Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri all but confirmed that coach Dwane Casey would receive a contract extension. Casey is the fourth-longest-tenured coach in the NBA, having been in Toronto since 2011. Under his guidance, the Raptors have gone from the lottery to the Eastern Conference finals, though there have been stumbles -- most notably a first-round sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards last season -- along the way.
"I've had discussions with his agent," Ujiri said on Monday. "We continue to discuss. But coach Casey is our coach for the future. I think that's very easy for us to figure out. That'll be done in our sleep, I think."
Before the playoffs began, Ujiri gave Casey a vote of confidence, saying that he had earned the right to return based on Toronto's 56-win regular season and his growth as a coach. When the second-seeded Raptors struggled against the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers in the first round, there were doubts about whether or not Ujiri would stick to his guns.
"I sat here, I know everybody thought I was BSing when I said coach deserves to be the coach here," Ujiri said. "I believed in this team is what I said before we went into that series. You kind of know from your guys what you've gone through the whole regular season. You've been in fights and battles with them. I don't know what the outcome is going to be. You really know where you can rely on them. Honestly, we knew this from these guys. They showed it to us the last three years. It's why we keep going and going and trying and giving them the best opportunity and putting them in the best place that we can. I cannot say if we lost that series, I can't say what would have happened, because we didn't lose it."
The Raptors have a team option on the final year of Casey's contract. It would not be unprecedented for them to decline it after their best season in franchise history, but it would be shocking. While Toronto was inconsistent in the playoffs, it won two Game 7s and it beat the Cleveland Cavaliers twice at the Air Canada Centre. Casey's approach and adjustments deserve credit for that.
When Casey arrived, Andrea Bargnani was the Raptors' No. 1 option and DeMar DeRozan was in his third season. They were coming off a season in which they had won 22 games and finished dead last in defensive rating. Casey has created a defense-first culture, survived a front-office makeover and helped Toronto change its reputation.
"It's one of those things where you've seen the bad, the good, we're sitting in a new facility that we never thought we'd see," Casey said on Saturday. "This program has come such a long way from day one to what I've seen now. The team, I looked at our roster that we had the first year I was here, no disrespect to those guys, but totally different than the team that's here now. The growth: DeMar DeRozan's improvement, Kyle Lowry's improvement, Terrence Ross, everything -- the organization, the players -- has grown, gotten better. And that's the way this league is."
The league is also unkind to coaches who take over rebuilding teams. This appears it to be an exception.