Many NBA observers were happy for Dwane Casey when he got another chance at being a head coach with the Toronto Raptors to start the 2011-12 season.
Casey is known for having a high basketball IQ, and for being a no-nonsense, defensive-minded coach. And many believed he didn’t get the fairest of chances while holding the head coaching job in Minnesota for a very short one and a half seasons from 2005-07.
But a coach can only go as far as his players take him, and Casey hasn’t exactly been flooded with talent to work with over the past two years with the Raptors. With a new GM in place in Masai Ujiri, Casey in all likelihood has one more season to turn things around before the team goes in another direction.
And he knows that the play of Rudy Gay will be as big a factor as any in whether or not he meets expectations.
Gay is the big name on the Raptor roster, and though he averaged 19.5 points after coming to Toronto from Memphis in a late-January trade, he shot just 42.5 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from the 3-point line. But Gay has suffered a decline in his 3-point shooting as his career has gone on, and the hope is that the dip is the result of astigmatism in his eyes. He had surgery to fix the problem after struggling with it for years.
“If you look at his career, it has steadily gone down,” Casey said. “He has complained about his eyes, he tried to wear goggles, and that didn’t work. He is supposed to be wearing contacts, and he didn’t like the contacts, he didn’t like having anything on his eyes. So they elected to do the surgery. I am keeping my fingers crossed. For some players, they get that done and it is like seeing a new rim. Hopefully, the same thing happens with him.”
Hope is not a strategy, as the saying goes, and even if Gay improves his shooting to become a more efficient player, Casey will be challenged to get the most out of perennial underachievers like DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, as well.
Combine that with the loss of Andrea Bargnani (which is a good thing) and a slew of new players to integrate — none of which are superstars — and it’s going to be tough for Casey to retain his job after next season.
Remember, we just saw George Karl get the axe in Denver after leading the Nuggets to the best home record in the league last season, and we saw the Grizzlies choose not to bring back Lionel Hollins after he led them to a franchise-best postseason run to the Western Conference Finals.
The point being, the new regime in Toronto won’t need much in the way of an excuse to cut Casey loose either during or immediately following the season if things don’t come together quickly, and a lot of that could hinge on whether or not Gay is able to stop the steady decline that his coach has noticed.