.

The rest of us can pine for that high draft pick to pair with Jonas Valanciunas next October, but the roster and the coaching staff should be concerned about only this year.

So, when Casey is asked what he wants for Christmas and the reply comes back “a win against Cleveland wouldn’t be bad,” you know he’s not just blowing smoke.

Casey, no doubt, has already had his moments over the past month where he has thrown his hands in the air and wondered how he would ever get this team of previously defensive-allergic players to start to resemble anything close to a cohesive unit without the ball.

Slowly but surely, you see signs of the buy-in, whether it’s DeRozan hustling back down court or Bargnani coming off his man to plant himself between an opponent who has beaten the first line of defence and is on his way to the basket.

Bargnani, believe it or not, has always been a decent man-to-man defender. His idea of help defence, though, has routinely left teammates wondering what the Italian word for ‘help’ was, because he clearly wasn’t providing it in English.

And even if that defensive mindset does take and settles in as an every-night sort of thing, there’s still the question of where the Raptors will find enough points.

To a man, they all point to last season when scoring wasn’t a concern. But what they don’t realize is that they won’t have the same type of energy left for those offensive exploits once they do buckle down on the defensive end.

As Casey correctly points out, good defence means expending a lot of energy. That was plain through the first two games, when the Raptors played a good defensive game followed by a decent one, but never really did find any offensive rhythm.

That’s the give and take of bringing a defensive philosophy into an organization that has treated defence like most people treat a trip to the dentist — avoid as long as possible but eventually something is going to have to get done.

With his team tipping off the 2011-12 season for real On Monday night in Cleveland, Casey has a good feel for where he is and what he has to do to maximize his team’s chances to win.

“It’s more about us,” Casey said when asked about what he expects from Cleveland. “We can’t worry about Cleveland too long because you’ve got rapid-fire games right after that.

“So what we do fundamentally, both offensively and defensively, is going to be more important.

“We’re not going to be a team that changes a lot.”

And with that, Casey laid bare his strategy for the season.

Perfect the principals — both offensive and defensive — that have been drilled throughout a two-week training camp. There is neither the advanced talent level nor the time to fine tune the Toronto game plan to every opponent.

Just be good at what they do and the season might not be the train wreck so many of us outside this team are expecting.

Now, that would be a nice Christmas present for Casey and any one of his coaches or players.

RAPTORS-CAVALIERS TIPOFF

Monday, 7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet Ontario, Fan 590

MARQUEE MATCHUP

Antawn Jamison vs. Andrea Bargnani

Jamison was a one-man gang in two of the three meetings between these two clubs a year ago. He averaged 22.5 points in the two games he played and shot 50%. On a team that doesn’t have many scoring threats, expect him to have the ball in his hands a lot. Bargnani was the high scorer in the Raps’ two wins over Cleveland a year ago, averaging the same 22.5 points Jamison had. The big Italian will get his points but the focus is going to be on how hard he makes it for Jamison to get his.

SCOUTING REPORT

The Cavs are very much a work in progress, which levels the court nicely because the Raptors are in the same situation. At point guard, they have the veteran Ramon Sessions but don’t be surprised if his starting gig gets yanked quickly with No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving a starter in waiting. Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 pick, will also come off the bench to begin the yea,r but his path to starting is likely a tougher one assuming Jamison’s health holds up. Both Jamison and centre Anderson Varejao had their seasons end prematurely with injuries last season, Varejao in early January and Jamison in late February. Outside of Sessions, who didn’t start the whole season for the Cavs last year, the only returning regular with a full season under his belt in 2010-11 was shooting guard and former Raptor Anthony Parker.

DID YOU KNOW?

Jerryd Bayless had one of his best games of the 2010-11 season against the Cavs scoring 28 points and pulling down five rebounds in 30 minutes off the Toronto bench. His efforts went for naught as the Raptors lost by eight ... J.J. Hickson, who was a real pain in the Raptors sides a year ago, is no longer with the team. He was sent to Sacramento in exchange for Omri Casspi, who starts at small forward, and the Kings’ protected first-round pick in this year’s draft.


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