An email exchange between Will and Zarar about Casey’s new 3-year extension.

The following is an email exchange between two esteemed writers on this site. Fearless leader Zarar Siddiqi will be suiting up for Casey, while Will “amateur hour” Lou plays the role of devil’s advocate. 

William:

So it looks like Dwane Casey is sticking around after all. Human tabbycat Doug Smith reported that the two sides agreed to a 3-year extension. TNT reporter David Aldridge says Casey will earn just under $4 million per year.

You’re a fan of Casey’s work. I’m guessing you like this move by Ujiri?

Zarar:

Had to be done.  He has to be credited with the chemistry the team played with since the trade, and not extending him would send a very confusing message to our free-agents who, I suspect, would expect Casey to return if they are to.  As discussed on the recent podcast, he’s left wanting offensively at times, but firing him for that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  I’d rather have a defensive coach who needs help offensively, rather than the other way around.

The signing gives them continuity which is what this franchise desperately needs.  I’m not sure the Raptors can attract a high profile coach at this point and more importantly, they don’t need to.  You could also make a strong case that Casey cost the Raptors the Nets series, which as grave as it sounds, is more a learning experience for him than a cause for termination.

William:
I want to start by acknowledging the work he’s done. I’m not counting the first two years against him because he had nothing to work with. I appreciate his hard-working and humble attitude, and by all accounts, he’s a very nice man. He certainly has his merits, and his defense-first philosophy did culminate in a 9th ranked defense this season (per Def Eff), which is impressive given that he had two rookies and “_eMar _eRozan” in the starting lineup. Most importantly, I agree that chemistry is fleeting.

However, I simply can’t help but think the Raptors squandered a chance to make an upgrade. Perhaps they bandied the position around, but no one would take it. If so, that’s unfortunate, and I guess it can’t be helped. If it were possible, I would have liked to see a more X’s and O’s oriented coach brought in – Stan van Gundy and George Karl are immediate names that come to mind. It’s hard to watch Casey’s uncreative play-calling.

Zarar:

Never quite understood the obsession with George Karl – have you seen his playoff record? He’s the king of the first round exit. And Stan Van Gundy has won what exactly? And what creativity did he display when he had Dwight Howard to work with? They both have more experience than Casey, but neither can be considered major upgrades.  Every fan base feels that X’s and O’s are an issue with their coach, the Raptors are no different.  Fans tend to focus on the plays that end up going south instead of focusing on all the ones that worked.

I acknowledge that he’s come up short when asked to come up with strategies to stop key players, the playoffs being a good example, but his overall body of work suggests that he can only improve, while the other coaches you mentioned are known quantities.

William:

Okay, I’ll concede that George Karl isn’t necessarily a definite upgrade, but SVG is undoubtedly a fantastic coach. He took a team an Orlando Magic team with Hedo Turkoglu as its best playmaker to the NBA Finals. His defenses were always fantastic, dating back to his days with the Heat (it helps to have Mourning and Dwight at center), and his three-point oriented offense would work great in the modern NBA, where three’s and layups are king.

But I digress. I’m not necessarily advocating for specific names. Rather, I believe there was an opportunity to improve. Look at last year’s hires — Mike Budenholzer, Jeff Hornacek, Brad Stevens — just to name a few. There’s a lot of coaching talent out there. Why not look for someone who can draw up better plays, or has a firmer control over the locker room?

I keep coming back to one sticking point on Casey. Remember the infamous 18-game Rudy Gay stint? Remember the 11-for-37 loss against Houston? I see that as a definite problem because it either meant that Casey intentionally drew up those plays, which means he was just being cruel (mostly to Raptors fans), or he couldn’t reign in Gay, which is also a problem. And also, dude got out-coached by Jason Kidd in the last playoff series. I’m just saying there was an opportunity to improve.

Zarar:

Dwane Casey is not the best coach in the world.  That implies that there’s always “opportunity to improve”, which really doesn’t mean anything beyond thinking that the grass is greener on the other side.  I’d contend that playing Rudy Gay extended minutes was little more than showcasing the guy for a trade, which was always Ujiri’s intent.  Pinning Rudy’s ridiculous night on the coach, and using that as an example to not re-signing him, means that you’re pulling at straws here.

Jason Kidd got the better of him, the same Jason Kidd that has 21 years of NBA experience, the last few of which were essentially as an assistant coach.  Getting out-coached by Kidd, as much as I dislike the man, is not necessarily the worst thing in the world.  I’m not suggesting Casey is the ultimate head coach, I’m saying that given all the variables in the franchise, it’s important to retain a constant.

William:

Okay, let’s say it was a directive from Ujiri to showcase Gay. How exactly did Casey succeed in that regard? He literally didn’t draw up any plays for him, and his numbers were awful. He used 30% of possessions while he was on the floor, and turned them into points at a rate of 46.8 TS%. That’s worse than any Monta Ellis season. Either Ujiri gave a misguided directive (which is a problem), or this falls on Casey (which is a problem).

