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Chisholm: Raps are same ol' club with a bunch of new players

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Tim Chisholm
4/18/2013 7:48:00 PM
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This was definitely NOT how Dwane Casey wanted this season to go.

After hauling Toronto's defensive efficiency up to a (shockingly) respectable 12th last season, the club plummeted right back into the league's basement this season, finishing with a 22nd-place ranking. These new Raptors, Casey's Raptors, were supposed to become defensive juggernauts. They were supposed to ascend the NBA ladder on the back of their stopping power. They were supposed to be the New Raptors, but two years in and they're just the same ol' club with a bunch of new players. Considering that Casey was hired because of his defensive bona fides, he has to be a little unsure about his job security right now, even if he has one year left on his contract with the organization.

His problems are exacerbated by many other factors, as well. While the club managed to finish 14th in offensive efficiency this season, much of that ranking was buoyed by the play of the ultra-steady Jose Calderon. After Calderon was traded the team has fell to 20th in offensive efficiency. Casey and Colangelo both talked about an eagerness to run more, but the team finished 23rd in pace and 26th in fast break points per game. The club was second from the bottom in terms of offensive AND defensive efficiency in the clutch, according to nba.com/stats, and they gave up so many leads late in games that it might as well have been called "Pulling a Raptors".

Beyond that there were the clashes over style with Kyle Lowry, the controversial substitution patterns, the woeful out-of-bounds play execution, the 4-19 start and the consecutive games dropped to Washington, Cleveland, Indiana and Milwaukee that effectively ended the long shot hope for a Playoff chase.

Add all that up and you'd think that Casey would be prepping to join the unemployment line with Doug Collins, Byron Scott and Lawrence Frank, but that's probably not going to happen.

And that's a good thing.

Look, the Raptors have done the revolving door coaching thing. They've discarded head coaches with absurd frequency. They hire a new coach every 2.25 years on average. In total it's gotten them five Playoff appearances in 18 years. That's hardly a pattern that deserves repeating. This organization needs stability. They need one philosophy on the sidelines that can carry over and be seen through, especially considering how influential Casey has been on the development of the still-young corps that the Raptors employ.

Does that meant that Casey is a finished product as a head coach? Absolutely not. Just like his players are expected to go off and improve themselves in the summer, so must Casey. He has a lot of growing to do as a head coach at the NBA level, but that's to be expected considering how little time he's had to work the sidelines (and how little time he's had to do it with any real job security). Coaches can get better over time, just like players can.

Of course, the fear here is that Casey won't get better. The fear is that he's never coached a team to the Playoffs and that there is a reason for that beyond the quality of his rosters. Still, if the choice right now is going out and hiring yet another converted assistant coach (because Stan Van Gundy or Jerry Sloan are not walking through that door) or sticking with Casey, the Raptors would be wise to stick with what they know, try to build some continuity and hope that Casey continues to improve on the job.

If that's the route that the team ultimately chooses to walk down, Casey is going to have to find a way to get this team to play to its strengths while hiding its weaknesses. He's going to have to loosen his grip on Kyle Lowry and let him play his game, he's going to have to let this team run more, given the abundance of athleticism he has to work with, and he's going to have to live with with (some of) the miscues that can come from such a style of play.

More importantly, though, he's going to have to get this team defending like they did last year. The current starting five – Lowry, Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas – posted the second-best defensive rating in the league after Gay's acquisition (min. 200 minutes, nba.com/stats), but the club as a whole was 17th during that time. That means that Casey is going to have to figure out how to reconfigure his rotations to keep the defensive execution high, and the front office is going to have to augment his roster to give him the tools he needs to help make that happen.

What this debate really comes down to is whether or not Casey's (and the team's) missteps this season are worth going through all of the uncertainties of another coaching search over. Given how badly this team needs to establish some consistency, the answer right now is probably 'no'. However, if the Raptors continue to post middling results with Casey in charge, it would be easy to look back at a moment like this as a lost opportunity to nip a problem area in the bud.

Dwane Casey  (Photo: Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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