Raptors Appease Coach Casey with Blue Collar Crew

Dwane Casey

It’s no secret that Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is a defensive-minded coach. The old adage Offense wins games, defense wins championships applies directly to Casey considering he has a 2011 NBA Championship ring for his work with the Dallas Mavericks as a defensive assistant coach. Casey was hired in the summer following the 2011 championship by the Toronto Raptors. He’s had the head coach position in the organization ever since.

I’m not a fan of Casey. I’ll come out and say it. However, I’m very curious to see how he and the players perform next season after all the offseason moves made by Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri. The Raps GM went out and signed defensive centre Bismack Biyombo, gritty forward DeMarre Carroll, veteran forward Luis Scola and Canadian guard Cory Joseph. With the exception of Scola, all of the aforementioned are known for being good defenders.

Casey has been preaching defense ever since he got to Toronto, something I do support. My biggest issue with Casey is his lack of good offensive judgment. I’ve seen a lot of questionable play calls by Casey on that end of the court. To a further extend, I’ve noticed a lot of questionable substitutions throughout the season by Casey. There’s no doubt that a team with hustling players clamping down on defense is a good thing, but the biggest thing to watch for next season with the Raptors is how well they do offensively. With the departure of shooting guard Lou Williams, you’ll see less isolation offense, but that just means that other players might play more ISO themselves.

If the Raptors don’t produce this season, Coach Casey is going to be short on excuses. This current roster was designed for him and his defensive tendencies. I’m very critical of Casey on the offensive side of the floor. In theory, Casey should be able to concentrate more on the offensive side of his coaching this season considering that the Raptors brought in natural defenders that won’t necessarily need buy-in on the defensive end.

Management has done what it needs to do to set Casey up with a team to his liking, all while being financially savvy so that the Raptors can be in play in big free agency summers of 2016 and 2017. This is the direction of the organization now, and Casey will have an entire season to fine-tune his offensive coaching. It’ll be interesting to see if Casey can translate his defensive success to the other end of the hardwood.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.


The DeAndre Debacle: May the Bridges he Burns Light the Way…

In this summer’s NBA free agency, there were only two players that warranted considerable media attention. The signing of LaMarcus Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs after leaving the Portland Trail Blazers went exactly as predicted. Aldridge returns to his home state of Texas and will play beside — and eventually replace — future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and keep that San Antonio dynasty rolling. With the Spurs re-signing 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and two-time NBA All-Star Manu Ginobili, and the free agency signing of David West from the Indiana Pacers, things look awfully good in Texas right now. The Spurs organization gets an A+ for landing LaMarcus Aldridge, retaining talent and adding new pieces to its team.

While things look more than promising in San Antonio, you could still say that something is rotten in the state of Texas. A ridiculous amount of drama went down in Houston, the hometown of our next player. Seriously, I’ve never seen anything like it before.

DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre Jordan

The Los Angeles ClippersDeAndre Jordan was the second-best big man available in this summer’s NBA free agency. It is well known that Jordan did not get along with Clippers teammates last season, point guard Chris Paul specifically. He was pursued by many teams but verbally agreed to a four-year $81 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks on July 3. But guess what? Jordan will return to LA next season, and for three more after that. Players can make verbal agreements with teams starting on July 1, the first day of free agency, and can officially sign on July 9 after the free agency moratorium is over.

In between verbally committing to Dallas and eventually re-signing with Los Angeles, there was a flurry of twitter emojis and one massive change of heart. Jordan ended up going back on his word with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a move that left Mark Cuban reportedly driving around Jordan’s hometown of Houston looking for him on the eve of the moratorium deadline.

Jordan is within his rights to rethink his decision before signing anything, which is the whole point of having a moratorium period. However, it rarely ever happens. So rare that this indecision sent shock waves through the league and sent Mark Cuban’s blood to boiling temperatures. DeAndre Jordan picked the better team at the end of the day. That rejection is something that Cuban and his organization are going to have to get over.

Jordan is public enemy #1 in Dallas, and a hero in LA. Such is the life of a professional athlete. Look for the NBA Front Office to capitalize on this new rivalry with a carefully scheduled Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers match up early on in the season, possibly an opening night tip-off.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.

Big Money Murray

Well, the 2015 Pan Am Games has come to an end. A lot of different Canadian storylines arose during these games, two of them being on the hardwood. The Canadian Men’s and Women’s National Teams both succeeded in setting program records at the Pan American Games. The women, mentioned in a previous post, won the gold medal in dramatic fashion against the United States. This is the first gold Canada has captured in women’s basketball at the Pan Am Games.

The Men’s team looked to follow the footsteps of the women after defeating rival USA in a thrilling overtime – err, extra time (ET) as per international rules — semi-final game which saw The Jamal Show, starring Jamal Murray. Unfortunately for the host country, a disciplined and skilled Brazilian team got out to an early lead in the gold medal game and, aside from a brief moment in the 4th quarter when the Canadians cut the lead down to as little as 6, never looked back.

I talked about my views of the Pan Am Games previously, and why it was a perfect scenario for 18-year-old Jamal Murray and 2013 Number #1 overall NBA draft pick and current Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett to step up to the plate and play some impressive basketball. Murray had lots of attention on him at the Pan Ams because he’s a young, promising prospect about to play for one of the best basketball programs in the United States. Bennett equally had the eye of many as he looked to prove that his slump to start his NBA career is just that. Both were given an opportunity to demonstrate their game and both rose to the occasion.

The part I liked best was watching Bennett and Murray on the floor together and seeing the confidence that young Murray played with. Here he is on the floor with a 2-year pro in the NBA in Bennett, and he’s out there playing like he’s the best player on the court. Between handing out assists and hitting big time shots, Murray impressed with great performances and has the charisma to electrify the crowd. There’s a certain swagger to his game that Canada hasn’t seen in a basketball player.

Throughout the competition Murray averaged 16 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Teammate Anthony Bennett averaged 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds, a solid double-double average at any level of basketball.

Next year Jamal Murray will have international attention as he plays for John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. With his stellar play at the Pan Am Games, Murray has more than proved he’s more than ready to step into the limelight. Keep your eyes on Kentucky for something special.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.

Pan Am Basketball is here – NBA players are not

The 2015 Pan American Games is on the final straightaway heading towards the finish line. This means that a lot of events have wrapped up and others are just about to begin. This includes the finale of women’s basketball and the start of the men’s event.

First off, let’s talk about the Canadian Women’s National Team and its historical gold medal performance against Team USA. The women’s team started the tournament throwing haymakers as they beat Venezuela – not exactly known for its basketball program – in a 101-38 thrashing. Yes, 101 points to 38 points. After sharpening a stick on both ends and driving it into the sand with Venezuela’s head on it, Canada came out strong against the rest of the field and secured a gold medal match up against our biggest rival, the United States. After a poor first quarter, Canada fought its way back to tie the game going into halftime. Canada led the rest of the game and survived a late push by the Americans in the dying seconds of the game. A remarkable storyline here is the 33 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block that 19-year-old Kia Nurse etched in the box score. Nurse showed incredible poise and maturity for someone so young, and will continue her success when she returns to her collegiate hoops home at the University of Connecticut this fall. A great performance for Team Canada and tremendous accomplishment for the Women’s National Team and Canada Basketball! Check out an interview with Kia Nurse in the video below:

Now, let’s preview the men’s event here in Toronto. To be frank, basketball in this year’s Pan Am Games is more so for player development than anything else. This tournament does not count as an Olympic qualifying tournament; that distinction goes to the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico, Aug. 31 – Sept. 12. And with the NBA Summer League having just ended on Monday, July 20, a number of Canada’s NBA players have not been named to the Canadian roster for the Pan Am Games. But here’s the thing, other countries competing have done something similar. Just have a look at the United States’ Pan Am basketball roster. There’s one insignificant NBA player in Ryan Hollins, and you’ll notice the rest of the roster is made up of collegiate players (prospects) and a handful of guys playing over in Russia. If Canada sent their ‘B’ team to the Pan Ams, Team USA sent their ‘C’ team.

This goes back to my point about the Pan Am basketball tournament being about player development more than program success. Of course each team and player wants to represent their country and play for some hardware, no doubt about that, but let’s be honest here, these games are about the young guys getting some minutes that they won’t see in Mexico.

Anthony Bennett

With regards to the Canadian Men’s National Team in this tournament, there are two players to keep an eye on. The first is Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett. He’s one of two Canadian NBA players on the Pan Am roster (three if you include Sim Bhullar and the three NBA games he played). Bennett’s professional career has been a tale of woe and hard luck since draft night. He should never have been selected #1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. And when the NBA season rolled around, Bennett had to play with the expectations of a #1 pick, something he was truly never meant to be. That has to be hard on Bennett’s mental game. With a new location in Minnesota – and having all eyes on Canadian teammate Andrew Wiggins – Bennett will hopefully ease into his game and figure things out for himself. The Pan Am Games is a great opportunity for Bennett to demand the ball and put in some work. He’ll be part of the team again for the FIBA championship in Mexico, and it’s my belief that if he plays well throughout both tournaments he’ll enter the NBA training camp and pre-season with some much-needed confidence. I can see Bennett finally having his breakthrough NBA season next year if he can build some momentum now.

The other guy I’m interested in watching is Jamal Murray. Next year he’ll suit up for the University of Kentucky, an NCAA basketball powerhouse renowned for its one-and-done players who leap to the NBA once eligible. Barring any extreme injuries or failures next year at Kentucky, expect Murray to be selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft. Again, considering this tournament is for the young guys, I look forward seeing him play and getting a sneak peak of what we’ll see in Kentucky and eventually the NBA.

This tournament will be a lead up to the FIBA championship in Mexico, which offers a potential birth to the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. The men’s team has not qualified for the Olympics since Sydney, Australia in 2000.

Last night Canada opened up with a 105-88 win over the Dominican Republic. This was an expected win and one of many expected wins for Canada in this tournament. You can expect Canada to be playing for gold in the championship game, and likely following the footsteps of the Canadian Women’s team and winning it all.

So there you have it, a quick rant about basketball at the Pan American Games. Although the celebrity factor of NBA players is sorely missing, it is a great way to watch the new kids on the block.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.