Dwane Casey led a Raptors team that changed its offensive philosophy this season, won a franchise-record 59 games, and all that earned him the title of Coach of the Year as voted by his peers (and he could win the official NBA award, too).
Friday, Dwane Casey was fired by Toronto.
Beyond the questions of is this fair (no, but life isn’t fair) or is this the smart move comes another big one: Who will be the next coach of the Raptors?
When word of Casey’s impending doom started to circulate around the league a couple of days ago, the buzz was they would go with one of their top assistants, an internal candidate who brings change but not much disruption. However, not long after the firing, the name of former Hawks’ coach Mike Budenholzer came up. So here are the potential new head coaching candidates for Toronto.
• Mike Budenholzer. Let go by the Hawks and undone more by his unimpressive work as a GM than his coaching acumen. He may be at the top of Masai Ujiri’s wishlist, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is expected to get a close inspection for the Raptors opening, league sources said. Budenholzer met with Milwaukee on Tuesday, league sources said.
Budenholzer is an excellent tactician on both ends of the court — he’s going to be faster with in-game adjustments than Casey. Coach Bud is also a guy who can maximize talent and understands how to build and manage a culture. He would push Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, challenge them in new ways. No question he’d do a good job. Budenholzer also has options — the chance to coach the up-and-coming Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo is tempting (despite questions about ownership there). Or, Budenholzer could sit at home and collect paychecks from the Hawks for a year, spend more time with his family, watch a lot of Judge Judy and get away from it all for a season. We’ll see what Budenholzer decides.
• Nick Nurse. The lead assistant for Casey and the guy credited for re-shaping Toronto’s offensive attack this season, his name came up in a number of other job searches where teams were looking for elite assistants. He has been a head coach at the G-League level, which means he has some experience in the big chair.
• Rex Kalamian. Another of the Raptors’ highly-touted assistant coaches, he was the guy serving more as a defensive coordinator for Toronto this season (the Raptors had the fifth-ranked defense in the NBA during the regular season).
• Jerry Stackhouse. He’s been incredibly impressive as the head coach the past two seasons of the Raptors’ G-League team (the Raptors 905) winning one ring and making it to the Finals the other year. He’s been a strong player-development guy and has the respect of the players around the league.
• Steve Clifford or Stan Van Gundy. If Ujiri decides he wants to go outside the family for the next head coach, and he can’t land Budenholzer, then these guys are available. Clifford is a defensive-minded coach with a good reputation around the league and who led Charlotte to the playoffs. Stan Van Gundy has led a team to the Finals (Orlando) and can get a team to play smart, inside-out basketball. Both of these guys could be fits, but they seem long shots right now.