Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri announced Friday that Dwane Casey has been relieved of his duties as the team’s head coach.
“After careful consideration, I have decided this is a very difficult but necessary step the franchise must take. As a team, we are constantly trying to grow and improve in order to get to the next level,” Ujiri said. “We celebrate everything Dwane has done for the organization, we thank him, and we wish him nothing but the best in future. He was instrumental in creating the identity and culture of who we are as a team, and we are so proud of that.”
Casey guided the best run in Raptors history. After a couple losing seasons to begin his tenure, Toronto has won at least 48 games and made the playoffs each of the last five years – including a franchise-best 59 wins this season.
But the Raptors underwhelmed in the playoffs annually – including this year, which they tried so hard to make different.
The result: Getting swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the second round, same as last year.
Ujiri said he won’t blow up this team – nor could he easily. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka have hefty salaries guaranteed for the next couple years. Keeping this core intact guarantees a high floor.
Firing Casey could raise the ceiling.
Casey is a good coach, and I don’t think he was Toronto’s problem. But maybe he was. He did himself no favors this postseason. At this point, it might be worthwhile to try someone else. Changing coaches is far easier than changing players.
This will be Ujiri’s first coaching search. He inherited George Karl with the Nuggets and Casey in Toronto. That Casey made it this long with an executive who didn’t hire him is somewhat surprising, though Casey’s run wasn’t without multiple potential firings previously.
The Raptors have a few strong internal candidates – assistants Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian and minor-league coach Jerry Stackhouse. Toronto also has a strong veteran roster that could attract top available outside coaches.
The NBA won’t announce the winner until its June 25 award show. By that time, Casey might even be working for another team. Whether he’s employed elsewhere or unemployed, this sets up an awkward moment if he walks across the stage to accept an award for the quality work he did with the Raptors.