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I come back from vacation to find Dwane Casey installed as the Raptors head coach. The rumours of the last two weeks gradually ushered the surprise out of the hiring, and it’s now being viewed as a sensible one by just about everybody, with Casey’s assurances about his commitment to defense easing our fears. We Raptors fans are a simple breed who have taken Casey’s words to be the short-term antidote for our sickly squad. It doesn’t take much to convince us. Give an assurance that defense comes first. Check. Vow to inject a sense of professionalism. Check. Value respect over likability. Check. That’s all it takes.

When Jay Triano was “promoted” to the front office leaving a coaching vacancy in place, the universal cry was for a coach with “pedigree”. This naturally brought names like Jeff van Gundy, Rick Adelman to the fore, the thinking being that respectability and authority needed to be imported. It was a logical line of reasoning that was even endorsed by Bryan Colangelo, yet we end up with Casey who has all but a year and a half of head coaching experience. Of course, his ventures as an assistant have advocated him praise across the league, but it doesn’t change the cold hard fact that he is a relative novice when it comes to managing a team.

Let this article not be misconstrued as a criticism of the hiring, I fully support it for the reasons mentioned earlier: I like what Casey’s saying. More importantly, I understand it. The Raptors have chosen to cultivate their identity through Casey instead of bringing in an experienced head coach. Maybe they didn’t have a choice as it’s hard to imagine Van Gundy giving up a cushy TV job to muddle around with lottery teams, or Adelman abandoning his pursuit of a front-office role in favor of tinkering with NBA unknowns. Casey has been hired to be an intrinsic part of the rebuild, which an experienced head coach simply couldn’t have been.

Somebody wise once told me to have kids early so you can grow up with them instead of just looking after them. That’s what Casey is to the Raptors, a mentor who is still learning how to be a head coach and will look after the flock as he goes through his own maturation process. It will result in a bond that is stronger than if the Raptors had hired a highly paid individual whose reputation preceded him. Casey appears to have a very particular plan, one which is rooted in defense and embodied by a total commitment to the cause. He doesn’t sound like he will tolerate that lack of seriousness exhibited by too many a Raptors player, which is a welcome change. Of course, Sam Mitchell was also thought of in the same vein early in his time in Toronto, the difference being that Casey comes with a playbook and philosophy in hand.

Bryan Colangelo needs to be applauded on two accounts. First, for removing Triano on his own accord without any outside pressure being applied. He recognized the holes in Triano’s coaching technique and the lax way he handled players, and sought to change both for the better. If Triano had started next season as head coach there wouldn’t be too much antagonism against him, likely due to the fan base being conditioned to accept him. Second, Colangelo went against the grain in hiring Casey. I fully believe Colangelo when he says that Casey’s line of thinking is aligned with his own new-found emphasis on defense. In hiring Casey he has made the more difficult decision of ignoring popular consensus and chosen the man whose philosophy he now subscribes to.

As David Thorpe mentioned when discussing Dwane Casey, before we delve into strategies, rotations and personnel, there needs to be an environment that breeds seriousness and professionalism. I use that word a lot – seriousness – and I don’t think I do it enough. Last season’s development project yielded improvements in DeMar DeRozan and a few other positives, but what it didn’t deliver was an archetype of team management that would hold players accountable, confront them when needed, and provide the over-arching framework in which a rebuilding program can succeed. The only gripe I have with a new coach being put in place is that, in hindsight, it should have come a year earlier when the reconstruction began in earnest (forget the delusions of playoff contentions in training camp).

Everybody deserves a chance and Casey will get his second one in Toronto. He’s not a proven commodity as the main man yet, it very well could be that he’s a good assistant but a bad head coach, much like Jim Cleamons, Marc Iavaroni and Kurt Rambis. For now though, Casey is saying what Raptors fans want to hear and Dallas’ title-winning season is lending his words more credence, much like when Clemons left Chicago for the Dallas coaching job after the Bulls’ 1995-96 championship season.

Tonight’s draft should paint a better picture of where this team is headed and what Casey’s first imprint on the club will be, looking forward to it. See you tonight at St. Louis Bar & Grill (528 Yonge St. – Yonge/Wellesley) at 6:30 PM. We’ll pick a winner for our little contest at 1 PM.

There’s plenty of stories/rumours in the forums including Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Leandro Barbosa and more. Of more relevance is the Bismack Biyombo medical red flag and that Valanciunas’ buyout is $2.5M.

See you tonight, and if you can’t make it there’s the live chat which starts in earnest at 6:45 PM, but who am I to stop you from going in there now.