Casey, Biyombo among Raptors with most at stake down the stretch

The Raptors' players and coaches have plenty to gain—and lose—over the next two months.

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As we head into the home stretch of the regular season, there is a natural tendency to look forward to the playoffs, and then, of course, this summer. After all, whatever happens in the off-season will be largely dictated by what takes place over the next two months. And, just like fans, NBA GMs best remember—and value— the players and coaches who have success in the playoffs.

And it’s likely no team has as much on the line between now and when the Larry O’Brien trophy is hoisted than the Toronto Raptors. Which is particularly interesting given that they’ve had easily the most successful season in franchise history.

Two metrics that all NBA coaches put a great emphasis on is scoring margin and home court win-loss record. Coaches swear by these indicators, and the Raptors sit comfortably in the Top 5 for both. Yet, as I speak to those around the league, few are willing to give Toronto the credit that, at least on paper, they appear to deserve. A strong playoff run will go a long way to change perceptions of the men on the Raptors sidelines; another bad showing and they’re league standing can suffer another blow. With questions of free agency and job security lingering like a dark cloud over the Raptors’ future, let’s take a closer look at what’s at stake:

DeMar DeRozan

Impending free-agent DeMar DeRozan has earned his max contract. From everything I’ve heard has made it very clear he has no intention of leaving (which, incidentally, would cause him to leave money behind). I had a client on the Raptors during DeMar’s rookie season. I’ve watched develop from a raw athlete to a player who does whatever he can to impact winning. He is just special and, as I’ve written before, worth breaking the bank for.

Bismack Biyombo

Given his play of late and his player option for a measly $3 million next year, it’s safe to say that Bismack Biyombo has increased his open market value considerably.

Which is interesting because prior to arriving in Toronto, Biyombo was never held in high regard around the NBA—he just hadn’t shown an ability to do anything that stood out. For those who scouted him during his draft year, it was their worst fears realized.

His agent at the time overthought the draft process and wouldn’t let Biyombo work out for any teams. Instead, he arranged a solo workout during a break in sessions at the Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy. Over my years I have learned if you really want to piss off a GM before the draft, tell him you won’t let your client work out against anyone else—only assistant coaches and pylons. Nothing infuriates them more.

In Biyombo’s case it was a strange decision given that his skillset cannot be clearly displayed in an empty gym and a ball in his hands; the running joke for years among people who had saw this infamous Treviso workout was that Biyombo played 1 vs. 0 and lost. In some ways, that stink stuck to him for the first part of his career.

To Biyombo’s credit he’s been able to start fresh in Toronto and has really stood out. In a 7-game playoff series you can envision him as a player who can take advantage of the right matchup and put up monster numbers, using that performance to propel him into signing a lucrative contract that will make fans say, “They paid who what now?” (Note: that is going to happen a lot this summer…)

Luis Scola

In Scola’s case he is a player who is clearly nearing the end of his career. But he’s also a very skilled offensive player and if NBA GM’s can be blinded by one thing, it’s high-level offensive numbers in the playoffs.

If he can score consistently in the post-season, he’ll create a market of multiple teams that will drive his value up in both price and years. A good comparison is Vince Carter a few years ago in Dallas. Carter had a decent year, but played really well in the playoffs (even if it was in a series his team ended up losing). He averaged 12.5 points per game, hit a game-winning shot, and translated that into a three-year deal from another team that didn’t really do their homework; Memphis has been looking for ways out of Vince’s deal pretty much since it started.

Scola’s success in Toronto is has been surprising to me. He has a reputation of being a great teammate but definitely a highly opinionated and vocal person. When they both played in Houston, it was an open secret that he and Kyle Lowry really didn’t like each other. I really thought that this would be a down year for him, but to his credit he has found and filled a great role. As a result, he’s in a position to solidify a muti-year deal and force a team to overpay based on a small sample size in the playoffs.

Dwane Casey

To me, this is the most interesting case of all. What will happen with Dwane Casey? He is a clear example of a coach who has learned on the job and gotten better for it. But there is a very clear hurdle in place for him when it comes to getting out of the first round of the playoffs. All of my interactions with him confirm the widely held belief around the league that Casey is an all-time human being, truly loved among his peers.

But he’s a coach who at times very clearly shows pressure and stress, and the players who play for him pick up on that. The Raptors franchise as a whole has shown signs of inexperience during the last two playoffs they’ve appeared in, and those distractions definitely impact the players. During Casey’s Toronto tenure a lot has been changed around Casey during his Toronto tenure. You’d be hard-pressed to find another head coach who has had as many assistants come and go—without any of them accepting head coaching positions— yet the team has had sustained success. If everything around him changes but the playoff results stay the same, the next thing to change will be obvious to everyone, Casey included.

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