For me, the Gay ordeal is a microcosm of a bigger issue — Casey wasn’t always given much to work with, and I don’t fault him for that. Chicken shit/salad and the whole ordeal. But what about the decisions he did make? What about his obsession with Alan Anderson, or John Salmons? His perverse obsession to veterans troubles me.

Casey began his coaching career in 1979. That’s a lot of basketball. During that time, he was a coach, whereas Kidd was a player. While Kidd was out boozing and hitting strip clubs, Casey (the hardworking man that he is) was probably thinking up new defensive schemes. And he was still outcoached. Granted, Kidd had more options to work with, but come on, getting outcoached by Kidd? At the minimum, that means there are more capable replacements out there.

Zarar:

Regarding literally.  Alan Anderson got minutes ahead of Terrence Ross, which is part of Casey’s thing of giving minutes to players who have shown they deserve it.  That’s part of his style, it’s great when he’s benching guys for not working hard enough, not so when the season is lost and you just want to see young players play, which is what the case was when Anderson got his minutes.  That’s not a big issue for me.

John Salmons – as stated on the pod, perhaps he felt that his three-point shooting was a greater threat than Landry Fields, which is a valid point.  I don’t agree with it but there’s an argument to be made there.  Listen, I’m not suggesting you won’t find faults in his decisions, but that’s true with any coach.  I don’t see Bulls fans wanting Thibodeau’s head because he got “out-coached” by Randy Wittman – we can’t be so reactionary.  After all, we’re talking about Dwane Casey, not Jay Triano.

wittman

William:

English is tough, almost as tough as correctly pronouncing the name “Jonas”. And Thibs has a long track record of being a successful head coach, while Randy Wittman is a meme. And I wouldn’t necessarily say Thibs was outcoached. His team simply couldn’t score, which makes sense given that DJ Augustin was their leading scorer this season. DJA vs John Wall. Not exactly a fair fight.

The difference with Casey vs. Kidd was that there were tangible changes that swung the series. Kidd realized that he didn’t necessarily need Livingston’s defense on DeRozan (when any two players could have trapped him) and subbed in Alan Anderson, which made the Raptors even more unable to deal with Joe Johnson’s post-ups. Kidd platooned Blatche and Plumlee for offense/defense. Kidd opted to aggressively blitz the ball-handler. Those were tangible decisions he made that swung the series, whereas Casey couldn’t figure out a single thing to deter Joe Johnson in the post. I think fans are going overboard with the Fields thing, but they’re right. He was right there.

If this team has expectations to advance a round or two in the playoffs, they’ll greatly benefit from two things: an upgrade in talent (seriously, Salmons and Hayes played meaningful minutes) and a head coach that is capable of making the right in-series/game adjustments.

Zarar:

You can play judge and jury with Casey, not executioner.  Ignoring his body of work and axing him for one series is hasty.  As positives, I can point to his defensive work this season, the culture change and increased work rate he brought in the post-Triano era, and the team identity he’s worked so hard to create, not to mention the results.  Focusing on details of one series, which have been discussed ad nauseam, is seeing a singular tree, not the forest.  Many head coaches have miserable first series, that doesn’t mean they’re bad head coaches.  If we’re so keen to give DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, and Amir Johnson a pass after sub-par series, why are we so harsh on Casey – surely, he has to undergo a learning process as well, no?

You keep pointing to Jason Kidd “out-coaching” Casey without giving enough weight to the experience the Nets have on their team.  I could debate that Kidd had to do very little coaching and that guys like Pierce, Johnson, Williams, and Garnett are more than capable of parsing the game flow and adapting as needed.  This argument that because you lost a series, you lost your job is rubbish.

William:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily unhappy with the extension. He has made a lot of positive strides with the team this season, and regardless of how much uncertainty exists with respect to crediting coaches, he did a great job this season. In the end, I agree with most of your points, and perhaps I am focusing too much on the negatives. Things like defensive schemes, building culture, maintaining a healthy locker room – they’re hard to evaluate from the outside as a fan.

We only see the on-court product. Our job as fans is to watch, react, and throw peanuts at things like his play-calling or substitution patterns. I weigh those parts more heavily in my evaluation, and on those accounts, it’s hard to argue that Casey is a great NBA head coach. On the tangible things we can see as fans (ie: adjustments, lineups, minute allocation), Casey grades out as average. But again, I also understand the importance of the big picture, which is the success of the team as a whole.

To wrap up, I want to touch on your point earlier about how this affects free-agents. Clearly, players like DeRozan, Lowry and others absolutely adore the man. If the Raptors are interested in bringing the band back together (they are, sans Salmons per Ryan Wolstat), then restoring the masthead makes a lot of sense. Plus, Ujiri really would have come out looking like a prick if he didn’t make this move. The man just took the team to a franchise-high in wins, and his players seem to like him – that would have been one cold pink-slip.

A hardworking man did a good job, and got rewarded. I can dig that.

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