The Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons both held shootaround this morning with Dwane Casey, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright being made available.
Casey was in great spirits, happily embracing familiar faces and taking plenty of time to speak with the media even after his scrum was over. He had plenty of positive things to say about the organization, city and country, but was interestingly a little tongue-in-cheek when asked about changes he had noticed with this year’s iteration of the Raptors.
Here’s the best of what was said:
Thoughts on being back in Toronto
The city of Toronto and the country of Canada was great to myself for seven beautiful years. First couple, first three were struggles, trying to get this right. To say this program was nowhere — Jay Triano, Sam Mitchell, Lenny Wilkens, those guys did a good job of getting this program off the ground. It was a young program, a young organization. They did a good job. To get it to the next step was a lot of fun, a lot of work, it was beautiful. People here are unbelievable. My family and I embraced the Canadian way, which is beautiful. Watching Jurassic Park grow, talking to you other guys everyday was fun.
Did it feel weird coming back here?
I didn’t know where to go, had no clue, had forgotten. I’d bee here as an assistant coach, head coach in Minnesota but different route. Little bit different form that standpoint but I found my way in.
Any memory in particular that stands out?
Just the wins. Getting to the playoffs against Brooklyn, Game 7, you paly those games over and over but just the struggle it had come from. I was talking to Jose about the teams we had early, Ben Uzoh getting a double-double, um, triple-double, sorry Ben. From back in those days to go from there to where we ended up was great.
Nothing but great memories, great times and a lot of good friends. A lot of good friends.
Good to see the young Raptors doing well?
That also is rewarding. To see a kid like Pascal get player of the week and grow to where he is. I saw Pascal a lot this summer because he’s in L.A. and our guys were in L.A. working out so I got to watch him work.
I knew a lot of great things were going to happen for him, watched Fred, Delon, Norm, all those young kids grow, it just great to see.
Now, tonight I hope for bad luck and three nights this year but it’s really rewarding to see those guys and it has been all my career. Guys like Rashard Lewis, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp to grow and become players and do well for their families, making a good living for their families.
What have you taken from the Canadian way?
Tim Hortons. My son loves Timbits and thank God they have Timbits and Tim Hortons in Detroit because he wouldn’t be able to survive.
Just again treating people right, doing right by people, being nice to people, being honest with people. All those things are positive Canadian norms and values that I hope my kids picked up and it rubbed off on me, too.
Do you understand the warmth people feel for you here?
It’s good but, again, I understand I’m with the enemy how, with the opposing team but I thank God every day I was able to come here and to give something to basketball as Vince Carter did, as a lot of great players before me came in here and did.
I tried to help a lot of coaches across the country and in the city, brought them in, made them part of our program, the Canadian coaches. I said that when I first got here, to build basketball here in the country, it starts with the little coaches. I spent a lot of time with the bitty (ball) coaches … trying to develop it.
It’s big, basketball in Canada is at an all-time high. Some of the top players in this country and this city are being highly recruited and hopefully (I) had something to do with that and leave that little mark behind.
Do you think you’ll get emotional when the fans show you their appreciation?
Nah, I’m not going to get emotional. I’ll appreciate it, I’ll really absorb whatever comes my way, the boos or the cheers, but not to the point where I’m going to cry or anything like that. I wouldn’t live it down.
Goosebumps. Again, you wouldn’t be human if I stood here and said it wouldn’t be touching. I left a lot of blood, sweat and tears here, I left here with my head high and did what I was asked to do, to take this program, I know revisionist history and everyone wants to take credit for the wins and the losses is an orphan. I’ll take all the losses but I know what we started with, how it was built, what was built and how it got there. I take total pride in that.
Have you noticed any changes with the Raptors?
Changes, I don’t know about changes. I’d say the additions of Leonard and Danny Green have been great. I love DeMar. DeMar is like a son to me. You hate to see what happened to him. It’s the NBA, he’ll tell you that. That’s part of our league. You’ve got the additions of Danny and Kawhi Leonard, two starters on a championship team, defenders. Those are the additions more so than changes because I see the same plays that we ran the last four, five years being run. Not a lot of changes from that standpoint.
Will it be strange seeing Casey on the other bench?
I don’t really look at the other team’s benches a lot during the game so I won’t have nothing to worry about. I’m sure I’ll throw a couple jokes at him during the game some time if I see him up there towards halfcourt.
What did you learn from Casey more than anything?
A lot, a lot. Obviously, that was my first impression of the NBA, under Coach Casey, and pretty much everything I know is under that regime and this year has been different with Nurse at the helm so I’m learning again in Year 3 but my first few years, pretty much everything I know was under that coaching staff.
Was there a specific moment when you knew you had earned Casey’s trust?
I don’t know if there was one single moment, I think it was a gradual thing. Obviously, I think that he respected the work that I put in coming in everyday — from training camp — just coming in, busting my tail and working, staying ready, and I give him a lot of credit for throwing me in there sometimes late in fourth quarters or whenever we needed a spark my rookie year, playing a little bit in the playoffs and that experience just kind of helped propel me. And then, obviously, last year my role grew a lot and I earned the trust over time.
Have you kept in touch with Casey?
Yeah, after everything happened in the summertime we texted a few times. I didn’t get a chance to see him in LA, I didn’t make the awards show but we talked a little bit, texted back and forth, nothing crazy.
What have you found to be the biggest difference between Nick Nurse and Casey as head coaches?
I think the same differences that it is for the 29 other teams in the NBA. I don’t know if any two coaches are the same and they’re all different and they all have their own strengths and differences and I think it’s just been different. I don’t know if there’s been a specific reason why or any rhymes to the reason. He’s a different person. There’s no one coach that coaches multiple teams. It’s been good. We’ve been rolling, we’re focused on our group here and I’m sure coach Casey is focused on what he has going on over there in Detroit and I think both parties are happy.
Do people overrate the importance of coaches? People get by with bad bosses?
I don’t know man. You guys know me. You can make whatever story you want out of it. If you like a guy he’s the greatest coach in the world if you don’t he sucks. That translates everywhere. If you like your boss, he’s a great boss and if you don’t, well you know the rest of that story and how that goes.
[Smiles] I think that coaches are a vital part of the game and I love my coach, I love him so much, and that’s all I can say on that man.
In all seriousness I think that each coach is vital to the team and they have to know how to get the most out of their guys and how to put them in the position to win and the ones that are good tend to do that well and the ones that struggle a little bit tend to struggle with that and it helps when you have a good team, all those things play in to it. Again, I love my coach.
Is this just another game for you?
Yeah, it’s another game but of course you wanna beat him. You don’t wanna let him come back and get a win versus his former team. I feel like we just gotta take care of business, especially we just lost the last one, so we don’t wanna lose two in a row.
Is it going to be strange seeing Casey on the other bench?
Yeah, it’ll be strange for me. I’m just looking forward to it. He was with us for three years, but I feel like it’s kind of over now, so I’m kinda used to it with Nurse.
How has Casey impacted your career?
He always encouraged me to get better, he always wanted me to shoot the ball and stuff. He had a good impact on me, you know, never put me down.
What did you learn from Casey more than anything?
Could go on and on. Just being positive, he was always positive. I feel like from talking to other players around the league, some coaches are super hard on their players, but I feel like he was never overly aggressive.
What do you find to be the main difference between Nurse and Casey as head coaches?
I mean, yeah, they’re different coaches but I can’t like pinpoint one thing, they’re just different coaches. I can’t pinpoint one thing.