Almost every morning, little inspirational messages would pop up on the telephone screens of Raptors players and management.
“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power” one might say.
“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely” might be the message from another.
They were meant to inspire, inform and educate, to provoke thought and perhaps discussion and were just another layer to one of the most intriguing coaches the Raptors have ever employed.
There are myriad ways that Dwane Casey put his stamp on the team and now there will be more time to peel back those layers since the organization has already decided to pick up the third-year option on his contract.
It is a move that should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the team in Casey’s first year, a season that didn’t include too much success but one that was loaded with improvement.
Everyone in the NBA knew he could coach; that he was such an outstanding leader was the most surprising thing about his one season with the team.
“I learned a little bit about his tenacity and his unwillingness to accept anything less than the best,” president and general manager Bryan Colangelo said after announcing that Casey will be around for at least two more seasons.
He took every possible moment, good and bad, to use as a teaching moment. After a big win, if he had something to say that was constructive and was going to help someone get better, he would make sure the positive things were heard but also he needed to make sure that those constructive things were heard.
“I think every day that the guys sat in front of him in that locker room . . . there was meaning to what he was saying, there was an impact to what he was saying.”
Casey’s impact was felt far beyond the Xs and Os that are often the lifeblood of a coach. Yes, he made a historically inept defensive team more than adequate; he coaxed 23 wins out of a roster of youngsters not familiar with what it takes to win consistently in the NBA.
But the level at which Casey reached his players was more significant. He treated them as men, challenged them when necessary, criticized them when it was warranted but — always — he did it with respect and with a larger goal in mind.
“He tells you straight up what he thinks about you, what he has to say,” said Andrea Bargnani, who probably improved more this past season than anyone in Casey’s charge.
“He talks straight up. Everything is good.”
Casey arrived in Toronto last summer not knowing what to expect. He knew the Raptors mainly by reputation and that was as a group that treated defence like it was cholera. He vowed to “change the culture” and then proceeded to do just that. The team’s offence may not have been the most creative or impressive ever but there is no denying the Raptors were a vastly improved defensive team.
Because the coach knew what he wanted to do and was unwavering in his pursuit of it.
“I learned that . . . what I believe in, what I know, my instincts, my gut were true to me,” he said. “I found out that these young men that we had this year are great guys. They wanted to be coached. They allowed our coaching staff to do a great job. They allowed us to coach them. It just lets you know all players in the NBA, they do want to be coached. They want to be held accountable and treated like men. That’s basically what I learned, to go with my gut.”