In Toronto, a new era has been ushered in. With the second worst record in the Eastern Conference, a dead-last ranked defense, and the youngest roster in the NBA, fans of the Raptors are optimistic really only because there is nowhere to go but up.
Perhaps the biggest change the Raptors made this offseason was the acquiring of new head coach Dwane Casey.
Casey is one of the more experienced coaches in the NBA. He was head coach of the Timberwolves from 2005 to 2007, and assistant coach for the SuperSonics from 1994 to 2005, and the Dallas Mavericks from 2008 to 2011 where he won a title last season.
I had a chance to sit down with Dwane Casey for an interview. Most Raptor fans don't know about what philosophy he is going to bring to Toronto, and really, they don't know that much about him in general.
Q: What was it like to be a part of a championship winning NCAA Kentucky Wildcat team?
A: It was a great experience, I grew up in a small town in Western Kentucky, probably about 4,000 people. And every citizen was a big Kentucky fan. It was a real honor for them to have someone represent them at Kentucky. A guy that pushed me there was a guy named Earl C. Clements, a former governor. He was really responsible for me going to Kentucky. Winning a NCAA championship was a big honor, my town had a celebration. I also got to play with a high school teammate. That was an experience in itself.
Q: You served as a coach of the Japan National Basketball team for several years. How is it different coaching in Japan, as opposed to America?
A: The most important thing about Japan is relationships, as a lot of things in life are about relationships. I had a great experience with the Japan national coach. We became great friends. He asked me if I was interested in coaching a team. I was the second American coach in Japan. It was a great honor to coach a national team. They have a lot of pride. To be allowed into their culture was an honor. To finish 11th in the world finals, it was an accomplishment.
Q: Your first coaching gig was with the Timberwolves, how upset, or surpised were you when you first learned you had been fired mid-way a respectable 20-20 season?
A: The thing about coaching is handling expectations. When I first came in, they expected me to win the Western Conference. I was so excited to be a head coach, I didn't notice that. I wanted to say that we didn't have the talent at that time to beat powerhouses like Dallas and Los Angeles. Here we are, we had an aging star who I will not name. No disrespect to those players, we just didn't have the talent to compete. I thought we were making strides, we did what we could. We became a good defense, couldn't score though. I learned how to be a better coach at the expense of the Timberwolves. I learned how to say no, you have to say that a lot. You can't make everybody happy. Not everybody's going to like you as a head coach.
Q: What prompted you to leave your assistant coaching job on the Mavericks after winning a storied championship?
A: Opportunity, opportunity to be a head coach. Once you've been a head coach, you want to get back there. I didn't wait. I had interviews with different teams, I did interviews with Golden State, Houston, Toronto. When it came down to it, Toronto was a great city, great organization, Ed Stefanzki and I get along great. I'm excited to take a young team, with controlled expectations.
Q: The Rockets expressed interest in hiring you a a head coach, is there a reason why you chose Toronto over Houston?
A: I didn't choose, they chose me, Houston chose Kevin McKhale. Houston wanted me to come for another interview, but I was preparing for the conference finals. I told them I don't have time to do another interview. So they they hired a different coach, and I totally respect that. At that time, I was commited to the Mavericks.
Q: You've been credited with an extremely effective zone-defense. What are your plans with a last-ranked defense in Toronto?
A: To have a good defensive team, you need to have the basics. First thing is to build a foundation, go from A to Z. Not skip a letter in building that defense. Last year they were last, I told the guys before the lockout, nowhere to go but up. We're too good of athletes not to play good D. Before we think zone defense, we got to get man defense down first, then we can build on that.
Q: We've seen it a lot in the NFL, young players getting lost in the shuffle due to the lockout and lack of preparation. Are you worried that might affect your young roster?
A: That's so important with a young team, training camp is so important. When we can practice, everyday before practice we're going to have a classroom session. Usually the number one problem going into a situation is terminology. If you went to Brazil, and you couldn't speak Portugese, you'll have trouble. You have to establish communication. "What do you mean when you say that coach?" That's the first thing we need to establish. Lack of communication kills your team, in any sport.
Q: The Toronto fanbase is starting to become restless, with the loss of star Chris Bosh, losing records, etc. Any words of encouragement for them?
A: We have the pieces in places, good young players. I look at Oklahoma City, just think about how tough it was the first couple years. Now we don't have the all-star player OKC has, but we do have young talent. Our job as a staff is to grow those guys into good players, because they have excellent NBA talent. The hope the fans have looking forward is, 2 years down the road, you'll see some great players playing for the Toronto Raptors. We're going to play defense, we're going to play fast-paced, we're going to be a team you can be proud of.
Dwane Casey's words sound encouraging for Raptors fans and players. But how much faith does the city of Toronto have in him?
It's going to be a rough first year for him, everybody knows that. The Raptors aren't going to be serious contenders for at least another 2 years. But with the philosophy that Dwane Casey brings to the table, there is reason to be optimistic if you are a Raptors fan.