Dwane Casey smiles after being introduced as the new head coach of the Raptors in Toronto

Casey will use advanced stats, get Raptors to play defense

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Put me in the group of NBA bloggers who wanted to see Dwane Casey get another chance at the big seat.

First off, he did a pretty good job in the big seat the first time but got thrown to the sidelines because an owner misread how much talent his team really had. And in the admittedly limited dealings we have had over the years, he’s seemed a good guy.

Casey has his chance in Toronto. Where he faces some challenges, which he admitted in talking to Zach Lowe at SI’s The Point Forward (you should read the whole Q&A, good stuff there). Those challenges start on defense.

It’s all about what you emphasize as a coach. Jay [Triano] has done an excellent job at creating an offensive atmosphere, and I don’t want to take away from that. But we have to have a defensive emphasis. We have to create a defensive identity. Every single day there will be a theme of the day about defense, whether it be working on one thing in regard to the pick-and-roll or man-to-man or whatever. There will be a theme every day until we get an identity we can compete with.

Casey comes out of Dallas, one of the NBA teams that is most immersed in the advanced statistics pool. (Which is why this Grantland piece about how the Mavs leaned on J.J. Barea in the face of stats seemed way off base to me from the start, but Ziller did a good job ripping it apart already.)

He said he plans to use those stats in Toronto. That includes looking for ways to make Andrea Bargnani less of a defensive liability. And Casey made an interesting comparison with Bargnani.

Well, he’s not going to be our starting center, really [because he’s more of a power forward]. He’s in a similar situation with Dirk Nowitzki at this point in his career. I’d have to check their numbers, but I’d venture to say at this point in his career, he’s probably somewhere in the same area where Dirk was, where both have had to live down the reputation of being soft. And by the way, Dirk has never been anywhere near soft. Don’t ever use that word with him….

Because he’s one of the toughest, hardest-working guys in the league. I don’t know Andrea. All I know is what I’ve read and seen. I am excited to get to know him. He’s going to get better defensively, and he’s a great offensive player. But we have to work with him, coach him up and put him in the right situations so he is not exposed as much. I think Amir Johnson can be an above-average defender in the same position, and that we can put someone like Amir in a system so that Andrea is not exposed as much.

Look, our challenge is to find a five-man unit that is above-average defensively. Who that five will be, I just don’t know at this point. But when you win 22 games, you’ve got to change things. You can’t come back with the status quo.

The Raptors are going to get better under Casey. How much better remains to be seen, but they will get better. And they will defend.

Kevin Love unsure about opening-night return

Kevin Love
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He’s back in practice with the Cavaliers, but there’s still no clarity on whether Kevin Love will be available for the season opener. Love had shoulder surgery in April after suffering a torn labrum in Game 4 of the Cavs’ first-round series against the Celtics, and doctors initially gave him a timetable of four to six months for a return. The six-month end of that is right around opening night (October 27), but Love still doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to play against the Bulls—although he is hopeful.

Via the Sporting News‘ Sean Deveney:

“I feel pretty good,” Love told Sporting News. “As far as the opener goes, I am not completely sure. I’ll probably get with the doctors and see what they have to say. I know that my six-month post-op is coming up here pretty fast. As far as getting the strength back, getting the range of motion, I feel pretty good, so I am looking forward to getting into some more contact, getting into a rhythm and getting out there as quickly as I can.”

Love has been cleared for 3-on-3 practices, but not yet for 5-on-5. If it were up to him, he’d be back on the court, but he understands he needs to follow the rehab protocol for his injury.

“(Six months is) just a ballpark figure that has generally been thrown out there by anybody who has talked about the rehab process for this kind of an injury,” Love said. “I like to think that I am ahead of the game, but there’s different tests and the due diligence that the doctor will go through and the training staff will go through. So all I can do is go out there every day and attack my rehab and hopefully I will be able to go out there and help these guys as soon as possible.”

At the very least, the Cavs will be without Kyrie Irving (still recovering from knee surgery) and Iman Shumpert (out up to three months with a wrist injury), and probably Tristan Thompson too, unless his contract situation changes unexpectedly. So having Love available would be some much-needed good news. But it’s more important that Love (and everyone else) is healthy for the playoffs. If he’s not ready to play, there’s no need to rush back for an October game.

Greg Smith fails physical, will not join Pelicans

Greg Smith
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With both starter Omer Asik and backup Alexis Ajinca out injured for the rest of the preseason (and maybe a little longer), the Pelicans are looking for a center to put next to Anthony Davis for a stretch. That could include a handful of regular season games.

Greg Smith was going to be that man, but the 24-year-old failed his physical, reports the Times-Picayune.

The New Orleans Pelicans were set to sign power forward Greg Smith, but sources said Friday night that he failed his physical examination and will not be joining the team.

And so the search goes on.

The problem is, there are not quality big men still out there on the market, there is a limited supply and just about anyone worth having is spoken for. A few with non-guaranteed contracts may be waived as we get closer to the end of training camps, but that is likely a couple of weeks away.

With both Asik and Ajinca expected back in a few weeks, it’s not worth making a trade or some big move to bring in a center, the Pelicans are just going to have to live with what is out there.