It took less than 48 hours after the end of the Toronto Raptors season for the team to lock up head coach Dwane Casey to a three-year deal. If general manager Masai Ujiri had his way, it could have happened sooner.
“I’ll be honest with you guys,” Ujiri said. “The first time I went to coach Casey with this and we talked about this… coach Casey was the first one to say, ‘let’s do it after the season.’
“I think Coach Casey was really classy because he said to me and he said to the players, ‘Let’s leave this thing and concentrate on the season, this is our chance to prove ourselves.’ he said, ‘If I’ve preached that to the players than I owe it to them to continue this and we’ll talk about it after the season.’ I really give him credit for that.”
While Casey and the team have agreed to the new deal in principle, the contract won’t be the first he has signed this season. Speaking at a press conference that combined year-end exit interviews and the announcement of the deal in principle, Casey shared that he had created a contract waiting for his team in their first game after the All-Star break.
In Washington to face the Wizards, Casey presented the contract, with “I’m all in” printed across the top. He included the entire team, players, coaching staff, locker room attendants and equipment managers. When Casey asked them sign the dotted line if they were serious about checking egos at the door and being committed to the team’s progress and success, it was point guard Kyle Lowry who grabbed the pen first and wrote his name down.
One by one, the signatures filled the page that Casey tucked away in his briefcase. He kept the contract there and carried it with him every day for the rest of the season, including Sunday’s TTC trip to the ACC for Game 7.
— (@_ArvinMendoza) May 4, 2014
“Each player dedicated themselves, gave themselves to the season,” Casey said. “Also, as far as I’m concerned, to the future, because this year was just a start of what we want to grow and develop with Masai as our leader and also the guys that are coming back here.
“I’m very thankful to have an opportunity to continue the growth process, to be in charge of that. We have a lot of excellent young players to work with. Their whole future is in front of them.”
While many thought he would want to make his own hire after taking over as general manager last spring, it didn’t take long for Casey to prove his worth to Ujiri.
“For me, it was almost at the beginning,” Ujiri said. “When I first took the job, to be honest. For me, [Casey is an] excellent person. I knew he’d be phenomenal to work with just because coach Casey puts basketball first… I’ve never seen anybody so down to earth that just is a basketball junkie.”
With the team pushing the Brooklyn Nets to the final seconds in a seven-game series in their first postseason appearance after a five-year drought, the future is bright in Toronto. When DeMar DeRozan spoke to the media in his exit interview on Monday morning, he threw his support behind Casey. Pointing to the consistency Casey has shown over his three years in Toronto, DeRozan was proud to experience the postseason with him and see his coaching pay off.
“It feels great because you don’t question, you know if your head coach tells you something, you know you’re going to listen,” DeRozan said. “He’s not just saying it just to say it. He’s not going to tell you to do something just to do it. It’s a reason behind everything. Once you respect a man’s word like that, you’re going to work for him.”
Known for texting or checking in with his players about their families and lives off court, Casey said DeRozan’s words serve as a reminder to continue his approach.
“Sometimes, I know it sounds corny, some of the things I say, but it’s real,” Casey said. “It’s real stuff, it’s real talk, it’s life, more so than just basketball. It just tells me to continue to do that. I’m kind of old school where I want guys to have their shoes tied before we go out to practice, because I tell them, ‘You don’t go to work on a construction site with your boots untied or your boots hanging off so let’s get your boots strapped up and go to work,’ all the little things like that let you know it’s soaking in, it’s effective, it’s real. That’s what life is all about. It’s what working hard for something is all about. That’s all I can stand for and until they are tired of listening to it, I’m going to continue to preach it because I’ve seen too many examples of it being successful for it to change and I’m too old to change.”
Coming off of a career year, Casey wasn’t interested in testing the coaching market. After three years of building this group from the ground up, he didn’t need to wait and see if any other offers came his way. He had the situation he wanted.
“I appreciate Masai giving me the opportunity, the organization giving me the opportunity to be here this year and it would be so disingenuous to even go out and put your foot in the market and think that was a possibility so I didn’t even give it a second thought,” Casey said.
“My heart is here, my mind is here. I’m committed to this organization and to these players going forward.”