Instead, the 54-year-old Casey will be the man in charge of turning the Raptors around on the court, whenever the NBA emerges from its months-old lockout. In doing that, Casey will attempt to turn the worst defensive team in the league for two years running into at least a passable one. That mission statement stumped Jay Triano, and has haunted the Raptors for years.
“Our first goal is internally to get better defensively,” Casey said. “It’s a great grasp of the obvious. But that is our first goal. Before we even think of doing anything else, we need to get better defensively.
“My approach is going to be if you give it to me on the defensive end, that’s going to earn you a lot of minutes, a lot of everything.”
Take that, if you will, as a shot across the bow of both Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon (Casey cannot mention current players by name because of the lockout). The coach is hesitant to place the Raptors’ defensive woes on any one player, but his methods should not be doubted: The former Mavericks assistant turned a team with Dirk Nowitzki and an ancient Jason Kidd into an NBA champion that shut down LeBron James last June.
Casey’s teams went 53-69 in Minnesota. The year he was fired, he had the Timberwolves at 20-20. After he was let go, they went 12-30. Kevin Garnett was traded, and the Timberwolves have been recovering since then.
“I was learning to be a head coach,” Casey said. “I know what I want to be. I have a deeper commitment to what I wanted to do offensively and defensively now than I had then. I have a clear picture. I know how I want to go about it, a method to the madness. There I was feeling out the team. I was trying to change a team that had been together for a long time, players that had a system, a consistent system that was very different. I didn’t get the job done. I learned from it. I was able to take that same defensive approach to Dallas.
“Last year was a huge reward.”
“Everybody is anxious. The coaches are tired of looking at each other,” Casey says. “We need players. We’ve probably overanalyzed everything.
“My thing is being a truth teller, holding guys accountable, no matter who it is. That’s something you have to do with all players, whether you are an assistant coach or a head coach. I’ve got to set the tone as the head coach.”
A Raptors fan wet dream.