The moaning and groaning about the Dwane Casey firing (as if no one saw this coming) is pure theater. It was akin to an alternate universe where television and social media were suddenly obsolete and no one witnessed what had been going on the past few years. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So get a grip people. Firing coaches is a NBA thing even if the league took a year off from their termination games in 2016-17.
Since 2015, these coaches have been fired. Lionel Hollins (fired twice). J.B. Bickerstaff. Byron Scott. David Fizdale. Sam Mitchell. Derek Fisher. Earl Watson. Jason Kidd. Those were the black ones. White coaches terminated. Kevin McHale. Frank Vogel( fired twice). Dave Joeger. Kurt Rambis. Jeff Hornacek (fired twice). Scott Skiles. George Karl. Randy Wittman. Mike Budenholzer. Steve Clifford. It’s a business without much security. If you don’t win, there’s going to be some dark days without a job. It is the life.
Coach of the Year Casey was no innocent. He was treading water. He changed his offense as a last ditch effort to keep his job. He thought he could reverse the Raptors from being crushed by the LeBron James rock if he took the ball out of iso God DeMar DeRozan’s hands. He then took that plan one step further by really taking the ball out of his best player’s hands and benching him in a playoff game.
DeRozan, to his credit, in the regular season had a career high in assists. The complimentary (average) role players that filled out the Raptors roster worked in the short term. But…Psychology 101. When players are under stress they go back to what they know and in DeRozan’s case that is iso basketball and ball sticking.
In the regular season, teams were willing to let DeRozan do his thing. But in the playoffs you make the best player on the other team uncomfortable. With DeRozan that is doubling him. It makes him frustrated, his emotions go south and he turns into someone you really don’t recognize.
Once Casey benched his best player it was a wrap for Casey. There was no way he could walk that back. He would have had to have a couple of NBA Finals matchups as a head coach to be on the side of tough love and win. Casey has only been a head coach for two teams, a total of 9 years. Two years with the Timberwolves. Seven years with the Raptors.
The Toronto problem is that whoever is the Casey replacement automatically knows who has the power in the organization and it’s not the scrub coach that loses to the Cavs in 2019.
Herein is the problem. It’s not coaching. It’s the mental makeup of the Raptors. They’re soft. Not because they lost to LeBron. Al Horford has lost to LeBron so many times the sight of LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals probably makes Horford want to eat animal brains for some vodoo curse hex. But Horford isn’t thought of as soft. He isn’t thought of as someone who quits. He isn’t thought of as being scared. Horford isn’t good enough to beat LeBron. And that’s that.
But the Toronto twosome play with fear. After the game one loss, Dwane Casey’s job was on the block. The team had to redeem him and that’s also why he was fired. They didn’t compete for him. They knew his job was on the line and did nothing to resuscitate it back to life. They were seemingly cool with Casey going out the door, perhaps because it’s great when there’s a scapegoat. It means you don’t have to look in the mirror.
Losing to LeBron isn’t a crime. Not competing in a closeout game when you had the best record in the conference in the regular season gives the impression that everything about the season was fake. It’s hard to trust Toronto when Dwane Case is fired. Who has faith that DeMar DeRozan can rise to the occasion? Or Kyle Lowry?
Toronto has so many missing pieces. The person who should be fired is Masai Ujiri. He put this roster together and he built it backwards. You construct a team to beat the best team in the conference. Ujiri built this team to beat the Wizards. They have zero physicality and marginal explosiveness once you move out the backcourt.
You beat the Cavs two ways. With physical, trapping, borderline dirty defense. It was how the Pacers got to a game 7. Or you beat them with exceptional shooting from scorers that put the ball in the hole, either from the outside or the inside, off the dribble, at the free throw line. Otherwise, LeBron and his background singers are going to beat you and mock you while doing it.
No tears for Dwane Casey though. He is a NBA coach. He’s been here before. He replaced a fired Kevin McHale in Minnesota (2006). This was the second time he was fired. Seven years in one place is a lifetime for a NBA coach.
Firing a coach is simplistic. The fans are stuck. The players are mostly immovable. The GM is trying to save his own ass with ownership. The coach is the only real change to alter what everything looks like when we know what everything looks like. On the court, players soft as tissue paper with a two-year olds heart.