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The Raptors Shoot Old Yeller

May 13th, 2018 · No Comments · Basketball, NBA

I don’t spend a lot of time watching the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. For the longest time they were reliably awful, then they were good in the regular season before tending to run into LeBron James, who tended to run them over.

Like this season, when James and the Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Raptors in the second round of the playoffs. Crushed them, actually.

So, just two days after Dwane Casey got a coach-of-the-year award for leading the Raptors to a team-record 59 regular-season victories and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference … the Raptors fired him on Friday.

And I had to look at that story a little more closely.

Turns out, firing Dwane Casey apparently was very much like shooting Old Yeller in the sappy Disney film of the same name. That is, if we take the general manager and Raptors players at their word.

Casey apparently was a great guy who had brought dignity and lots of (regular-season) success to the Raptors, but at the end he had to be put down by ownership, led by team president Masai Ujiri, who must have been blubbering when he informed the coach.

The Canadian Press quoted Ujiri as saying: “What an unbelievable human being. It made it just the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I’ve never met anybody that classy in my life. I can honestly say I don’t know that I will work with a better person. He was just very graceful. He thanked us. He appreciated his time here. Just grateful. Just Casey.”

The Raptors won the Atlantic Division four times in five years, under Casey, who saw the club climb from 23-43 in his first season in Canada to 59-23 this season.

But, for the second consecutive spring they were swept out of the playoffs by the Cavs, and the organization apparently saw faithful servant Casey as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Ujiri said: “Sometimes these things come to an end. Relationships come to an end. We’ll figure out a way to move on, a new voice.”

Ah, we see. Casey saved the Raptors from the scourge of incompetence, but when he came down with rabies … out came the firing squad.

Veteran players expressed dismay at Casey’s ouster. “A lot of my success, all of my success, I have to credit Casey,” said DeMar DeRozan, the star guard. “No matter what, I’m always going to have the utmost respect when it comes to coach Casey.”

What sticks with me about this story is a small, sports-journalist-related touch about how Casey operated.

According to CanPress: “… beyond his basketball accomplishments, Casey will be remembered for the dignity and class with which he carried himself, a friendly, fatherly figure who addressed every member of the media by their first name (emphasis added) even those rarely around the team.”

I was in sports journalism for 40 years, and the number of professional coaches who recognize journalists by name … well, it just doesn’t happen much anymore. To use a reporters’s name, that suggests he respects them and considers them some sort of equal — and that is not how the average coach operates.

Not even Pete Carroll did that, when he was at USC. Tommy Lasorda sometimes did, as Dodgers manager a generation ago, but he referred to only certain, veteran writers by name, and even then by their press-box nickname.

That makes me hope that Casey gets a job somewhere soon. Assuming he wants to stay in the game, at age 61.

How can a guy win 59 games and a first-round series in the playoffs and be fired?

There are reasons. Having started with the Raptors in the 2011-12 season, Casey became almost a tactical dinosaur in the “pace and space” era, allowing his shooting guard, DeRozan, to do the bulk of his scoring on two-point shots through the 2016-17 season, when the former USC big man averaged a mere 1.7 threes per game.

DeRozan dutifully more than doubled his three-point attempts to 3.6 per outing, but he made a substandard 1.1 per game.

Some in Canada thought Casey had taken the Raptors as far as he could take them, and that a “new voice” might be able to get them over the second-round hump.

So, despite his years of service, Old Yeller had to go, leaving with a .

In the Disney movie (another spoiler alert), the family keeps one of Old Yeller’s pups and names it Young Yeller.

If Young Yeller wants to last as long as his predecessor … we would suggest he figure out a way to beat LeBron James.





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