"Culture change" is an overused cliche in sports, especially in the NBA where chemistry is essentially everything. But it's also a necessity when teams stagnate -- whether they are loaded with talent or not. For the Raptors, what Casey seems to have instilled may just transcend this particular edition of Toronto's basketball team.
Statistics don't tell you everything. The entire league's field goal percentage is down this year because of some of the atrocious basketball played in a compressed period of time due to the lockout. There is also a fallacy that pops up occasionally, saying the Raptors' franchise never played defence before Casey's arrival. It's not true -- under Kevin O'Neill in 2003-04, Toronto gave up only 88.5 points per game with opponents shooting under 43% -- both team records.
Like this 2012 squad, it was a bad team. But unlike this squad, it was going in the opposite direction. Of course the other big problem was O'Neill was a certifiable lunatic. Like Casey however, he demanded accountability from his players. Only this time, it's a young team willing to listen and accept that.
Best Raptors coach?
There's been a lot of talk over the past week about Casey being the best coach in Raptors history. It's clearly too early to make that proclamation, but what we've seen this season was something different in Raptorland. Butch Carter can currently lay claim to that meaningless title, but not unlike O'Neill he was mostly undone by some bizarre off-the-floor antics.
With this installment, just about every night this season, this team showed up and played hard. The inconsistencies -- such as beating Boston Friday in an undermanned Hoosiers-like effort and losing to the Hawks Monday with an offensive disappearing act in the second half -- were fewer (and part and parcel of a young team).
One of the most entertaining things about the NBA and it's community of rabid fans is how quickly a No. 1 pick like Andrea Bargnani can become a punch line. Had anybody suggested last summer that the seven-foot Italian would become competent -- let alone solid -- defensively, it would have drawn a chorus of laughs. Picking apart Bargnani's season, you can't ignore the calf injury and his less-than-ideal return from it, before being shut down. But his marked improvement in that defensive area -- in terms of effort, positioning and help defence -- did not occur in the previous five years under two other NBA head coaches.
No surprise, but Toronto is still a ways from true contention. Whatever happens next, be it trade possibilities (probably not Jose Calderon), free agency and the draft -- which is pointless to project until after the lottery -- will further mould what Casey is building. The arrival of Jonas Valanciunas next fall won't come without adjustment either. And the reality is that when this team gets good, many of the current Raptors won't be here. But it's fair to say they are on the right track (Sure, we've heard that before).
One upside this time however is their coach is not insane.
Vancouver unlikely to land Kings
News that the Sacramento arena deal has fallen apart has to be gutting to Kings' fans who believed six weeks ago that the city's franchise had been saved. I don't know the Brothers Maloof, but if you want to take sides on this issue, I'm not sure the casino owners are going to get the benefit of the doubt here. The mayor of the city in which they are negotiating is not a generic talking head elected official. He's a former NBA All-Star point guard with a vested interest in keeping around the only professional sports franchise in town. Now the Maloofs -- in what appears to be their latest blame tactic over financing issues -- say they don't want to work with Kevin Johnson.
"Dealing with the Maloofs is like dealing with the North Koreans -- except they are less competent," said Think Big Sacramento official Chris Lehane on the weekend.
Meanwhile, Vancouver has emerged again as a rumoured destination for the Kings. As various U.S. and Canadian media have pointed out, things have changed economically in Van City since the Grizzlies split in 2001, and David Stern's quote about that incident being a "great disappointment" opened up hope a few years ago.
It won't happen.
The Grizzlies left Vancouver mostly because of a lack of corporate dollars and partially because of the most inept general manager in NBA history outside of Rob Babcock (Who ties up $62 million in Bryant Reeves and then drafts Steve Francis despite direct warnings that he won't play for you: Stu Jackson, of course).
While there may be more corporate money and luxury box candidates in B.C. now, it just doesn't make business sense for the Maloofs or the NBA to overlook a similar-sized but more basketball-friendly market in Seattle or a big income one like Anaheim and Orange County.
Plus Stern may still push the issue with Sacramento. After alienating Vancouver and Seattle in the 'aughts, the commissioner seems to have pulled a PR 360, playing nice with questionable markets this decade. His securing of the Hornets sale to Saints owner Tom Benson at least demonstrates that is trying to keep the franchise in New Orleans. Whether it works out in the long run remains to be seen.
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