After years of the Raptors faithful calling for change following a steady string of post-season disappointments, Toronto’s front office has officially spurred a new era.
Franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan is off to San Antonio, while Toronto will soon see the debut of one of the game’s unequivocal best, Kawhi Leonard, at Scotiabank Arena. And yet, fans remain divided on cutting DeRozan loose, even with a premier talent like Leonard set to don Raptors colours.
So too is Dwane Casey, the Raptors’ head coach from 2011 up until this summer. The veteran coach has an intimate understanding of the emotion involved in losing DeRozan — perhaps the most important figure in the franchise’s history. But Casey said he feels the prize won in the blockbuster swap is a tough one to turn down.
“For DeMar DeRozan, that’s a hard pill to swallow,” Casey said on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Prime Time Sports Wednesday. “Like him or love him, if you have any passion for the Toronto Raptors, it’s almost like losing the Vince Carter — from a fan standpoint.
“From a pure basketball standpoint, it’s hard to say you wouldn’t want Kawhi Leonard on your team.”
Casey wasn’t sparse with his praise for the newest Raptors star, particularly in regards to Leonard’s potential to solve one of the organization’s most persistent weaknesses.
“We were fourth in defence, I think, last year — now, you can get to first,” Casey said. “It’s about matchups, and the problem we had just went west … If you’re putting Kawhi Leonard against LeBron James, you’ll take that matchup all day. And I’m sure it doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out.
“You’re talking about, before the injury and the situation Kawhi was in in San Antonio, one of the top 3-and-D players in the game, along with LeBron James. You’d put him right up there with him. What coach wouldn’t want that.”
That said, Casey acknowledged that the swap doesn’t come without potential snags.
“The big question mark’s going to be, is he going to be healthy? Is he going to stay there?” the new Detroit Pistons coach told Sportsnet 590. “If he does, it’s a big coup for the front office and management. But those are huge questions, a huge rolling of the dice from that standpoint.
“You’ve got to look at Kawhi’s mindset. Most of all, his health. Is he going to be 100 per cent healthy? I don’t think anybody can answer that question until he runs out on the floor.”
On the other end of the deal, DeRozan will head to Texas to begin a new chapter in his career, looking to quell the doubters who feel he’s reached his ceiling. The coach who had him for the past seven years isn’t buying the criticism.
“I laugh with people because I heard the same things with Dirk Nowitzki — he doesn’t play defence, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that,” Casey said of DeRozan. “But what he does do — he gets buckets. … DeMar had his flaws, but he contributed to winning in Toronto.”
Casey’s belief in DeRozan extends beyond his abilities on the floor, however. It’s the Compton, Calif., native’s commitment to Toronto and the Raptors organization that truly endeared him to his former coach.
“I go to bat with people that are loyal to me. DeMar, Kyle [Lowry], that group was loyal — they laid it on the line for five years,” Casey said. “It’s up to ownership and management to want to get better, and they feel like they got better by firing me and trading DeMar, so it’s their prerogative.
“That’s why you own the team, that’s why you run the team. That’s why you’re in this game in the front office. Those decisions, I leave to them.”
Watch Dwane Casey’s full interview on Prime Time Sports at the top of this post, as the former Raptors coach talks Danny Green’s defensive skill, Jakob Poeltl’s potential, and whether he’d choose three years of DeRozan over one year of Leonard.