Coming off of one of their worst performances of the season, the Toronto Raptors took a long time to gather themselves ahead of the usual pre-game media availability on Thursday. It was 38 minutes before head coach Dwane Casey emerged from the locker room, easily the longest delay in my tenure covering the team. When Casey finally spoke, his message could not be confused.
“That exhibition of basketball was unacceptable,” he said. “I want to apologize to our fans, everybody, for the way we played tonight. The effort, the competitive spirit wasn’t there, that team came out and played like it was a championship game and we played like it was a middle of the season game.”
Casey didn’t have a good explanation for his team’s horrendous effort, but it’s clear that he and the coaching staff have had enough. Multiple times, Casey referenced the need to find six-to-eight players able to give the team a consistent effort, and while it’s not immediately clear to whom, specifically, he was referring, it seems like rotation changes, even temporary ones, could be coming Friday in Detroit.
“That’s what we’re going to find out, we’re going to find seven or eight guys that are going to come out and compete,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to have. There’s no excuse, there’s none. You can’t even explain.”
The players were wearing the terrible outing, too. While most of them had cleared out by the time the locker room opened, DeMar DeRozan provided some detail on the post-game mood. Namely, that multiple players spoke up in the immediate aftermath, and that the things that needed to be said were said. P.J. Tucker revealed that the players spoke first with the doors closed, then the coaches entered to further the discussion.
A players-only meeting is rarely a good thing, although smoldering anger and disappointment are surely preferable to apathy.
“We had a chat with each other. That was that,” DeRozan said.
It’s difficult to know how much of an impact something like a coach publicly calling out his team or the players having a closed-door discussion will have. The Raptors are playing with a tenuous formula, down Kyle Lowry, and they need effort to be at an absolute maximum to succeed. The issue with making too many rotation changes to send a message is that the Raptors don’t have a lot of talent, but their second unit has at least been playing with more urgency than the starters. What, exactly, the team will do to shake this off is unclear, but no solution should go without exploration.
This was goddam terrible. At least they know it, and they’re wearing it. But no amount of lip-service is going to make anyone feel better until they bounce back and back it up.
“I said what I had to say,” Tucker said. “A lot of people talked a lot, it was a good conversation but enough talking. We’ve got 14 games left, it’s time to put it into action, it’s time guys go out and show that we care about each other and we want to do something special here. We have the team to do it.”
Let’s see it, then.