After overseeing the most successful run in Toronto Raptors franchise history, head coach Dwane Casey was officially let go on Friday morning.
President Masai Ujiri and the Raptors front office had been strongly leaning towards making a coaching change since the team was swept out of the playoffs earlier this week, as TSN first reported on Tuesday.
“After careful consideration, I have decided this is a very difficult but necessary step the franchise must take,” 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 future. He was instrumental in creating the identity and culture of who we are as a team, and we are so proud of that.”
Casey’s resume speaks for itself. With a regular-season record of 320-238 (.573) over his seven-year tenure, he is the Raptors all-time leader in wins, winning percentage, games coached and playoff games coached (51).
This past season was his finest work to date. Over the last eight months he implemented a new offensive system around the same core of players, developed and managed one of the youngest and deepest rotations in the league, coached in the All-Star Game and led Toronto to a franchise-record 59-win campaign and first-place finish.
Still, thanks to the progress they’ve made as an organization during his tenure, regular-season success is no longer their bar. Their expectations were lofty going into the playoffs, where they believed they would have a real shot at coming out of the East and going to the NBA Finals for the first time ever, but another second-round sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers left them short of that goal.
The Raptors aren’t the first team that’s failed to knock off James, who has been to the Finals seven straight years and counting, but Ujiri was incensed by the way they lost the series. If you’re going down to LeBron, at least go down swinging. Toronto didn’t.
While he’s certainly not alone in this regard, Casey did not fare well in the Cleveland series. His in-game adjustments always seemed a step slow. His matchups and rotation were often frantic. Most of all, it’s clear the team lacks the physical and mental toughness needed to take the next step and, for them, the question was: Can Casey be the guy to bring it out of them?
The decision to part ways with the best coach they’ve ever had, and one of the most important figures in franchise history, should not be seen as an indictment of Casey – a great man – or what he’s accomplished in his seven seasons at the helm. After being swept out of the playoffs for the third time in four years – twice as the higher seed – the sense was it’s time for a new direction and a different voice.
Former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer could be in the mix as a potential replacement, according to ESPN. The Raptors also have three highly coveted internal candidates in Jerry Stackhouse, Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian who should warrant strong consideration.
Casey, 61, will land on his feet. On Wednesday he was named the NBA Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year, an award voted on by his peers. He’ll also be a frontrunner for the official award, voted on by the media, which will be announced in late June. He’s well-regarded around the league, a workhorse and basketball lifer who treats people the right way.
One of the reasons for Ujiri’s sense of urgency in making this decision was to give Casey an opportunity to vie for another job. Currently, Orlando, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Detroit all have openings.
Casey is the first domino to fall, but he’s unlikely to be the last. The Raptors are not expected to rebuild, but they could and probably should look to retool during what is already an off-season of change for the franchise.