A 59-win season, the best in team history, came to a crashing, sudden halt for the Toronto Raptors on Monday night in Cleveland. That Game 4 loss to the Cavaliers ended the Raptors' series in the Eastern Conference semifinals, halting hopes of a run to The Finals. A day later, Toronto's players tried to make sense of it all, with All-Star guard Kyle Lowry calling 2017-18 a "wasted year" for failing to reach the championship stage.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey has overseen Toronto's string of five straight playoff trips and was today named the NBCA Coach of the Year by a panel of his peers. But that success didn't quiet talk that perhaps Casey could be on his way out in Toronto after the team's loss to Cleveland.
This afternoon, Casey and Toronto GM Masai Ujiri both met with reporters to discuss the team's playoff exit, the outlook for the team and, in the case of Casey, their future there, too. While he did not receive an official endorsement from Ujiri on his future with the Raptors, Casey sounded confident Wednesday that he is still a part of the future with the Raptors.
“Nobody has told me differently,” he told reporters when asked about his future with Toronto. “Until then I’m here still fighting. I’m still here.
“I don’t expect a vote of confidence [from Ujiri] ... I’ve read all the articles, texts, all this stuff. I understand what’s been said. I’m not in the dark, but I’m not looking for a vote of confidence because I haven’t heard anything different.”
Asked Casey if he expects to be coaching the Raptors next season: "Nobody's told me any different and until they do I'm still here... Nobody's changed my key lock," said he hasn't gotten an assurances from Masai yet either.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 9, 2018
Casey also said he recognizes how the criticism falls on him after the type of series Toronto endured.
“It’s part of the business,” Casey said. “I’m a big boy. I’ve been through it. I know what we’ve accomplished and how the basketball world respects what we’re doing. It’s part of the territory. I accept it. I’m not running from it. ... I’m an easy target ... I don’t feel sorry for myself, let’s put it that way. "
Ujiri said he plans to look at the roster and team as a whole and make assessments as to the future of it. In short, the next steps for the team at large is entering an evaluation process, Ujiri said, which will take place in the coming weeks.
Ujiri says he has to look at body of work over last five years and decide how the next five years looks. Evaluate strengths and weaknesses of Casey/Lowry/DeRozan.— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) May 9, 2018
Masai says Casey's been unbelievable and what he's done will 'remain in history', but evaluation process will be the same as it's bene the last few years.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 9, 2018
"We are absolutely disappointed with the ending of the season," Ujiri said. "I think our guys are tough enough. They've fought through it. To win in this league, you have to go through different stages ... You build from that experience.
"To me, it's not doomsday. Where our program is, it's not doomsday."
As for Casey, Ujiri praised what the coach has accomplished during his tenure in Toronto and said the two men met and talked for two hours on Wednesday morning.
Masai says "Coach Casey has been unbelievable for our organization, I treat it the exact same way I do every year. Go back look at everything. Have had discussions with him. Met for 2 hours this morning." So, doesn't say one way or other but says respect the history— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) May 9, 2018
"I believe in Dwane Casey, I believe in the work he's done, it's not different than anything I've said last year," Ujiri said. "I'm looking at everything, negative and positive and how it all comes together."
One thing Ujiri made clear is that the Raptors will not be looking to tank in 2018-19.
"Tanking? We're not doing that here," Ujiri said.
Casey has coached Toronto since 2011, leading the team to five straight playoff appearances and three consecutive 50-win seasons. The Raptors have set franchise-record win totals in three of the past four years and finished atop the East for the first time this year.
Toronto's deepest playoff run came in 2016 when it lost to the eventual-champion Cavaliers in a six-game Eastern Conference finals.
After a franchise-record 59 wins in 2017-18, good for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the loss to the Cavs was as tough a defeat as All-Star DeMar DeRozan has endured.
"This is probably the toughest, most frustrating, difficult, lowest feeling I've had," DeRozan said Tuesday. "You get to that point where you're standing firm through everything and you feel like you can't get knocked down again, and you realize you do get knocked back down again. It's kind of the worst feeling."
"We felt like we could possibly make the NBA Finals," Lowry said. "That was our goal."
The series slipped away after a Game 1 loss in which the Raptors coughed up a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, missed multiple potential winning baskets, and lost 113-112 in overtime.
Toronto nearly rallied to win Game 3, but James banked in a remarkable tie-breaking basket at the buzzer.
Neither Lowry nor DeRozan directly endorsed Casey on Tuesday, but both spoke glowingly about their coach.
"All of my success, I have to credit Casey," DeRozan said. "No matter what, I'm always going to have the utmost respect when it comes to coach Casey."
Lowry acknowledged he and Casey have clashed over the years, but said he's "always believed in him."
"He's one of the best coaches out there," Lowry said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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