Dwane Casey earned Coach of the Year consideration after guiding the Toronto Raptors to a 59-win campaign and the top seed in the Eastern Conference in the 2018 NBA Playoffs. It took him 82 games to build that reputation — but just four to completely unravel it.
Casey was fired by the Raptors on Friday, three days after his team was swept out of the postseason by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The news marks the end of Casey’s seven-year tenure in Toronto. He had gone 323-238 (.576 win pct) with the franchise during the regular season, but just 21-30 (.412) in the playoffs.
Casey may have forced general manager Masai Ujiri hand in firing him, according to USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt, by seeking a contract extension for job security purposes.
It’s a stunning turnaround for a coach who looked to have turned the corner from good to great in Canada. Casey set the franchise record for wins four times in his career, peaking with the 2017-18 team, led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan but bolstered by one of the league’s most efficient benches. That dynamite combination made the Raptors the early favorite to escape the East and appear in their first-ever NBA Finals, but LeBron James had other plans.
James averaged 34 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 11.3 assists per game to bury a favored Toronto team and push a coach of the year candidate to the unemployment line.
Casey’s firing leaves the Raptors and Ujiri in a state of flux. The most accomplished regular-season team in franchise history failed to advance beyond the NBA’s elite eight. While the team’s core — Lowry, DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas foremost among them — is under contract for 2018-19, Ujiri may have seen this iteration of his team’s peak. The club already has $126 million in contracts locked in for next winter, and any help in free agency or through the NBA Draft will be limited at best.
Toronto was set in win-now mode this spring, but still left the Eastern Conference semifinals without a single victory to show for its work. The Raptors’ brain trust may be staring at a tear-down in order to re-ignite their NBA title hopes, and that means players like DeRozan and Lowry could wind up on the trade market. With the Celtics and 76ers both rising and the Cavaliers firmly entrenched as an unpassable roadblock, the club’s run at the top of the conference may turn out to be a brief one.
Casey, on the other hand, will move on to his next project. His work revamping Toronto’s offense earned him praise through the regular season, even if it failed to translate in the postseason. He was able to transform the Raptors without any major personnel changes and leaves Canada as the winningest coach in franchise history. That resume will make him an attractive candidate for future NBA head coaching positions — whether that’s in 2018 or beyond.