Skip to main content

Where can a man can be voted coach of the year in the morning, and then spend the afternoon defending his competence as a coach?

Only in Toronto.

This city is world class in at least one respect – no town on Earth eats its young (or old) with more relish.

On Wednesday morning, the National Basketball Coaches Association leaked news that Dwane Casey would be chosen as 2017-18 coach of the year. The award is voted on by NBA bench bosses.

Casey’s peers could feel a storm forming. This was everyone in the NBA trying to embarrass the Raptors into doing the right thing.

Read more: While speculation swirls, Dwane Casey remains Raptors’ head coach

A few hours later, Casey came out to defend his record. Unusually, he arrived armed with copious notes, but did not refer to them during 20 minutes of questioning.

He seemed more sanguine than usual. He talked about the successes and failures of his team. Given an opportunity, he didn’t ask for the kiss of life.

“I understand what’s being said,” Casey remarked on rumours of his imminent sacking. “I’m not looking for a vote of confidence.”

That’s good news. Because none was forthcoming.

Open this photo in gallery:

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey speaks to media on Wednesday.Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

Per the usual, Raptors president Masai Ujiri followed and repeatedly referenced the “evaluation” process as it pertained to his coach.

Unlike Casey – and perhaps for the first time during his five-year tenure in Toronto – Ujiri seemed ill at ease. Not defensive, but unsure of how to proceed.

He started with humour: “I can’t pull off the culture reset, can I?”

He segued to boardroom bafflegab: “We got stuck at a certain point and we just continue to evaluate.”

He tried excuses: “We still have a young team in some kind of way. That’s not an excuse.”

Eventually, he worked himself into a proper froth, railing at officials, the league and the Raptors’ enemies, both foreign and domestic.

“Put it on me. We’ll get better,” Ujiri said, voice rising, hands flying. “We’ll get better here. We’ll believe in this city, this country, this team here.”

Here’s another problem among the many the Raptors have – the person in the organization most capable of real emotion spends his workday on the phone. Imagine how good this team could be if a single important Raptors player was capable of a feeling aside from “sorry for myself.”

Asked to commit to Casey, Ujiri deflected with compliments.

“Coach Casey has been unbelievable for our organization and I treat it the same exact way that we’ve done every year,” he said.

Right now, you’d put Casey’s chances at 50-50. Maybe less.

It is difficult to sympathize with the professional problems of an NBA coach, regardless of how fine a person he might be.

This is a man who spends his days watching a bunch of overgrown children run around in their pyjamas. A pro sports coach is a kindergarten teacher paid like a CEO.

That’s why people love to run them down. You know you can’t dunk a basketball. But you think you could design an inbounds play or handle bench rotations just as well as the guy in charge.

Here’s a tip: You can’t. If you could, you wouldn’t be living in a one-bedroom-plus-den.

The Raptors have issues. They have so many issues they could fill a week of afternoon slots on Dr. Phil. The competence of the head coach is not one of them.

Aside from win, coaches can’t do much to convince people otherwise. And Casey has won.

He’s been in Toronto for seven years. In all but one of those years, the team’s record improved. He was there when the Raptors got to their one and only conference final. He’s been there for less than a third of the franchise’s seasons, but more than two-thirds of its total playoff wins.

As a general proposition, I’m not a believer in the Oz the Great and Powerful theory of sportsing – that one brilliant motivator can turn a bunch of mediocre schlubs into supermen by force of will. But Casey’s record in Toronto seems more than coincidental.

If there is a fault in this team – and there demonstrably is – it is the essential character of the people who bounce the ball. The players are to blame, and they are blame averse.

When Kyle Lowry was telling everyone on Tuesday that he considered this a “wasted year,” I could not help but think of all the grateful charities looking forward to receiving the US$29-million he was paid to waste that time.

Wait, what? He’s keeping the money?!

One of the things that gets lost in all the loose sports talk about “responsibility” is the thing itself. Players like to say the word, but it never touches their professional lives.

They will continue to be paid to fail. That’s the Raptors’ core issue. They are staffed by people who lack the ability and/or will to succeed despite impediments.

That’s fine. Many teams are. Someone has to lose.

The problem for the Raptors is that a few of the players are paid like people who can do that. And every time they can’t when it matters, they shrug their shoulders and say, “Promise to be better next year and … sorry, my jet is here.”

The responsibility is on them. They’re the performers. Casey is only the conductor.

If the local philharmonic wins the philharmonic conference, the conductor takes some credit for getting the group organized.

If, when they go on to play Carnegie Hall, the horn section shows up drunk and everyone freezes during the Brandenburg Concertos, whose fault is that?

Tell you one thing for free – it’s not the conductor’s.

Firing Casey solves nothing. It’s worse than that. Since Ujiri made it clear that no other major changes are being considered this off-season, it further unsettles an already deeply unsettled set-up. Regardless of who replaces him, I look forward to their Freudian father-son blow-up with Lowry at some point next season, to the years it will take to win DeRozan’s trust, to telling everyone in March that he’s thisclose to finding his feet.

The Raptors have issues. They have so many issues they could fill a week of afternoon slots on Dr. Phil.

The competence of the head coach is not one of them. To take the easy PR route out and pretend otherwise will only further undermine confidence in a team that deserves very little.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe