Just two days ago, the National Basketball Coaches Association selected Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey as their coach of the year for the 2017-18 season. The former Kentucky Wildcat led the Raptors to a franchise-record 59 victories during the regular season and secured the No. 1 seed in the East, where they eventually lost in the conference semifinals to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.
Today, after seven years with the organization, the Raptors relieved Casey of his coaching duties.
“After careful consideration, I have decided this is a very difficult but necessary step the franchise must take,” Toronto team president Masai Ujiri said in a press release. “As a team, we are constantly trying to grow and improve in order to get to the next level. We celebrate everything Dwane has done for the organization, we thank him and we wish him nothing but the best in the future. He was instrumental in creating the identity and culture of who we are as a team, and we are so proud of that.”
When he took over the franchise, they were a bottom-feeding team in the East with little hope for the future. Through several big trades, free agent signings, and draft decisions, Casey and president/GM Masai Ujiri helped build the Raptors from scratch into one of the most consistently successful teams in the conference.
In his seven years in Toronto, Casey improved on the team’s record from the year before in all but one season. He led the team to over 48 wins and the NBA Playoffs in each of the last five years, with an average of 52 victories in the regular season in that span. In each of the last three seasons, the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals, including an ECF birth in 2016.
I don’t think Dwane Casey covered himself in glory in the series against the Cavs, but it’s a harsh decision to fire a coach who just won 59 games and has won an average of 52 games over the last five years with a team led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) May 11, 2018
And still, despite being one of the top coaches in the NBA and well-respected by his peers, it wasn’t enough to keep his job.
Being destroyed year after year in the postseason (three in a row, to be exact) by arguably the greatest player of all time in LeBron James will hurt anyone’s confidence. With a chip on his shoulder, James is one of the most unstoppable players to ever step on a basketball court, making even the greatest of teams and coaches vulnerable to defeat.
In fact, it’s a pretty common trend in the league for GMs to get scared of the wrath of King James and fire their head coach soon after a loss in the playoffs.
NBA coaches who lost to LeBron James in the playoffs and no longer coached the team within 2 years: pic.twitter.com/OfJNUq5OJP
— Ranger Wob (@World_Wide_Wob) May 11, 2018
And not only has Casey been fired, there is a very strong chance he is replaced by another coach that is notorious for his early exits in the postseason in the hands of none other than LeBron James.
Former Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer (who lost to James in the playoffs in back-to-back years just two and three years ago) has emerged as the favorite to take over as Toronto’s next head coach, per Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer, among others.
Watch out for Mike Budenholzer as the next Raptors head coach… https://t.co/UrVpQIpcIP
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) May 11, 2018
Marc Stein of the New York Times confirmed the rumors, adding that Casey will be an immediate candidate for one of the other major coaching vacancies throughout the league.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri has strong interest in former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, according to coaching sources. Dwane Casey, meanwhile, is likely to emerge as a contender for one or two of the league's other four vacancies.
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 11, 2018
And though it’s great there is a ton of interest around the league in the former Wildcat, there won’t be many other situations better than the one Casey had in Toronto. He already had two stars in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, a developing bruising big in Jonas Valanciunas, and a solid bench at his disposal. With a few changes, the foundation was there for success well into the future, but the Raptors front office played scared for a guy that may not even be playing in the East after this season. Whoops.
And in a lot of ways, it was the players that fell short in the big stage, not Casey. The latest free-agent head coach had his struggles, specifically when it came to in-game momentum management, but DeRozan and Lowry have developed a reputation for coming up short in the playoffs. In five years of postseason action, DeRozan and Lowry have combined for ONE total playoff run shooting higher than 50-percent from the field. In fact, despite averaging over 20 points per game over the last five years, DeRozan has never shot over 43-percent in the playoffs, with both averaging a combined five turnovers per contest in that span.
Instead of looking to upgrade the talent around DeRozan or Lowry, whether it be trading away bad salaries ($65 million to Serge Ibaka or $32 million to Norman Powell) to clear up cap space for free agency or to find young and talented wing via the draft or trade, they fired one of the best in the business. To make it all worse, it will likely be for a guy that will almost certainly do no better than Casey going forward.
I don’t get the NBA sometimes.