Casey Stay of Execution a Move of Self-Preservation by Ujiri

Dwane Casey aint bad, but he aint here for the long haul.

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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