The Toronto Raptors enter each year with certain expectations only to continuously fall short. For a franchise that's entering it's 19th year of existence, they will need to start getting it done on the court. With the team heading in a new direction and getting the opportunity to host the NBA All Star Weekend in 2016, more eyes will be on the Raptors moving forward. This is the time to garner everyone's attention and show them the Raptors can be for real.
Developing a playoff team has as much to do with the players as it does the coaching staff. You can have numerous talented players on your team, but if there is no offensive execution or chemistry amongst the team, you won't go far.
Under Head Coach Dwane Casey, the Toronto Raptors are 57-91. They have finished fourth in the Atlantic Division both seasons he has coached the team. They have entered each season with playoff aspirations, only to fall short due to several things – lack of execution, sub-par play calling and inconsistencies with their rotation. The Raptors haven't made the playoffs since the 2007-2008 season, where they fell to the Orlando Magic in the first round. This year's roster is arguably one of the more talented rosters the team has had in a long time. On paper, this team should be a top five or six team in the Eastern Conference, but as we all know, it's not what it looks like on paper, it's what happens on the court.
The Raptors have a starting rotation of Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas. When you look at those five names, there's no reason to think the Raptors aren't a playoff team. Then, you add players like Tyler Hansbrough, Terrence Ross, D.J. Augustin and Steve Novak – all solid pieces off the bench. Aside from Hansbrough, Augustin and Novak, all the other players were with the team last season. When Rudy Gay was acquired in January 2013, the Raptors franchise looked like it would finally turn around. In the first few games without a team practice, the Raptors looked unstoppable. They were beating top tier teams and they won a few games at the buzzer, courtesy of the newly acquired Rudy Gay. Then they resumed team practices and everything went out the window.
So what happened to the Raptors? Coaching happened, bad coaching that is. And this isn't the first time this has happened to the Raptors. If you recall back to 2003-2004, the Raptors acquired Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall. Both players made an immediate impact to the team prior to coaching taking over. The Raptors were winning games and things were looking bright. Then Coach Kevin O'Neill decided to implement his strategies and the team began to fall apart, ultimately missing the playoffs.
Now this isn't to say that the players don't deserve some of the blame – they definitely do, but the majority of the blame for the Raptors not making the playoffs and constantly underachieving is due to their coaching. When Dwane Casey took over as the Raptors Head Coach, the team had quite a few players on the team who weren't very athletic. He still wanted to instill his philosophy of defense and "pounding the rock". Instead of customizing everything based on the team's talent, he wanted to do things his way, and they didn't turn out quite well.
When you look at the best teams in the NBA, there are all coached well. Whether it's Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs or Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls, good coaches find a way to make the most of every player on their roster. The Raptors have talent at every position and players who are emerging stars in this league. It is up to Dwane Casey to make the most of what he has and use their skills in the right way.
So while there will be pressure on the likes of Rudy Gay, Demar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas this upcoming season, the most pressure will be on Head Coach Dwane Casey as he will have to find a way to make things work and lead the Raptors to a playoff berth. Being in the last year of his contract, it's now or never for Casey. If the Raptors make the playoffs, his job could be secure for a while, but if they miss the playoffs, Casey could be done in the NBA for a while.
The first few weeks of the season should give us a good indication of what direction the Raptors are heading. They will need to get off to a strong start and use their talent and athleticism to their advantage. There's no reason why this team can't make the playoffs and gain some respect around the NBA.
Let's hope Dwane Casey, along with the rest of his coaching staff, can put together strong game plans that work to the players' strengths. If they can manage to do that, the Raptors will be well on their way to the playoffs in 2013-2014 and will start to make some noise in the NBA.
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