With the 2016 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers tipping off tonight, Basketball Insiders Publisher Steve Kyler previews the match-ups and shares his thoughts on the series.
Raptors, Casey Reportedly Agree to Extension
Earlier today, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported that the Toronto Raptors and head coach Dwane Casey agreed to a three-year, $18 million contract extension. Raptors team president Masai Ujiri is also reportedly working on deals to retain assistant coaches Andy Greer and Rex Kalamian, both of whom have been pursued by other teams recently.
Casey led the Raptors to the franchise’s best overall season, finishing with a 56-26 regular season record. The Raptors were the second-seeded team in the Eastern Conference and made it to the Conference Finals, where they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.
Casey was originally hired in 2011 and has improved the Raptors’ record in each season since as well as leading the team to the playoffs three seasons in a row. However, it should be noted that the Raptors had disappointing showings in their two prior postseason appearances and were erratic in this year’s playoffs as well, despite advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Nevertheless, under Casey, the Raptors have developed key players, including Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo, who was one of the standout performers of this year’s playoffs. Casey entered this season with serious questions surrounding his long-term status in Toronto, but managed to silence his critics with a strong regular season.
With Casey locked up, the Raptors have something that many teams across the league do not – continuity in terms of their coaching staff. Over the last few months, the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets have hired new head coaches. While there are some coaching fixtures like San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, the majority of teams are operating under head coaches who were hired over the last two or three years.
Despite bringing back Casey, the Raptors face some serious issues this offseason.
“We still have a ways to go, and I’ve said this the whole time, that next step is probably the biggest step we have to take as an organization and as individuals,” Casey said recently. “Myself included, the coaching staff, each player. We just talked in there a while ago about what each guy has to do, what they have to bring back to the table for us to take the next step, that next step, and it’s not going to be easy.”
DeRozan will be an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Raptors have no means to prevent him from signing with another team. DeRozan has developed nicely in recent seasons and creates quite the backcourt duo with Lowry.
However, DeRozan has some serious shortcomings, which makes it fair to wonder whether the Raptors are better off passing on signing him to a max-level contract. His defensive impact is inconsistent at best and he is not a threat from beyond the three-point line, which is essentially a mandatory skill set for wings in today’s NBA. DeRozan has done a good job of offsetting his lack of a three-point shot, but it’s still something he should develop moving forward.
Despite the significant interest DeRozan will receive from other teams, he has repeatedly stated that he wants to stay in Toronto. When you consider this and the fact that Lowry has a player option for the 2017-18 season, it is very likely that Ujiri will do everything he can to keep DeRozan in a Raptors uniform.
Beyond DeRozan, the Raptors will have a tough time holding onto Biyombo, who earned himself a significant pay raise in the free agent market with his inspired playoff performance. Potentially losing Biyombo will leave the Raptors even thinner in the front court, especially considering they still are in search of a long-term solution at power forward. If the Raptors lose DeRozan, they could reallocate some of their resources to shoring up their frontcourt. These are the questions and challenges that Casey and Ujiri will have to deal with this offseason.
Casey may not have the cachet of some of the top coaches in the league, but it’s hard to argue against his record in Toronto. He has led the Raptors to the postseason three times in five years, which is almost half of Toronto’s eight overall playoff appearances. He has the respect of his roster, as he often aggressively protects his players from criticism in the media. This is in stark contrast to some other coaches, such as former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott who took a very different approach with his team this season.
With this contract extension, Casey now has the stability to focus solely on how to take his team to the next level without worrying about his job security, a luxury he hasn’t always had over the last few years. Now, he and Ujiri can turn their collective attention toward the offseason and retooling a roster that is still is a step behind the star-studded Cavaliers.
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