As I watched the Toronto Raptors dream season unravel against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a four-game sweep, I was thinking what a long offseason it would be for this Raptors franchise. After the 59 wins in the regular season, the Cavs’ seeming vulnerability and the Celtics injuries, it looked like the path was clear for Toronto to make the NBA Finals for the first time. But when I first heard rumors that head coach Dwayne Casey might get fired, I thought it was an overreaction. Now, the latest reports say that Casey’s firing is likely. I can only say that someone in the Raptor front office has lost their mind.
That someone is team president Masari Ujiri and his track record can’t make Casey or any proponents of sanity in the city of Toronto feel very good. Ujiri was a part of the Denver Nuggets front office in 2013 when they faced a similar crossroads. George Karl had just won 57 games, his third 50-win season in four years. Karl was named Coach of the Year—an award Casey is a finalist for this season. But Karl had playoff disappointments on his resume. And that was something the Nuggets couldn’t take. Karl was fired.
The firing solved the problem—Denver doesn’t disappoint in the playoffs anymore. That’s because they don’t make the playoffs anymore. They haven’t been back since. Ujiri wasn’t the final decision-maker on Karl, but reports are that he was a part of that process. One would hope that he sees it as a learning experience, but the current state of the rumor mill suggests otherwise.
Let’s briefly review the history of the Toronto Raptors franchise…
*From their inception in 1996 through 2011, the Raptors had four winning seasons. The best was 2001, when they won 47 games—with a Hall of Fame coach in Lenny Wilkes on the sidelines. Over that stretch, they won one playoff series.
*Dwayne Casey was hired in 2012 with the franchise in a total rebuild, after the departure of signature star, Chris Bosh, to Miami. After a couple years of ramping up, Casey has had four straight winning seasons. Every one has exceeded the previous 47-win record established by Hall of Famer Wilkens. Toronto has won four postseason series, including making a conference finals in 2016.
I get that Toronto is hungry to take the next step though, so I dug very deep into their playoff losses looking for any piece of data that might explain the postseason failure. After running through reams of computer reports, I came up with the following two facts about the past three seasons…
*Each loss in the playoffs has been to the Cleveland Cavaliers
*The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James
I hope I didn’t overwhelm you with numbers or overcomplicate the issue too much. But maybe our takeaway should be that, regardless of what happens in the regular season, LeBron James is the odds-on favorite to win the Eastern Conference until proven otherwise. Maybe we shouldn’t overreact to every struggle the Cavs have in the regular season. Maybe we shouldn’t make too much of so-called “statement games”, the phrase ESPN/ABC and TNT use to market Cleveland’s regular season games against Eastern challengers. Maybe we should just say that until proven otherwise, LeBron’s team is favored against anyone other than Golden State.
Unless Dwayne Casey is at fault for keeping LeBron James in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors should cease and desist with all talk of firing their coach. Instead, they should be looking at where to put Casey’s statue outside Air Canada Centre.