I don’t go to many Raptors games, mostly for two reasons. I find that the tickets are too expensive for the product showcased on the floor, and that there’s always someone around who’s giving away free ones. Combine the two, and you’re reading a guy who went to only two games last season. The main benefit of being at the game versus watching it on TV is that you get to follow a lot of the off-the-ball action that the camera just misses, or maybe I find that when you’re at the game you tend to notice it more. A guy choosing to trail on a screen after seeing the action late, or completely not noticing a pick that was set on him, etc. It’s these little things that make basketball an interesting sport to watch, and it almost makes you want to take a pen and paper out and start taking notes.
Of course, if you’re into observation of the sport, the Raptors aren’t the only subject of examination. College basketball, which many of us will turn to for filling the void of the NBA, is complete with sub-plots, the game within the game, if you will. Many basketball fans I know prefer to watch the college game because it’s more than just variations of the pick ‘n roll, and the team on the floor is the vision of a coach, not one assembled due to salary cap constraints and budget considerations. John Chaney’s match-up zone and a deathwish for non-conference schedule, John Thompsons’ big men-heavy teams etc., before the season even begins you know what each team is going to be about. This is much different than the NBA where there’s a coaching merry-go-around, and tacticians don’t have enough time to create an imprint on the rosters they inherit. It’s a results-driven league, where if you don’t produce within a year or two at the most, you’re considered to be on the hot seat.
There are only a few coaches that have been able to hang on to their gigs for an extended period of time, there’s Greg Popovich in San Antonio, there was Phil Jackson in LA, and there was Jerry Sloan in Utah. Of those three, Sloan was the only one who didn’t win much of late, even in terms of playoff series, and yet managed to hang on to his job for longer than anyone. Utah was the only NBA team where you knew exactly what you were going to get game in and game out, whether it be Game #1 of the regular season, or Game #7 of a playoff series. It was an institution which, I’m willing to bet, will never be replicated in the NBA: 24 seasons with one team. Wow.
Watching the Jazz was as close as you got to watching college-type ball in the NBA, except at a much higher skill level. There have been some pretenders who sing the purist tune, for example Lawrence Frank and his supposedly Princeton offense, or even Dwane Casey and his vaunted zone-defense, but will these coaches ever stay in the same place long enough to ingrain their beliefs on one franchise? I doubt it. For a tree to grow, it can’t be uprooted time and time again, its roots need to grow deep, often within rocks for it to truly be strong. Where am I going this? Nowhere really, just thinking about how much of a chance Casey will get in Toronto?
If the organization (not just Colangelo) believe in him, then they should commit to him long-term, even though it’ll mean heavy amounts of losing in the early years. Rebuilding a franchise from the ground up – and we are ground level here – is a monumental task, made even more difficult by the scarcity of proven talent on the roster. The optimism around these parts is chiefly due to very favourable projections of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas, and as I’ve always said, it’s based on hope more than anything. What if DeMar DeRozan peaks somewhere near the Mike Miller level, or Ed Davis near Udonis Haslem, that would amount to a lot of losing which would eventually lead to restarting the rebuild with different components. Would the franchise still stand behind Casey?
I like Casey, not so much because of his technical mind which I don’t know too much about, but because of his convictions. I use the word ‘seriousness’ a lot on this site, and it’s because I feel that that is the element most missing from this franchise. He brings it. I think. To hire an experienced coach made sense to me, that is until you looked at it from angle of growth. The growth of the team as a whole, including the coach, not just one or two players who are considered “building blocks”.
As I look at my Raptors crystal ball I see a lot of losing on the horizon, except that this time, we’ll need to stick with the coach. Sam Mitchell, who many believe should never have been fired, was done so because the GM lost patience and wanted returns on what he thought were winning off-season acquisitions. Jay Triano was fired because he couldn’t instill any sort of defense, the latter might even be considered an attempt at long-term planning by Colangelo: hire a Canadian head-coach who will dovetail with the team and give it a distinct, hopefully winning, identity. It didn’t happen, I never was excited about the hiring, but did understand it. Now it’s Dwane Casey’s turn to lose, the question is whether we’ll lose our patience. Again.