NBA@2: Welcome Culture Change For Raptors
Last season at this time Dwane Casey was sitting on the Dallas Mavericks’ bench, helping head coach Rick Carlisle guide his team to their first NBA championship. Meanwhile, 1,200 miles to the North, the Toronto Raptors were off to a dreadful start, having won just one of their first eight games. When the Raptors hired Casey as their new head coach they were hopeful that some of that championship mojo might rub off, especially on the defensive end.
“He clearly comes in as a defensive architect, and obviously had something to do with the success in Dallas,” Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo tells HOOPSWORLD. “He also understands that you have to score the ball, and I was just impressed with his overall ability to understand both sides of the ball. But if there was one area that we needed to improve more than anything it was defensively; I mean there’s only one direction to go when you’re 29th or 30th in the league in a particular category and from day one of training camp we’ve seen those principles put into place. It takes some time for that foundation to be laid and then to continue to put layers on top of it, but he’s made it clearly a point of emphasis. The games that we’ve played, including preseason games, the guys have been focused defensively, they’ve been rotating and playing better team defense than I’ve seen out of a Toronto team since I’ve been here. They’ve been displaying a certain understanding of what he’s doing and quite frankly we haven’t really worked a lot on offense. That’s probably why our point production has been a little bit spotty. First things first, though, and we’ve got a young team. We’ve got a new group for Coach to work with and he’s establishing the priorities. Defense is definitely a priority with this team.”
For Casey, whether he’s an assistant or a head coach, the opportunity to teach is what it’s all about.
“It’s something that, contrary to what everyone thought, I wasn’t staying up late at night hoping and praying to get a head coaching job. I would have been happy back in Dallas or wherever in the NBA as an assistant coach, as long as I’m coaching. It’s rewarding with a young team, the way we are, teaching everyday, learning everyday, going through our shootarounds and practices like it’s a practice and so it’s been good, it’s been fun, it may not show up in W’s right away but we know where we are as a program. We know where we want to go and how we’re going to get there.”
After a brief stint as the head coach of the post-Kevin Garnett Minnesota Timberwolves, Casey spent three seasons as an assistant in Dallas under Rick Carlisle. That experience, he believes, will help him to be more successful his second run as an NBA head coach.
“Well as a head coach, the number one thing is I learned a lot from Rick,” says Casey. “I mean, I studied him, I’ve stolen from him, a lot of stuff he does, I’ve learned from him. So, I owe him a lot as far as growing as a head coach. I knew what I knew as an assistant, but as a head coach I wanted to learn from him. He’s a master of organization, doing things the right way, how to run a program, staff, so I emulated all of that. He taught me make decisions, stick with your decisions, and when it’s your first time, you’re not really sure, you kind of feel – I don’t care who you are – but the second time around, you know what you want to do, and again, I owe Rick a heck of a lot for giving me the opportunities to run the defense and make decisions and stick with them and take the consequences whichever way they go.”
Casey also learned a great deal from being a part of an organization where winning is more than a goal . . .it’s an expectation.
“The expectations are off the charts each and every day; you’re expected to win 50 games and that takes you to another level concentration- and preparation-wise. Then working for Rick, working around Rick and Terry Stotts, another former head coach, you get another way of thinking about your own system and how you would do things. I studied Rick and how he ran the organization, not only from a basketball standpoint, but also how he dealt with the media, how he made decisions. You learn, and believe me, anyone who says they know everything when they take their first head coaching job is crazy. I’m more comfortable in my own skin now, with what I want to do, how I’m going to do it and that’s something I learned from this organization and personally from Rick.”
For a coach coming into a situation where most of the players are returning from last season, Casey has been impressed by the buy-in from his squad.
“Oh yeah, yeah,” says Casey. “I mean, when you go from where they’ve come, winning 22 games last year, we have a great group of young men. They’ve given us every ounce of energy they possibly can give, so the buy-in has been great. We’ve got to stay with it, stick with it, and again, it’s not a dictatorship, it’s a work in progress by everybody. I’ve got a great staff and everybody’s working hard at it.”
Colangelo agrees, and has been impressed with the way his young team has rallied around their new coach.
