Catching up with Casey when he’s back in town

This columnist over the years has unabashedly rooted for Black coaches in all sports. Simply put, if a card-carrying member of the Black Press doesn’t point out the problems, who will? Blacks, for example, average 2.85 years as NBA head coaches while Whites get 3.2 years before getting the Ziggy.

Dwane Casey is one of eight Blacks currently working as NBA head coaches. A local White reporter last weekend asked the Toronto coach, the NBA Coach of the Month for December for the Raptors’ Eastern Conference best record (11-3) that month, about his short tenure in Minnesota, the first coach in franchise history fired with a winning record at the time.

“It’s been that long ago,” Casey responded in his typical calm, unflappable manner. “I thought we were turning things [around] when I got fired.”

Casey began his NBA coaching career as an assistant in Seattle in 1994. Minnesota was his first head coaching job (2005-07). The Wolves finished in the top 10 in fewest average points per game and lowest opponent field goal percentage in 2005-06. He was fired in January 2007 while the team was on the road and the Wolves were in playoff contention.

Dwane Casey speaking at press conference Charles Hallman/MSR News)

“Some folk here didn’t believe I could change things,” Casey recalled.

Casey afterwards rehabbed his coaching career with Dallas as an assistant coach (2008-11) in charge of the team’s defense. The Mavericks won the 2011 NBA title under his defensive tutelage.

Toronto then hired him in 2011. The Raptors under Casey’s sideline guidance have won three division titles and made the playoffs four straight years, including reaching the 2016 East Finals. Now the team’s all-time winningest coach, Casey last month coached his 500th game for Toronto.

“A good coach is going to get fired,” Casey admitted. “It doesn’t feel good, but you learn what to do and what not to do, what to listen to and what not to listen to. You have to go with your gut, whatever it is.”

When the Wolves canned Casey, this columnist didn’t take it well. I’ve known Casey since Clem Haskins introduced us years earlier — Casey was Haskins’ assistant when the two were at Western Kentucky (1980-85).

We have kept in touch ever since. He was always gracious when I was covering him at Minnesota. We have touched base every time he’s in town, including last Saturday.

“Time and experience,” Casey told me when asked if he is a better coach now than in his Wolves days. “It was so quick here in Minnesota. We didn’t make player trades. It takes time to build a program.

“We had time to build in Toronto,” the Raptors coach pointed out.

Yet Casey’s days across the northern border haven’t been all hugs and kisses. He’s gotten his share of criticism, including that his teams seem built only for regular-season play and not for long playoff runs and that his teams are too defensive minded. His name occasionally ranks high on the annual “who’s going to get fired next” list.

This season, however, might be different. “You have to fit your philosophy to your personnel,” Casey stated. His offense is more open this year. “Even though we were top 10 offensively last season [eighth in scoring], we needed to change.”

Casey believes the change “will help us, and then in the playoffs as teams won’t load up on us. It will help us in the long run.”


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