Coming off of an unbelievably disappointing 2010-11 season in which the Toronto Raptors finished with a 22-60 record, the atmosphere surrounding the franchise reflected the overall success of the team, and only a year removed from the departure of Chris Bosh, optimism for the future was scarce.
The following summer, then-Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo knew it was time for the franchise to make another change, and whether fair or not, Jay Triano was dismissed and Dwane Casey was named as Toronto’s new head coach.
Instead of spending the fall of 2011 instilling his philosophies and preparing for the extremely long climb back to relevance however, a lockout-shortened training camp was all that Casey had to work with prior to the start of the abbreviated 66-game season that would be his first as the Toronto’s new bench boss.
In keeping with their inability to move beyond a dismal existence, the Raptors finished the 2011-12 regular season with a 23-43 record, good for fourth in the Atlantic and 11th in the East. But there were signs of progression and things were slowly starting to look up, even if the improvements failed to show themselves on the court.
Last season, Casey’s second with the Raptors, Toronto struggled to finish 10th in the East and tied the Philadelphia 76ers for dead-last in the Atlantic Division. Pedestrian on their best nights, Casey and company posted a 21-20 mark on their home floor, but were undone by a 13-28 record on the road and ended the campaign 34-48 overall.
While the arrival of Rudy Gay distracted fans from the painful reality for at least a couple of minutes, the start of a new season brought the truth back into the forefront as if it was ever gone. The Raptors would at the very best finish the 2013-14 campaign with a top-five draft pick after another year of losing, and start to rebuild — or just plain build all over again.
But through a combination of hard work, sheer determination and endless amounts of patience, Casey saw what little upside this team had at times and remained confident that the Raptors were only a few key moves away from playing some real basketball.
Since the December deal that changed everything in Toronto and launched the Raptors into a heated playoff race, the chemistry that has fuelled this team is the result of Casey’s hard work. As a fitting reward, Wednesday night’s win over the Houston Rockets marked his 100th with the franchise.
Never expected them to be where they currently are. The Raptors are now within reach of a new franchise-high in victories, positioned to win their second division crown, and headed for the postseason for the first time since 2008. But as of now, there’s no contract in place for Casey beyond this season, and if Toronto wants 2014 to be more than the exception, signing him to a long-term deal has to be the team’s top priority this summer.