This probably doesn’t warrant it’s own detailed post, but it’s the dog days of the NBA season*.

* You know, if you’re a non-playoff team with no draft pick. So, for the Toronto Raptors.

Anyway, when the Raptors hired Masai Ujiri as the new General Manager a few weeks back, he started cleaning house in the front office. Stefanski, gone. Boogie, out. Joe the parking lot attendant, see ya.

But it was announced this week that head coach Dwane Casey was retained, though not extended. It’s a stay of execution of sorts. He has one year left on his contract and will stick around to handle what should be a fairly ho-hum team in a transition season.

Now, you may feel strongly one way or the other about Casey, who has a reputation as a strong defensive coach but hasn’t always coached strong defensive teams. Personally, I thought he did a great job in 2011-12 and a relatively mediocre job in 2012-13, making it a wash overall. I don’t think he added many wins or took many away, and though I questioned occasional decisions, it’s not like I was banging my head against the wall.

He’s pretty good defensively, getting more than the sum of the parts he’s playing with, and that’s mostly all you can ask. If he can get a handle on how to deploy Kyle Lowry optimally (though a lot of that will probably depend on Lowry and his freelancing) to take advantage of his tenaciousness but reign in his gambling, the Raptors have strong defensive potential. He’s not going to make DeMar DeRozan a Tony Allen clone, but he’s shown recognition of the skills and deficiencies for his defenders and gameplanned fairly well around them.

Offensively, he’s pretty uncreative. He’s about as uncreative as the word uncreative, so maybe we’re kindred spirits. As it is, his offense is pretty isolation-heavy and didn’t make the most out of the guys on the roster, though he has two caveats in this regard. For one, he had a constantly changing point guard landscape due to acquisitions, jettisons and injuries. If the point guard is an extension of the coach on the floor, that inconsistency can hinder a coach’s ability. The second point is that the team lacks floor spacers, though Casey probably still under-used the long-range shot.

But all of that is really for naught. If Casey was atrocious, I’m sure he’d be gone, but anywhere from “mediocre” to “Popovich” was going to see Ujiri keep him around for this season, and there’s really just one reason why:

General Managers generally get two, maybe three, coaches during their tenure. Firing a coach is a huge PR move, an admission of failure of some sorts (if he’s your hire), and a bullet that a GM has very few of. It just makes sense for a new GM to hang on to a lame duck coach to delay using that first bullet, keeping it in the chamber so to speak. Firing the coach now would mean Ujiri staking part of his reputation on a coach earlier than he has to, which isn’t in his best interests unless this team has championship aspirations (spoiler: they don’t).

In other words, if Ujiri accepts the fact that he will get rid of Casey at some point, keeping him on for this year accomplishes a few things:

*It lets him identify a scapegoat at the end of the season if things go even worse than expected.
*It gives him a tangible “we’re trying to get better” move next summer if the season goes alright.
*It buys him a year to court “his” coach for this team. This is the big one, since many coaches have been scooped off the market at this point, so this expands his options significantly. It also lets him build the roster more how he wants it, perhaps making the position more attractive for coaches. (Another possibility, though a less likely one, is that Ujiri could identify “his” coach and get him on the staff this year as an assistant to begin to build a rapport with the players and learn the organization.)

A large part of any GM’s job is reputation management. There are only 30 jobs at a time, and one abject failure can put a stain on your for an extended period if you’re not careful.

Keeping Casey might be what Ujiri thinks is best for the team, but more importantly, it’s what’s best for Ujiri right now.

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  • Marz

    Not entirely why this is such a big revelation to everyone. Colangelo did the same thing in his first season with the Raptors, keeping Sam Mitchell.

    • arsenalist

      Mitchell’s COY award forced Colangelo’s hand to keep him, otherwise he would’ve been offered an extension during the season when the team was doing well, rather than at the end. Colangelo relished having control of how the team was run right down to the coaching level, and Mitchell was a guy Colangelo couldn’t control or predict. It was a PR-marriage much like Ujiri/Casey, but I’d contend that if Casey was sacked, not many would blast Ujiri for doing so and would understand that he needs to bring in his own guy.

      • Marz

        Mitchell had already been retained before getting the COY award, which was my point. I’ll agree being COY pretty much solidified his extension, but Colangelo *could* have parted ways with Mitchell when he took over from Babcock. He didn’t for pretty much the same reasons listed in this article.

  • raptorspoo

    If you’re planning to tear the team apart and build it back up (as that’s what they’re saying), why would you hire a new coach and give him players to develop that aren’t going to be there anyways? Might as well keep Casey for the rest of his contract and get a new coach when you have stable players to develop. It’d be a wasted year for the new coach otherwise.