“I think that you’ve got guys from a team that are very young who don’t have a definable star if you will, so everyone’s being treated the same, as it should be. Everyone is kind of on their toes and on their best behavior when they’re dealing with a new element, with a new coach coming in. He laid that down very quickly, ‘I’m not going to kiss anyone’s rear end, I’m going to ask certain things of you, and you’re going to be expected to perform those things, and if you can’t perform, the one thing you can’t do is not try, you just have to buy in.’ So again, there really hasn’t been an option for these young men not to buy-in and believe in what we’re doing, because we will go in a different direction, whether it’s playing time or personnel moves, et cetera. We’ll find guys that want to contribute and want to be apart of this building process and we’re a year deep into the process, Dwane’s coming in in the middle of it and it obviously started last year with the departure of Chris, who was a clear catalyst in this rebuilding scenario, but Dwane made it very clear early on, he doesn’t want to call it rebuilding anymore, now it’s building.”
That’s music to the ears of Raptors fans, who have been waiting for someone to kick their building process into high gear. Dwane Casey is exactly the man for the job.
Jianlian Strong In Debut
When Yi Jianlian suffered a knee injury while playing in China many wondered if it might be the end of his time in the NBA. After all, he has struggled to follow the dominant Yao Ming, despite the sky-high expectations that followed him to America. After lasting just one season in Milwaukee, Yi had a sub-par sophomore season before finally seeming to find his groove in year three. He never shot particularly well, but he did average 12 points and 7.2 rebounds despite being plagued by injuries. He was then traded to the Washington Wizards and faded back into obscurity.
That could have been the end for Yi in America. Like so many foreign players, he has had trouble translating his dominant play overseas into even a passable NBA game. Sometimes it’s all about who you know though, and with former Chinese national team head coach Dell Harris now running the NBDL’s Texas Legends, along with a strong relationship between Yi’s agent (Dan Fegan) and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, it’s not shocking to see him getting another shot in Dallas.
D-League basketball is hardly a good measuring stick for how well a player will be in the NBA, but Yi has been nothing short of fantastic for the Legends. He scored 17 points (6-19) and grabbed 11 rebounds in his debut against the Austin Toros, and then poured in 29 points to go with 13 boards in a loss to Maine on Sunday night.
Does a strong D-League showing mean Yi will be an impact player for the Mavericks this season? Hardly. Remember – Hasheem Thabeet looks like Hakeem Olajuwon when he plays in the D-League. Still, the Mavericks are struggling to find a dependable rotation, and Yi may well get his chance to show he still belongs in the NBA.
UPDATE: The Dallas Mavericks have recalled Yi Jianlian from the Legends. He will be with the team in Detroit on Tuesday night when they take on the Pistons.
Delusions Of Grandeur?
If you were to read a news story about a former Los Angeles Lakers center taking credit for teaching Andrew Bynum everything he knew, you’d probably assume it was about Shaquille O’Neal. Especially if you saw a quote like this:
“I’m one of the better defenders in the league and we played against each other every day in practice. I told him if you can score against me, you can score on anyone.”
Of course, Shaquille O’Neal and Andrew Bynum never shared practice time together, so your assumption would be wrong.
No, that quote came from none other than Kwame Brown, the legendary Lakers big man who controlled the paint for them from 2005-2008.
Well, Ok, “control” might not be the right word for the seldom-used and often disappointing Brown, but to hear him tell it he had everything to do with Bynum’s success.
“He’s a grown man now,” Brown told the Sacramento Bee‘s Mike Bresnahan. “He’s grown into his body well. He’s a lot more physical than when he first came in.
“That was my young fella,” Brown continued. “I taught him everything he knows.”
Eh? Kwame Brown? The man who averaged eight points and six rebounds per game in his hay day? He taught Andrew Bynum everything he knows?
Bynum’s response to the absurdity from Brown was very diplomatic. He simply changed the subject.
“Kwame and I are friends,” Bynum said, smiling. “We used to talk about cars. We went bowling, too.”
For the record, Bynum is tearing up the league this season, averaging just under 19 points and 16 rebounds per game. If Kwame Brown taught him how to do that, one might wonder why Brown doesn’t do a little more himself.
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