North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Is It Too Soon To Pull the Trigger on Casey?

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A crappy Raptors season is winding down and with it comes change in the front office. This offseason, where the Raptors don’t have a pick and their cap’s loaded with giant contracts, should still be one of change: Bryan Colangelo’s contract is up this summer. He’s on the proverbial hot seat.

But he’s not the only person surrounded by rumors. Coach Dwane Casey is also being speculated on. And perhaps not unfairly: his rotations this season have been questionable and there have been some strange moves during the season. But is it anything worth firing over?

Going by the Pythagorean Win formula, a measure using points versus points against, the Raptors record should be a couple of wins higher. This makes sense when you look back and remember how poorly the team’s done in close games: they’ve dropped eight games this year by three points or less. Some of this goes on questionable moves late, but sometimes it just goes on the other side hitting a late shot or the referees missing calls, including one the NBA recognized they got wrong.

And for as bad as the season has gone, it’s not like the Raptors have played below expectations, either. Looking at preseason predictions for this year’s squad, most had the Raptors in the bottom half of the league. ESPN’s John Hollinger had them with 33 wins, which seems uncannily accurate now. The National Post’s Eric Koreen had them winning between 31 and 37, too. Despite what a few people – Basketball Reference, Zach Lowe and a few Raptors blogs –predicted, I wouldn’t call a finish that puts them with something like 33 or 35 wins and a tenth spot in the conference completely unexpected, at least from a season-starting point of view.

Of course, there’s a monkey wrench in this: the midseason trade that brought Rudy Gay aboard and changed expectations for this team. I’ve speculated before that the trade was to justify Colangelo’s time here and try to buy him an extension. It was an all in kind of move, shoving the chips to the centre of the table and, as it turned out, into someone else’s pile.

If the trade was a move designed to make Toronto better in the short-term, it worked: the Raptors won their first game with Rudy Gay. One month after the trade, Toronto had gone on a five-game winning streak and won six of 11 games. It was around then that the floor fell out: through March then went on two separate five-game losing streaks, including losses to teams like Charlotte, Detroit and Washington. Whatever potential was there was gone nearly as quickly.

Indeed, the most interesting thing to come out of this stretch was a Grantland piece by Zach Lowe about the Ghost Raptors and the SportVU system. Even this was depressing: the YouTube clips attached showed the Ghost Raptors routinely out playing the real thing, actually making plays and not making idiotic passes. What was even more interesting, and not getting nearly the same attention, came buried in a followup post by Lowe. In it, he explained the dichotomy between making smart moves like the VU system and signing players like Bargnani or DeMar DeRozan to big deals or trading for the inefficient (at best) Gay. To wit:

“The Gay trade was a calculated risk … it represented an understandable move from a team that doesn’t attract star free agents and needed to monetize both an expiring deal (Jose Calderon) and a non-core asset about to go up dramatically in price (Ed Davis). Gay’s next contract will be telling, though.”

In other words: the team wouldn’t be able to land a free agent with Calderon’s expiring deal and couldn’t keep Ed Davis in Toronto. Never mind that Davis reportedly cried when told the news and was visibly shaken when seen leaving the ACC.

But of course, these are all moves that are on Colangelo, and along with many others – everything from Jermaine O’Neal to Hedo Turkoglu to trading for Gay – have kept the Raptors in a perpetual state of mediocrity. That’s enough to not extend his contract. But what about Casey? How much of this season’s end results can we put on him?

The biggest change from last season is on both ends of the court. Last year, Toronto was one of the worst-scoring teams in the NBA: they finished ranked 29th in Offensive Rating. But they could defend, or at least play slow enough to finish with the 14th best defensive rating in the league and the ninth best points-allowed per game. This year, their pace has stayed about the same, but flipped the results: 16th in the league in scoring, 22nd in defense. They’re allowing nearly 100 points per game.

And what of Casey’s moves? He’s commonly leaning on players like DeRozan, Gay and Lowry while Terrance Ross and Jonas Valanciunas sit on the bench. It’s a lost season at this point, so what harm would come from giving extra minutes to the rookies? Why is Ross playing fewer minutes per game than Landry Fields or Mickael Pietrus? These are on Casey.

As a whole, I’m still not sold on him, but I don’t think blaming him for this season is entirely his fault, either. The right course is probably the easiest one: let Colangelo’s contract expire and let Casey have another season. His contract is up at the end of year anyway and if the Raptors continue to tread water, or even move backwards, let his lapse too. I’m not really sure anyone could a better job with the pieces Colangelo’s given him.

Written by M.

April 9, 2013 at 8:00 am

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