  • Bendit

    “Self preservation”? It seems to me that retaining Casey (with a year still on his contract) and the state of the team in flux was the most logical approach. It’s not that MU made the decision in a vacuum. Casey and he apparently had many talks before the announcement indicating at least some meeting of minds. With a 5 year contract I would venture that “self preservation” might be quite low on his reasoning than is being suggested.

  • Puffer

    Of course, completely unspoken here is the remote possibility that, without having to showcase Bargnani, and with some stability at point guard, and with Gay established in the team and with JV past the “First Year Rookie Jitters” Casey actually does a reasonable job and gets extended for a couple of years while Masai improves the roster. Then, with two years left on his own contract, he can more likely attract the big name coach he might want.

  • elkabong

    you were a lot calmer than i was thru the season and Casey had me hollerin’ at the TV screen many many times.ya we could go round in circles about how the lack of talent makes it a difficult job for anyone to do a bangup job with this squad but i thought they were competitive on most nights and as i have stated elsewhere i think they underachieved as far as the final record went.

    let’s look at game one of the infamous 4-19 start and we had a tie game at 1/2 time,an 8 point raptor lead after 3/4, Lowry enters the game at 9minutes of the 4th so Calderon + Lucas were there together so now it’s Caldy+Lowry (say what!) ,despite the “talent” on the floor we actually hold our own for a bit and have an 8 point lead with 4:30 to go….. they tie the game with almost exactly one minute to go and there has been no timeouts called by our side (say what!) …. they pull ahead 90-88 with 2.1 seconds to go and finally he calls a full timeout ….. guess what we have to call a 20 second timeout without running a play and we eventuall lose the game when a Bargnani16 footer is the best we can concoct….. crappy lineup configurations,lack of timeout use,poor plays after timeouts and a game we should have won went out the window ….. game 23 at the end of the streak we have 45-38 1/2 time lead and got waxed 31-19 in the 3rd quarter and i thought there was just way too many of these types of runs against us that some better in game management could have prevented …… if you can compete for a 1/2 or 3/4 of 9/10 of a game why can’t you compete for 48 minutes? ya i know it was a lack of talent

    do yourself a favour and go back and look at the box scores and play by plays of the past season cuz i think you got a serious amount of headbanging you forgot to do 😉

    • Tee

      You hit the nail on the head.

      Casey was directly responsible for at least two losses last season. (pure speculation)

      But he will build a defensive system. I honestly think that those gaffs last year will not be repeated. Tim L wont’t let that shit fly. Same with Masai.

      • elkabong

        i’m no expert by any stretch but those were not the exceptions but seemed the norm of the entire season from my point of view……. game 11 was 80-73 for us after 3/4 and philly goes nuts 33-18 in the 4th …. games 12+13 both winnable in Charlotte + Detroit that we mange to somehow lose by one point each. it just went on and on for me with 2 point guards and small ball with Rudy at the 4 and Val on the bench for a whole bunch of 4th quarters. along with the lineup choices he didn’t have the skill or the speed to adjust in game so he appeared to be outcoached on most nights as i watched from my living room seat

        • Tee

          I agree
          The amount of times where I thought Casey was out coached were numerous.
          Very frustrating.
          I look at Casey like a player; he must get better. He has to evolve.
          Lets hope he does.

  • FAQ

    If MU brought back Calderon, would that be considered upgrading the PG position? José might like a 3 year/$20mil contract to end his NBA career… and he sure as hell would be superior to decrepit Nash!

    Regardless, sane, thinking fans (oxymoron?) must admit that with this roster, the playoffs are not even on the horizon for the Raptors. MU’s first priority must be to keep bums in the ACC seats and eyeballs on TSN2 or whatever. He can only do this by bringing in new bodies to keep the fans interest and hopes up.

    It’s only business… while the lovestruck t.h.f.’s live in a state of delusion….

  • Statement

    KA-WA-SA-KI boom boom boom boom boom KAW-WA-SA-KI.

  • Dr Scooby

    yeah, and, so…snore

  • JHP

    Deep down I don’t think the new GM will do any major roster changes this year. Most of the contracts will be expiring next year and the coach is on the list.

    They payed Sam 4m (or so) to take 2 years off. Not going to happen again.

  • CJT

    There is also the possibility that MU believes that Casey is a good coach and can accomplish the goals that are set out for him. He may be willing to let him earn another contract based on his performance this season.

  • FAQ

    Miami Heat are looking to trade Bosh for a centre…. maybe Bargnani for Bosh?? … naaah ….