Coming from the highs he enjoyed as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks, Dwane Casey could be forgiven for feeling like he’s at the wheel of an Edsel in his first year driving the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors head coach was certainly spoiled during his time with the Mavericks, who averaged 54 wins over the past three seasons an earned an NBA title last year in a thrilling final over the Miami Heat.
Although the ride has certainly been different this season with the 4-11 Raptors, who will try to snap a six-game losing skid Friday night against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Air Canada Centre, Casey said the team remains upbeat despite the continued setbacks.
“We’ve got so much to learn as a young team,” Casey said after conducting practice on Thursday, a luxury in a lockout condensed season where most of the days are consumed by either games or travel.
With a team that is doing about as well as many anticipated this season, Casey said it is imperative that he remain patient as he tries to instill a winning attitude on a rebuilding team that has missed the playoffs for the past three years.
And some days are easier than others.
“Coming from the last three years winning 50 and 60 games a year and a championship, it’s tough,” Casey said. “But we have a young team, a young talented team. And the fundamental mistakes that we’re making are teachable and correctable mistakes.”
Even still, Casey knows that a quick turnaround is not in the cards.
“I’m learning we have a ways to go, there’s no question about that,” Casey said. “I like our core talent. We have a lot more teaching to go. I’m not satisfied with losing whatsoever. Our fans are not satisfied. Our players are not satisfied. But there is a process, there is a direction and we’re going to stay the course.”
The Raptors have lost six in a row – the last four without Andrea Bargnani, their leading scorer (22.3 points a game, on average) and rebounder (6.5), who is recovering from a strained left calf.
It was hoped that Bargnani would be able to practise on Thursday but after consulting with the medical staff the decision was made to have him remain on the sidelines. His return to action remains unknown.
There is a bit of good news concerning backup point guard Jerryd Bayless, who has missed 13 games with a left ankle sprain.
Bayless had his second full practice with the team on Thursday and afterward proclaimed himself close to returning. It could be Friday night, depending on how his ankle feels in the morning.
“It’s almost there,” Bayless said. “But I’m kind of nervous if I get out there too early and I redo it and I’ll be out for another three weeks.”
The Raptors are returning home after a fruitless three-game trip that wound up in Boston Wednesday night with an 96-73 thumping at the hands of the Celtics.
The Raptors won’t get much of an opportunity to enjoy the comforts of home, however,
After the Portland game, the Raptors will head out for another five games in an eight-day excursion that will begin on Sunday in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
After that, Toronto will head to Phoenix, Utah and Denver before winding up in New Jersey for a game against the Nets on Jan. 29.