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Raptors' new coach puts emphasis on defence

A lead can be held and, as any good editor will tell you, it can damned sure be buried, too.

The former is now squarely on Dwane Casey. The Toronto Raptors dealt with the latter on Tuesday.

The two-sided press release heralding Casey's hiring as the team's head coach contained the words "defensive architect" above a paragraph detailing how in 16 years of NBA coaching his teams routinely finished in the top half in fewest points allowed and lowest opponent field-goal percentage.

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It was defence this, defence that and there was even an obligatory Brian Burke reference during the news conference. (I swear Casey was about five minutes away from uttering the T word - truculence.)

But this is the NBA, and Casey knows that for most players, getting theirs at contract time comes with getting theirs on the court - and that's especially the case for Toronto's DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, who are still making their bones. They'll have to buy in to the whole "if you defend it, the points will come" thing. And the proof will need to be found beyond DeRozan standing in front of cameras on June 21 and saying locking down an opponent gives him goose bumps.

Yet, Casey did brandish a carrot with his rhetorical stick Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre: He is going to let the horses run free.

"We want our offence to be unpredictable," he said. "You can still have a template … but we want to be unpredictable."

Casey's reputation as a defensive specialist preceded, but his take on offence might ultimately have been his most interesting, especially since it was an area in which the Raptors were not totally abject this past season.

Doubtless, Casey's assistant coaching staff will include at least one "offensive guy," but to go all back-in-the-day on you, hearing him discuss offence was like finding a really cool B side on a single. (Ask your parents.)

I don't know if it will work, but I know this: It sounds good when a coach talks about "free-flowing" offence and "playoff offence," and talks about "trusting the pass" and how a good shot not taken is the same as a miss.

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"One thing that helped us in Dallas was that we do not run a lot of set plays, because in the playoffs and regular season, teams are so well-scouted," added Casey, who celebrated a 2011 NBA title as an assistant coach with the Mavericks.

Works for me: sign us up.

The Raptors seemed to often score in spite of themselves last season, but general manager Bryan Colangelo thinks this philosophy dovetails nicely.

"You saw when we moved the ball we were tough to beat," he said. "It was when we stagnated or held the ball in the post that we did not have a productive offence."

There are skeptics who don't think it will matter if the Raptors bring back the point guard tandem of Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless, although we'll buy into Colangelo's assessment that Bayless "clearly has more of a defensive mindset and ability to get into people and stop people."

Bayless is useful; Calderon is simply beyond his "best-before" date.

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So for the next two nights, some of those skeptics (okay, some of us) will pray to the basketball gods that University of Kentucky guard Brandon Knight is somehow still around on Thursday, when the Raptors select fifth overall in the NBA draft, and all this talk about international flavours of the month attracting Colangelo's eye are just mock-draft mumblings.

Or, in the very least, we'll take solace from Colangelo's reminder that the Raptors' financial flexibility means they can add a significant salary via trade and not just free agency means he's aiming a little higher than trying to get Jonny Flynn from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Raptors need to do better, otherwise I fear all these nice words and theories will be - dare we say - pointless.

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