Well, it’s official. After seven seasons Dwane Casey is no longer the head coach of the Toronto Raptors.
The news came down on Friday morning, just two days after team president Masai Ujiri held a press conference and said, “Coach Casey has been unbelievable for our organization … What these guys have done will remain in history for this organization, and I think we have to respect that.”
But in retrospect the writing was on the wall. When pressed to give a definitive answer on whether or not he intends to keep Casey behind the bench next season, Ujiri only offered the following: “I’ve said what I’ll say about that. I said I’m evaluating everything, and that’s where I’ll leave it.”
So here we are.
Where do the Raptors go from here? Here are potential candidates for the Toronto Raptors head coaching position:
If Ujiri and the Raptors aren’t looking to make significant changes on the court, but simply want a fresh voice in charge, Nurse is the man. He’s been considered a coveted future head coaching candidate for a couple of years now and would offer the team a degree of continuity by being promoted from within the organization.
Nurse joined Casey’s staff in 2013 after coaching the Rio Valley Grand Vipers to a D-League championship. He’s been on the Raptors throughout his entire NBA career, and as a defacto offensive coordinator, was instrumental in implementing the changes to the team’s playing style this season.
According to reports, Budenholzer is already a front-runner for the Raptors’ head coaching gig.
A former Spurs assistant coaching under Gregg Popovich — one of the most reliable coaching incubators — Budenholzer made a name for himself as the bench boss of the Atlanta Hawks, leading them to a 60-win season in 2015, and earning Coach of the Year honours in the process.
But if the problem was that Casey failed to get his team past LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Budenholzer would be a somewhat puzzling replacement given his Hawks teams, despite their success in the regular season, were swept by Cleveland in consecutive years between 2015 and 2016.
There’s a belief that Ujiri is not keen on acquiring a rookie head coach to take over his team. If that’s the case, it would rule out Stackhouse, who is otherwise another Casey disciple pegged as a future NBA head coach.
Stackhouse has proven his ability in the G League, where he’s coached Raptors 905 to two straight appearances in the final (including a title in 2017). Perhaps his strongest selling point is he’s formed a bond with the Raptors’ young high-potential players like Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, and Fred VanVleet, all of whom excelled playing under Stackhouse with the 905. If the Raptors want to continue to make major changes and look to build around their youth for the future, Stackhouse makes a lot of sense.
The lack of a strong female presence continues to be a black mark in the world of sports.
Ujiri has been a very vocal proponent and recognizes the importance of providing women opportunities in the realm. He’s sure to give Hammon serious consideration in making her the first female head coach in the NBA — which she deserves for the simple fact that she is a very good coach with a bright future.
A current assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, Hammon has earned the respect and admiration from her players. Earlier on Friday Spurs, veteran Pau Gasol penned an article outlining just that.
“I’ve been in the NBA for 17 years,” Gasol wrote. “I’ve won two championships … I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.”
A nine-year NBA veteran, Williams has experience as a player as well as in the front office and on the sidelines.
He coached the New Orleans Hornets (later Pelicans) for five seasons between 2010-2015, making the post-season twice, before joining the Oklahoma City Thunder coaching staff.
Williams stepped down from coaching in 2016 shortly after his wife was tragically killed in a car accident, but is reportedly ready to return to coaching and has already been interviewed by the Milwaukee Bucks.
It wasn’t long ago that Vogel was considered one of the brightest young coaching minds in the NBA. He was instrumental in the Indiana Pacers’ success a few years back, leading the Pacers to two straight East Finals in 2013 and 2014.
Like Budenholzer, Vogel is another coach who has been beaten by LeBron James, losing each of those series to the James-led Miami Heat. But they were hard-fought series that went to seven and six games, respectively.
Vogel moved to the Orlando Magic two years ago, taking on a young team in the midst of a total rebuild. Under Vogel the Magic were more competitive than they deserved to be given their roster last season, but the team went in a different direction and he was let go.
There are a number of current assistants warranting promotion. In addition to Nurse and Hammon, others include the Spurs’ Ettore Messina, the Hornets’ Stephen Silas, and Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov.
One assistant who flies slightly further under the radar is Jarron Collins, officially a member of the Golden State Warriors coaching staff since 2015. He would be another rookie head coach, but Collins brings experience from an extensive playing career, and, more importantly, experience behind the bench of an NBA championship team to the Raptors.
Every summer there is a list of college coaches worthy of a promotion to the big leagues. And right now you can’t do much better than Wright, who is fresh off his second NCAA Tournament title in three years.
Wright has a very strong connection to one of his former players, Kyle Lowry, and if Ujiri elects to keep his core intact that pairing could pay dividends.
The track record for college coaches taking over NBA teams in recent years is somewhat rocky — Billy Donovan has been hot-and-cold with the Thunder — but there is one shining example of the best-case scenario in Brad Stevens.