The Coaching Question

After the absolute drubbing the Raptors received against the Warriors, yesterday, one hot topic of discussion has become how long Dwane Casey will remain head coach of the Raptors. In fact, by the time you read this the Raptors may have a new coach.

According to the incredibly scientific poll1 conducted here, 40% of Raptor fans believe Casey won’t even last through the current road trip (they play at Los Angeles and Phoenix before heading home to play San Antonio) without getting axed by Masai Ujiri.

On a personal note, there was a closeup of Casey at one point during the Warriors comeback in the fourth, and I felt bad for him. He LOOKED like a guy who knew he was on borrowed time. Casey certainly isn’t a good head coach, but he’s apparently a good guy and anyone losing their job is sad. He is a hard worker who has the right attitude. He just doesn’t seem to have the talent.

Casey was hired two and a half years ago to great fanfare and optimism. Coming off a Championship as the defensive coach for the Mavericks, Casey promised to instil a defensive mindset among the players and change the culture. This was music to the ears of Raptor fans who had seen far too many poor to mediocre coaches, throughout it’s history, leading poor to mediocre teams.


The first thing Casey did was place a 1300 pound boulder inside the locker room to symbolize the new mentality the team was expected to take. While the “pound the rock” mantra was definitely not new in the NBA, Greg Popovich was the first to use it, Casey took it to new heights with an actual rock.

In his first season, the new attitude seemed to take hold, and team went from the 30th Defensive Rating in the League to the 14th (not great, but still a big improvement) and ended up winning more games than most, including Bryan Colangelo, expected.

While fans were still debating about the roster, the GM and the direction of the team, optimism was high about the coach for the first time in a long time.

Fast forward to today, and I’m not sure whether a Raptor coach’s stock has been lower. And that’s saying a lot. Jay Triano wasn’t well liked by the end, but at least you could point to a few positives and to a roster that really had no chance of success, no matter who was in charge.


Under Casey, this year, the team’s biggest foundation piece, Jonas Valanciunas, has regressed and can’t seem to find the floor during the fourth quarter, the offense is just a series of isolation plays that result in a bunch of contested long jumpers, and there hasn’t been a game this season that Casey hasn’t been out-coached by his counterpart.

And the only argument to NOT fire Casey seems to be that he’s actually helping the team tank.

So without getting into what the team should or shouldn’t do, in that respect, let’s take a look at the options the Raptors have….


At this point, the only reason the team should keep Casey as the head coach is if the goal is to get a top pick in the upcoming draft. And while it might sound like a joke, that actually might be a good reason to keep Casey. Casey, himself, is responsible for at least a couple of the team’s losses this year. Keeping him on might just go a long way to reducing the win total for the team over the course of the season.

On the other hand, in both seasons that Casey has been head coach, the team has played much better in the second half than the first half, so there’s a risk the Raptors, under Casey, could see an improvement in play at the worse time. Again, if the team’s goal is for a high draft pick.

Plus, there’s also the not so little issue of Jonas Valanciunas’ lack of development, this year. While with the Raptors, Casey has shown a lack of ability to develop young talent, especially big men. Ed Davis only got consistent minutes when Casey had no choice but to play him, despite playing well in the limited and inconsistent playing time he did receive.

I don’t see how Casey can last much longer, though. The team is playing poorly, he’s not developing his players well, and the fans want his head.



Whenever a team has a head coaching vacancy, the majority of fans want a coach they’ve heard of. And that usually means an experienced head coach. Raptor fans aren’t any different.

It makes sense. If you know a coach is pretty good, then you choose him over a complete unknown who might just be a continuation of the coaching carousel that has been the Raptors organization.

In the comments section of one of the articles, one reader (whose name I can’t remember, and I apologize for not crediting him) pointed out that of the eight coaches the Raptors have had, six had never been head coaches in the NBA before. And it’s not as if the team has had a whole lot of success, in the coaching department, so the argument was that the Raptors needed to go with a coach who had a successful track record, this time.

There have been a number of names thrown around, but the most common ones have been Jeff and Stu Stan Van Gundy<sup”>2, Lionel Hollins and George Karl. I don’t think anyone else should be in the conversation. Some coaches, like Byron Scott, Scott Skiles and Doug Collins have failed too many times to consider.

And keep in mind that the Raptor head coaching position isn’t the only one rumoured to be soon available. The Knicks, Nets and Cavs head coaches are probably keeping uHaul on speed dial, at the moment.


Van Gundy is already making plenty of money in broadcasting, so money is not going to entice him to step into a coaching role. And now he’s being mentioned as a possible replacement on the Knicks bench if and when Woodson gets fired. He always regretted leaving the Knicks and this would be a possible way to return, but only if he was given say in personnel decisions.

