Dwane Casey, head coach of the Toronto Raptors has signed a contract extension, said to be $18 million over three years.
Casey was one loss away from being fired (not re-signed). After striking out in the first of the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, Casey was running out of excuses and Toronto media and fans were starting to turn on him. The Raptors, the two seed in the Eastern Conference struggled with the seventh-seeded Pacers, but managed to eek it out and prevail in game seven.
That win bought him a year of job security, no matter how the Raptors finish this season. However, I wouldn’t place a wager that he will still be the Raptors coach in two years time. Not because I don’t believe in him as a coach, but because I feel like coaches in the NBA get fired too often without cause. For example, the Pacers decided to move on from Frank Vogel, which made zero sense. Vogel took the Pacers, a shell of a team aside from Paul George, and figured out how to shut down Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan for the majority of the series.
Casey has demonstrated regular season consistency over the past three seasons. Furthermore, the Raptors set the franchise record last season by accumulating 56 wins, a feat no one thought was possible. In fact, most basketball experts expected the Raptors to regress. The playoffs are a different animal and coach Casey is slowly adapting. Will he be able to get the Raptors back into the Eastern Conference Finals? It will be a tough feat considering that the Raptors needed 14 games to win the first two series on top of the fact that the East is getting better. The Boston Celtics added Al Horford this past summer. They were already a very good defensive team, so adding an all-star talent won't make it any easier.
Is Dwane Casey the best coach in the NBA?
No. Gregg Popovich is easily the best coach in the NBA because the Spurs have been an elite team for almost two decades now. Right behind Pop, would be Steve Kerr who coached the Warriors to an NBA record of 73 wins. Casey probably doesn’t belong in that next tier of coaches either. Tom Thibodeau seems to have success wherever he goes by getting the most out of his players. The Pistons and Pacers were both very good teams when Rick Carlisle was at the helm. Currently, he seems to take the Mavs to the playoffs every season regardless of the roster composition. Finally, we have baby face Brad Stevens who has made a seamless transition from the college game to the NBA, something few coaches are able to do. Stevens took a very young team, one that Doc Rivers didn’t think was good enough to have the privilege of his coaching talents, and made them competitive.
Casey fits somewhere in the next wave of coaches with the likes Frank Vogel, Terry Stotts, Steve Clifford, Stan Van Gundy, and Mike Budenholzer. And prior to this last season, I would have had him comfortably behind those guys because he had an awful playoff record. However, against the Pacers and Heat, he demonstrated that he was open to trying new lineups and stick with what was working. When DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross struggled against the Pacers, Casey put his trust in second round rookie Norman Powell and it paid off. Powell gave the Raptors a spark of energy in the series that they desperately needed by hustling on defense and by pushing the ball in transition.
How can Casey improve as a coach?
He’s limited Jonas Valanciunas to 26 minutes per game over the past two seasons. That is criminal! Valanciunas was unequivocally the Raptors best player in the playoffs before getting injured. With Bismack Biyombo gone, Casey should be playing JV 30 minutes per game. Casey also doesn’t run a lot of plays for Valanciunas, which is baffling to me. As long as Valanciunas doesn’t put the ball on the floor to dribble, he’s a monster with the ball in his hands near the hoop. My theory is Dwane does not like an offense that revolves around big men. Since he has taken over as coach of the Raptors, very few power forwards or centers have thrived under his watch in the points department. However, this may be due to a lack of talented big men prior to JV.
Casey has failed in a very noticeable area. That area you ask? End of quarter plays out of a timeout for the Raptors is a train wreck to watch. After seeing enough of them, it’s easy to predict they will not score, but will they cough of the ball and give up points? Your guess is as good as mine.
All in all, Casey has been a very good coach. Over the last three seasons combined, the Raptors have been the best team in the East during the regular season. How many coaches are able to say that?
One. And his name is Dwane Casey.