I fear that we will never get closure in this city when it comes to Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors which is:
• Predictable and;
• Perfectly fine, really, plus;
• Something that makes me wonder what it will be like if Mike Babcock’s tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs plays out the same way? What if the Boston Bruins really are his LeBron James? And, since we’re rattling down the track here at an alarming rate because it’s all fun and games: who will be the Leafs’ Kawhi Leonard should Babs get turfed? Admit it … you’ve thought about it.
Casey and his Detroit Pistons rolled through town this week, which meant the obligatory addressing of the Raptors’ championship by the man who had coached the team for seven seasons and was unable to do what Nick Nurse did in his first season as Casey’s replacement – albeit with the benefit of Leonard’s addition and James’ exit from the Eastern Conference, coupled with the exit of Kevin Durant from the final. These are all, of course, indisputable facts that say nothing more or anything less about Casey or Nurse because all that any head coach can ever do is deal with the challenges presented.
Casey didn’t exactly put himself out there publicly during the Raptors’ drive to the title, and kept his powder dry for the most part until this week, other than an interview in Detroit in which he expressed the opinion that the Raptors’ title “reinforced what I was doing,” by “running the same offence, defence … same philosophy.” It’s hard not to see Casey’s DNA in this title team: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan became all-stars under him, Pascal Siakam and Fred Van Vleet cut their teeth under him. I mean … if DeRozan doesn’t become the player he’s become there’s no way in hell he’s traded for Leonard, right? It’s remarkable how the notion exists that credit can’t be shared. Morgan Rielly gets drafted on Brian Burke’s watch … Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., gets a cheque cut by Alex Anthopoulos and is guided through the minors and into the major leagues by the folks who replaced Anthopoulos. Nothing’s pre-destined. Somebody starts these things and sometimes somebody else needs to continue these things and then somebody else needs to finish them.
I felt bad for Casey. I feel bad for Casey. The questions needed to be asked and answered because it’s part of the narrative because there have been many suggestions made sotto voce that Casey and Nurse don’t like each other and that Casey believes he was done no favors by president Masai Ujiiri. Casey was right when he told Toronto reporters last week that “I can’t say anything right.” He sounded salty saying he wasn’t salty because there are some narratives that stand the test of time or truth. Some narratives that just fit together too well.
Time has a way of taking the edge of things, even in this city. Last season’s title helped the Raptors address their history and maybe tie some loose ends. Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter back in the arena as welcomed guests with the notion of some sort of formal settling of the historical account with Carter no longer an impossibility. It will most likely take Ujiiri and Nurse moving on from here for the settling of all family business with Casey, if it ever does. Face it: we’re not used to quibbling over the responsibility/credit for titles in this city.
QUIBBLES AND BITS:
• Of the NHL’s 31 teams, 10 went into Sunday’s game with a player aged 23 or under either leading them in scoring or being tied for the lead: that includes the Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks …
• If, as expected, the Houston Astros lose Gerrit Cole do not be surprised if they make a big play for San Francisco Giants free-agent Madison Bumgarner, who has no doubt noticed the renaissance Justin Verlander has undergone once given access to the Astros technology …
• Normally I’d be predisposed toward feeling empathy for the Cleveland Browns and their star-crossed history and put-upon fans, but between finding Baker Mayfield tiresome and seeing Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr., decide selfishly that it would be good yuks to challenge the NFL’s – admittedly fascist – dress code the way they did on Sunday … I don’t know. There seems to be a pronounced lack of professionalism and focus to that group. The cleats thing seems more “look at how ironic I am,” than “fight the power.” Jermaine Whitehead gets waived for unnecessary roughness on Twitter. This is a toxic franchise full of players that seem to spend a great deal of time navel-gazing and making personal statements …
• If you thought losing Danny Green and Leonard would throw the Raptors’ starting lineup into nightly turmoil, you thought wrong. Coach Nurse has used the same starting lineup in all six games this season (OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Fred Van Vleet and Kyle Lowry) and the last time the Raptors used the same starting five in five consecutive games, let alone six, was Nov. 1-12, 2017. This will be a testing week for that trend, as the Raptors play five games in a span of eight days, four of which are on the road including back to back games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers …
• One area in which the Raptors need upgrading is turnovers: they’re averaging 18.3 per game, tied for 24th in the NBA and four more per game than in 2018-2019 when they were 15th …
• Donald Trump gets booed at a UFC Neanderthal-fest this weekend? If he’s losing the knuckle-dragging vote, perhaps there is hope ..
• You know what I just can’t get used to? NBA coaches, such as Nurse, sporting caps with personal logos. I guess my question is: Why? Just, why?
• Note to the Washington Nationals: stop it. You’re acting like hockey players. Nothing is more tawdry than guzzling domestically produced light beer.
• THE ENDGAME: Agent Scott Boras just became one of the most important men in Washington, D.C. this weekend, when clients Anthony Rendon filed for free agency and Stephen Strasburg left $100 million guaranteed over four years on the table and exercised his opt-out clause with the Nationals. Neither move came as a shock, really: Boras usually takes his clients to free agency and urges them to opt out, and in Strasburg’s case, there’s a danger in assuming it means that he won’t be back on a new deal. First, Boras negotiated the current extension (seven years) in 2016, delaying Strasburg’s free agency. He has been able to do business with the Lerner family, who own the Nationals, although it is notable that it was on Mark Lerner’s watch – not that of his father, Ted – that Bryce Harper was allowed to leave. Harper, too, is a Boras client. Strasburg is known to like the D.C. area and is said to be fond of the stability of the situation. A cynic might wonder if with Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Kuechel – two more Boras clients – also free agents, this isn’t an attempt by Boras to maximize his leverage with other teams. Boras, of course, also represents the other Nationals free-agent of consequence, Rendon, and that is another complicating factor since it’s unlikely the Nationals sign both.
Jeff Blair hosts Writers Bloc with Stephen Brunt and Richard Deitsch from 2-5 p.m. on Sportsnet 590/The Fan and Sportsnet 360. Available wherever you get your podcasts.