TORONTO — On a day Dwane Casey was honoured by his peers as this season’s finest coach in the NBA, his job security in Toronto remained a mystery.
Hours after Casey won the Michael H. Goldberg coach of the year award, which is handed out by the National Basketball Coaches Association, the 61-year-old was questioned about his future in Toronto after the Raptors were ushered out of the post-season by Cleveland for the third straight year.
Will he be back next season?
"Nobody’s told me any differently and until they do, I’m still here, still fighting, still scratching, still meeting with players, and that’s all I can do," Casey said. "They haven’t changed my key lock. Door still opens. I had some meetings with Masai (Ujiri) talking about what we can do better, what we can do better next year to get over the hump. Until that changes, I’m still here."
The NBCA award is separate from the NBA’s Red Auerbach Trophy as top coach, presented June 25 and voted on by media around the league. Casey is the front-runner for that award as well.
Casey led the Raptors to a franchise-record 59 victories in the regular season, including 34 wins at home. That secured Toronto its fifth Atlantic Division title and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
But LeBron James and his Cavaliers undid all the positivity of the regular season in four second-round games, prompting cries of "same old Raptors."
Ujiri was noncommittal about Casey’s future on Wednesday, except to say he’ll evaluate everything about the organization in the coming days and weeks.
"Coach Casey has been unbelievable for our organization and I treat it the same exact way that we’ve done every year, including the years that we’ve done well — to go back and look at everything," the Raptors president said at Biosteel Centre. "I’m having conversations with coach Casey, same exact way I had conversations with him last year, two years ago."
The Raptors’ historic season came after Ujiri called for a "culture reset" last off-season.
He joked in Wednesday’s traditional season-ending press conference, saying off the top: "I can’t pull the culture reset off this year, can I?"
Under Ujiri’s reset, the Raptors revamped their offence around improved three-point shooting and better ball movement, and focused on developing the bench. The Raptors’ second unit became the envy of the league, and Toronto was the only team in the playoffs that had finished in the top five in both offence and defence in the regular season.
"What these guys have done will remain in history in this organization. No question about it. I think we have to respect that. Forget the noise and what everybody says," Ujiri said. "It’s incredible where we’ve come in the last five years — and that’s not a pat on the back — but we go through stages of winning, and maybe we’re going through a stage. I believe in this. I believe in the city.
"When people talk about greats, they come and go. Kobe came and went, Jordan. Casey will come and go, I will, Kyle (Lowry). But Toronto basketball will be here for 100 years and will stay here. Anyone who wants to poke fun, hey, we’re proud of the moments we’ve spent here, and we’re really proud of what’s going to come after this."
But Ujiri believes these playoffs showed the Raptors were a step closer to their goal of reaching the NBA finals. He pointed to Game 1 against Cleveland, with its numerous potential game-turning moments. The Raptors never trailed in regulation, but lost by a point in overtime, undone by so many near misses it was almost comical — along with an officiating gaffe. Had Toronto opened the series with a win, they might have written a different second-round story, Ujiri believes.
"There was a level of that game that was shock, and I hate to criticize anything, but I tell you the margin of error is this small," he said. "I don’t know how many people feel it as much as these guys feel it, I don’t know what other jobs are like this where it’s all comes down to wins and losses.
"If a flagrant foul is called and looked at, does it go a different way? I don’t know," added Ujiri, referencing Kevin Love’s elbow on DeMar DeRozan in the final minute that the officials refused to review, but admitted the next day they’d got it wrong. The right call would have given DeRozan two free throws and Toronto possession of the ball.
"I know one thing, we’ve come to a point in this league where we deserved for us to go look at that play. So that might not be the reason. We missed a hundred layups, we had 400 turnovers. But all I’m saying is the margin of error is this small and that’s the playoffs."
Losing to Cleveland for a third straight season made Toronto a laughing stock on social media. LeBronto was trending on Twitter.
But Ujiri said his belief in the team, which was the second-youngest in the playoffs, hasn’t faltered.
"There was a point where we’re trying to make the playoffs, trying to make the playoffs, trying to make the playoffs, and now we’re in there and we’re trying to success in the playoffs," he said.
"Maybe it’s the stage that we’re going to go through. Because you know what? People can make fun of anything they want on the internet, make fun of the team, make fun of getting beat and all that stuff. Hey, one team in the NBA is going to win the NBA championship and 29 teams are going to be disappointed and we’re one of them."