The Raptors set a franchise record with 59 regular-season wins. It was yet another successful regular season campaign for Dwane Casey and Toronto. Since taking over as coach in 2011, Casey has helped oversee the Raptors' rise from one of the league's bottom-dwellers to a perennial playoff contender.
To many, this season was Casey's best coaching job to date. He overhauled the offense, had one of the best, most well-used benches in the NBA and convinced stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to sacrifice for the team as a whole. As a result of all of the success, Casey has earned praise as potential favorite for Coach of the Year.
Despite all this, Casey's lack of playoff success has left many wondering if his days in Toronto are numbered. The Raptors have always been a bit of a disappointment in the postseason. Their first two playoff appearances under Casey featured first-round exits despite being the higher seed and they've been eliminated by LeBron James and the Cavaliers the past three postseasons. Two of those three eliminations were sweeps in the second round.
Those sweeps might have been the last straw. Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported before the Raptors were swept by the Cavs that executives around the NBA were expecting Casey to be fired at the end of this playoff run despite a very successful regular season.
Executives around the league anticipate that the Raptors will make a coaching change, though there are no guarantees after Toronto's success this regular season. In addition to the candidates being interviewed by other teams with openings, the Raptors have three internal candidates—assistants Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian, and G League coach Jerry Stackhouse—that could be promoted to head coach. Nurse spoke with the Suns and Hornets about their head-coach vacancies, according to multiple reports, and is widely considered by executives to be one of the best assistants in the league. Nurse, not Casey, is credited with leading the charge in changing the offensive system. If Casey is told to take care, Nurse should be the favorite for his position.
After the Raptors were eliminated on Monday, Josh Lewenberg of TSN reported that the Raptors are strongly leaning towards moving on from Casey as their coach.
With his team fresh off another disappointing postseason exit, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has some hard decisions to make over the coming months. Head coach Dwane Casey is expected to be the first domino to fall.
The evaluation period is ongoing but, according to sources, the Raptors are strongly leaning towards making a coaching change.
Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun confirmed the reports about Casey's future. He notes that the Raptors could look at internal options like Nick Nurse, one of Casey's assistants, and Jerry Stackhouse, the coach of the Raptors 905 G League team, to replace Casey if the team moves in a different direction.
This is what I'm hearing too, barring a last-minute Masai change of heart. Would expect Nick Nurse to take over, he's due, but Stackhouse is the wildcard. Not a better person in the NBA than Dwane Casey and he's by far the best coach the Toronto Raptors have ever had. https://t.co/eo6thXqZcq— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) May 8, 2018
It would be a little odd for Toronto to promote someone internally, if it chooses to move on from Casey. Every coach comes with their own ideas and style, but typically the only way to really have a coaching reset is to get someone from outside of the organization. However, Masai Ujiri has earned enough respect at this point that he can make any hire he wants. Nurse has also been a hot coaching name in the carousel of rumors this summer so he's clearly respected around the league as a potential coach.
It's stunning to even think that a coach can win as many games as Casey has and immediately get the boot, but it really does feel like the Raptors have finally hit their ceiling with him as a coach. Toronto can flip around as many pieces as it wants, but once the Raptors run into LeBron James and the Cavs, all those changes stop mattering. Casey has been unable to beat Cleveland.
Let's say the Raptors do move on from Casey and hire someone else. Will that really matter? Are the Raptors a good-enough team that a new coach will be enough to meet the new expectations that were set for them? Firing Casey feels like it would just be covering a broken bone with a bandage.
Making this entire situation even more awkward is Casey's chances of being awarded Coach of the Year honors. This season was seen by many as the best coaching job of his career. If he wins the award, and the Raptors fire him, he'll be the first coach to win Coach of the Year and still get fired since George Karl in 2012-13.