Toronto isn’t the prime destination that the Knicks are, and have little on the roster to entice Van Gundy out of broadcasting, so I see little chance he’s a possibility.



Like his brother, Stu Stan is comfortable in broadcasting, right now. And without an enticing situation, it’s doubtful he’ll want to drop everything to take over a team as poorly constructed as the Raptors.

Besides, while Van Gundy has seen success, he’s also been heavily criticized during both his coaching tenures. In both Miami and Orlando, it was claimed he would crack under too much pressure, which is not a trait you want you team to take after.

Either way, I don’t see Van Gundy agreeing to take over the Raptors.


Fans of Hollins point to the job he did in Memphis, and he did do a fine job there. He took a struggling team and helped turned it around, on the court, eventually coaching them to the Conference Finals. His teams play hard-nosed defense and seem to overachieve, so it looks like an obvious fit.

Unfortunately, Hollins doesn’t exactly have a great record in terms of developing players, especially big men. Thabeet never should have been drafted where he was, but he regressed after a subpar rookie season. Ed Davis has not shown the promise he did while in Toronto. Several young players have gone on to more success after leaving Memphis. Even Gay was basically the same player he was at the end of his tenure in Memphis as at the beginning.


And then there is the issue of analytics. In this day and age, coaches need to be open to analytics, even if they don’t fully embrace them. Even the old school Popovich is well known for changing strategies based on what the numbers tell him. Despite the most success the team has ever had, Hollins was let go from an organization that is moving towards analytics.

Successful organizations have a GM and a coach who are completely in tune with one another, and if Hollins is averse to analytics, then I’m not sure he’s the right man for the job.


A lot of Raptor fans seem to think Karl and Ujiri have a great relationship because he was Ujiri’s coach in Denver, but Ujiri never hired Karl, and the team never did poorly enough to give reason to fire him. At this point it’s impossible to know what the relationship is between them.

The thing about Karl is his teams always achieved plenty of regular season success, but usually underperformed in the playoffs. That in itself is troubling, especially knowing that Karl isn’t the greatest coach at making adjustments when they need to be made. You just have to watch the Denver-Golden State series to see plenty of examples of that.

It’s true that Karl’s teams usually are exciting, that’s not a reason to hire him.

Atlanta Hawks v Denver Nuggets

The biggest reason not to hire Karl, though, is he’s never left an organization on good terms. And that’s a problem if you’re trying to create a stable organization. One thing Karl has never seemed to learn is when to keep things in house. He routinely takes his gripes with players and management to the media, and there is usually far more drama surrounding his teams than there should be.

Karl is also 62 years old, a year younger than Lenny Wilkins was when he took over the Raptors. I don’t think getting a coach on the tail end of his career is the best idea for an organization that is is still years away from contending. This is the same reason I’d never consider Jerry Sloan, despite me being a huge fan of his coaching career.


While hiring someone fans don’t know might not make them happy, teams are more likely to find great coaches, nowadays, by searching through the assistant files than finding an out of work head coach.

Tom Thibodeau, Frank Vogel, Greg Popovich and Eric Spoelstra, who are four of the top probably five or six coaches in the league are all coaching their first NBA team. And of the teams that seem to be performing better than expected, most have head coaches who are new to the job. Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, Denver’s Brian Shaw, Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn, Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek, Philadelphia’s Brett Brown and even Boston’s Brad Stevens all have impressed with their coaching ability and look to be the new wave of successful coaches.


The problem with the Raptors is not that they’ve hired too many coaches without head coaching experience. The problem is they’ve hired too many below average head coaches.

And just because fans haven’t heard of a coach, doesn’t mean he’s going to be a worse prospect than someone you’ve heard of.

Seven different Chicago head coaches have taken the Bulls to, at least, the second round of the playoffs. All but one had never been an NBA head coach before, including Tom Thibodeau and Phil Jackson.

The most likely scenario, though, is that if Casey is let go, one of his assistants will simply move up as interim head coach. In a season like this one, there’s no real point in trying to bring in someone mid-season. Other teams don’t tend to let their assistants go in the middle of the season, so the pool of talent to choose from is pretty small. And the Raptors aren’t in a position that would require someone to come in right away and turn things around, because they simply don’t have the talent to do that.

The best scenario is to wait until next summer, when the Raptors will (hopefully) be in a better position than they are in now to attract a head coach, and cast their net as big as possible.

  1. The poll is most definitely NOT scientific.
  2. Wouldn’t it be great if the Van Gundy brothers coached together, like the Wachowskis (who aren’t actually brothers, anymore, but brother and sister- I hope one of the Van Gundy’s doesn’t get a sex change operation, because both of them would make UGLY women)? That would be the price of admission right there. The press conferences would sell out.

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