The vibe at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday morning after the conclusion of the Toronto Raptors practice was an odd one. With the team sitting at 4-19, there is a feeling that something is about to happen. Tension was in the air and words were carefully considered before being spoken.
According to multiple sources, a meeting of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment board took place on Thursday to discuss the state of the team.
It remains unknown what was discussed, who called it or whether the meeting was pre-scheduled. One team source described it as “a quick update” and that it involved team President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo giving the board a briefing on where the team currently stands.
With both coach Dwane Casey and general manager Bryan Colangelo taking heat over the Raptors disappointing start, some veteran Raptors players voiced their support for Casey and the job he has done with the team through their rough start to this season.
Third-year forward Ed Davis spoke with Sportsnet before the Raptors took on the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night and pointed to the even-keeled demeanor Casey has displayed throughout the struggles of the season.
“I think he’s done a great job,” Davis said. “Just starting with him being the same, not changing. Some coaches they might come in and don’t speak. He always speaks to everybody, he’s always been the same, the whole way since the first day that he got here and that helps a lot.”
For a squad that has won just four times over a 23-game stretch to start the season, staying together in the locker room is crucial. Once a team begins to splinter internally, it can be impossible to patch it together again. Davis feels Casey’s approach has worked to prevent this from happening amid the losses piling up.
“(Casey)’s not pointing the finger, saying it’s this person, it’s this person,” Davis explained. “He’s not putting the blame off on people.”
Fourth-year swingman DeMar DeRozan echoed Davis’ thoughts after practice on Thursday.
“It’s teaching you every day,” DeRozan said about Casey’s coaching methodology throughout the losing streak. “He’s not letting up on a dude just because he’s tired… just staying on you. Stuff like that. It’s what helped us last year to be a good defensive team. Just staying on us, besides everything. It’s been tough for him. With all the injuries to key players and he’s still teaching us and working us at the same time. Once we get everybody back, I’m happy that Alan (Anderson) should be able to go tomorrow, little steps like that is going to help us out.”
Anderson went through his first full practice on Thursday and the team is hopeful he will be able to be in uniform against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday but there is a lot that needs to happen for this team to be able to right its course. After a 32-point loss against the Utah Jazz last Friday night, the team had a closed-doors locker room meeting. Both DeRozan and Davis felt it helped.
“A lot said between us and only we can say to each other,” DeRozan explained. “Other times when you have meetings it’s kind of a team meeting or something, that’s self explanatory. What we had in Utah, that was between us, like a family.”
Davis mentioned the openness that the meeting gave the team, with players and coaches airing their points of view and opinions.
“It’s definitely good when you can give the coach advice and say it in front of everyone and not behind closed doors,” Davis said. “Coach is saying things in front of everyone and not behind closed doors. Little things like that help. It’s always, when things go wrong, you always try to figure out what’s wrong and we did it in front of everyone. We didn’t do it, like, me talking to DeMar saying, ‘I think it’s this person or that,’ we did it out in the open and I think that helped.”
Having spent his first two seasons in the NBA being coached by Jay Triano before Casey was hired by the Raptors, DeRozan knows all too well the backtracking that occurs when a new coach is hired. In addition to putting his support behind Casey, he also talked about the importance of having stability with respect to the head coaching position.
“It’s important because it’s tough going coach to coach,” DeRozan said. “It was tough last year even though we did well on the defensive end you still struggle at parts, you’re still learning. Coach is definitely good for us. Once we get everything back into play we’ll be fine.”
DeRozan also elaborated on the rough luck the team has had on the injury front after losing Landry Fields and Anderson in early November and currently playing without Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani.
“We really haven’t had a full…nothing…with everybody,” DeRozan said of the injury woes the team has battled through.
Despite the reality of their record, the players in the Raptors locker room continue to believe that they are better than what it shows and DeRozan credits Casey with keeping things positive.
“He’s definitely been on us, but one thing he has been trying to keep us positive out of everything,” DeRozan said. “It’s easy to do whatever, to throw in the towel and not still be able to fight, like last night [with eight available bodies against Brooklyn], we had every excuse in the world. We could have went out and laid down, but you know. Just keeping us positive and keeping us working hard.”
While rumours will continue to swirl and tension will remain in the air, DeRozan and Davis will continue to trust in their coach and what he’s trying to build with them.
Asked if he feels that Casey’s defensive schemes still work, despite the team’s regression on that end of the floor this season, DeRozan nodded.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. We’ve just got to stick to it and stay to it. Simple as that. That’s all we’ve got to do.”
Whether they will have the chance to do this — like so many things surrounding this team — currently remains up in the air.