The Toronto Raptors have fired coach Dwane Casey after seven seasons on the job. The news of his ousting was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed shortly thereafter in a statement by the Raptors.
“After careful consideration, I have decided this is a very difficult but necessary step the franchise must take. As a team, we are constantly trying to grow and improve in order to get to the next level,” Toronto GM Masai Ujiri said in a statement released by the team today. “We celebrate everything Dwane has done for the organization, we thank him, and we wish him nothing but the best in future. He was instrumental in creating the identity and culture of who we are as a team, and we are so proud of that.”
Per Wojnarowski, the Raptors have their eye on former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer for Casey's old job:
Former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is expected to get a close inspection for the Raptors opening, league sources said. Budenholzer met with Milwaukee on Tuesday, league sources said.
Toronto will also consider assistant Nick Nurse and G League coach Jerry Stackhouse, league sources said.
One candidate the Raptors are expected to pursue as a replacement is former Atlanta Hawks bench boss Mike Budenholzer, according to sources: https://t.co/3BZSJCQDRs— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) May 11, 2018
In addition, TNT analyst David Aldridge reports via Twitter that the Raptors have several strong in-house candidates who could contend for the job as well:
Not sure who’s out there who would have done much better given DeRozan’s/Ibaka’s major struggles vs. Cavs. Raptors do have strong in-house candidates in assistant coach Nick Nurse and Raptors 905 (G League) head coach Jerry Stackhouse.
Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today reports via Twitter that Casey may have sought an extension from the Raptors, which could have played a part in Casey's firing:
Dwane Casey sought a contract extension, I'm told, in an effort to maintain job security. That may have forced Ujiri's hand in decision to dismiss Casey.
Ujiri met with reporters on Friday and addressed the firing of Casey, saying he broke the news to the former coach this morning. He told reporters he had been meeting with Casey every day since the Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs. Additionally, Ujiri called Raptors stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to let them know about the coaching change.
"There’s five years of bond here. You can actually feel it in every single (player) I’ve talked to so far," Ujiri said.
Per Ujiri, the Raptors plan to keep the rest of their coaching staff in place. The assistant coaches listed on last season's team were: Nurse, Stackhouse, Rex Kalamian, Jama Mahlalela, Jamaal Magloire and Alex McKechnie as well as trainer Scott McCullough.
Casey was named the eighth coach in Raptors history on June 21, 2011. He posted a 320-238 (.573) record during that span, including the only three 50-win seasons in team history. Under him, the Raptors won four Atlantic Division titles and advanced to the postseason in a franchise-record five consecutive seasons. He was the longest-tenured coach in team history and the franchise’s all-time winningest coach.
Casey led the Raptors to a team-record 59-23 mark in 2017-18 and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. But the Raptors were swept in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the Cleveland Cavaliers, setting in motion an earlier-than-expected offseason for Toronto. Two days ago, Casey was named the NBCA Coach of the Year, an award that is voted on by a panel of his coaching peers.
After the Raptors' playoff ouster, Casey spoke candidly with the media and, at the time, sounded confident he would be with the team.
“Nobody has told me differently,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “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.”
Casey also said he recognized 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. "
At that same news conference, Ujiri said he planned 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.
"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."
On Friday, in the wake of Casey's firing, Ujiri said roster changes could be next. But, he was quick to point out the timetable for those changes are hardly known at this point.
"It is something we’re looking at ... not saying this roster is perfect," Ujiri said. "Things we need to do and I need to do to get better. Roster changes is not something I can change today. Sometimes [it takes] takes 2 months, sometimes a year, sometimes two years.”
Toronto's deepest playoff run came in 2016 when it lost to the eventual-champion Cavaliers in a six-game Eastern Conference finals.
After their record season, though, the Raptors' series loss to the Cavs was as tough a defeat as the All-Star 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.
* * *