Dwane Casey was wearing the golf-ball sized NBA championship ring Monday morning that he won with the Dallas Mavericks – perhaps as a reminder of happier times.
The Toronto Raptors were swept by the Washington Wizards in the opening round of the playoffs, and the day after their embarrassing 125-94 rout in Game 4, questions swirled around the team in the wake of one of the biggest blunders in franchise history.
Of the most pressing questions: the future of coach Casey. Will he be back next season?
"No one's told me any different," Casey said. "I'll say this – I've never worried about a day of sitting back. I don't read the blogs or read the comments. But I work my butt off and do my job to be prepared, and our staff did the same thing. …I think our staff did a heck of a job this year preparing the players each and every day, film work, on the court. I don't think our staff has anything to be ashamed of."
The harsh ending was in stunning contrast to a season that began with so much promise. After taking Brooklyn to seven games in last year's playoffs, the Raptors raced out of the gate to lead the Eastern Conference, but the wheels fell off around the February all-star break. They won a franchise-record 49 games, but staggered into the playoffs playing their worst basketball of the season.
"I just felt a sense of complacency among all of us, coaches, myself, 'It's going to be okay.' No, it's not going to be okay," Casey said. "I saw the defence get worse, and we kept preaching about it, talking about it … We took our foot off the gas pedal defensively, and continued wanting to score more and score more.
"The mood was guys felt like everything was going to be okay. 'We're going to be all right. Once we get to the playoffs, we can flip a switch.' No, you can't, and I think this playoff should be a lesson to all of us, coaches, players, everybody, that you can't flip a switch to go into the playoffs and be a different team."
All-star point guard Kyle Lowry was a shell of himself, averaging 12 points a game and spending good chunks on the bench in foul trouble. Lowry has said it took him months to get over last season's ending – Paul Pierce's block on his final shot of Game 7. This one was even worse.
"The way we lost, yeah," a glum-looking Lowry said. "Last year we left with a high, at least kind of a high. This year we're just disappointed. It just sucks, to be honest."
There's been speculation the all-star was hurt after missing nine games with a back injury down the stretch. Lowry insisted that wasn't the case.
"I don't make excuses. I wasn't injured, I was healthy. I played in the games and I gave it my all," Lowry said.
Lowry alluded to "things internally" that hindered the team over the second half of the season, saying "we lost each other."
The Raptors' lack of communication and effort on defence was glaring, and a source of constant frustration for Casey, whose defensive teachings as an assistant coach helped the Mavericks win the 2011 NBA title.
DeMar DeRozan threw his support behind Casey on Monday.
"I've got to give him credit, he pushes us day in and day out," DeRozan said. "(The solution) could be one little thing. It's like a Rubik's Cube, you just got to find the right side to get everything else going and I'm pretty confident they'll figure it out."
Lowry, who's shaky past with Casey is well-documented, wasn't as wholehearted in his support.
"I respect Casey as a man. He's a hell of a guy," Lowry said. "At the end of the day, it's not my choice, not my decision. At the end of the day, yeah, if he's the coach, I'm a player. I've said that a couple of years now. At the end of the day, whoever the coach is, if he's the coach, then I'll be back playing for Coach Casey."
Now the Raptors head into another long off-season. Landry Fields, Amir Johnson, Greg Stiemsma, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes and Lou Williams, are unrestricted free agents and none is a lock to return. DeRozan said Toronto could use "a couple of veterans," adding that Pierce is a good example of the veteran savvy they're lacking.
"A guy like that is definitely big just for his knowledge of the game, his experience that he brings," he said.
The next few months won't be easy, said DeRozan.
"Just having to wait to get back out there on the court to redeem yourself. . .Getting back to the game you love and getting out there on the court and make better of how we ended."