Breaking Down the Dwane Casey Firing

Dwane CaseyAll good things must come to an end. This end seems a bit premature considering how successful the Raptors have been in the NBA regular season, but as many pundits have noted, the regular season does not matter in professional basketball.

The Raptors fired Dwane Casey on May 11, following yet another early exit in the playoffs. Toronto continued to run into a wall in the postseason. That wall is named LeBron James. James has dispatched the Raptors each of the last three years, including two straight sweeps in the Conference Semifinals. It is pretty clear something needs to change in Toronto and Casey might just be the catalyst for larger moves.

But why fire a coach to bring back the same team the following year? That is the question right now when analyzing this situation. Casey was far from the root of the problem in Toronto. He is a finalist for Coach of the Year. He also put the Raptors in a position to succeed in the postseason, as the team earned home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Most of the blame for this year’s playoff collapse can be attributed to DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka. DeRozan averaged 16.8 points, 4 rebounds and 2.8 assists during the series against the Cavaliers. Solid numbers for most, but disappointing for a player who is supposed to be leading his team offensively. He scored 67 points in the series on 66 shots. His inability to get to the line or shoot from behind the arc seriously limits his value. Ibaka was even worse, averaging 8.5, 6.3 and 1 in those same categories. He is not meant to do a whole lot offensively, but he was not very effective, shooting just 44 percent for the series. DeRozan and Ibaka combine for almost $50 million in cap space for Toronto next year, 38.7 percent of the team’s total.

Firing Casey only really makes sense if the Raptors’ front office goes for a massive makeover this offseason. Otherwise, this move makes very little sense. Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Ibaka are all under contract until 2020. DeRozen hangs around another year after that. In fact, 12 of the Raptors’ 15 players from this season have contracts that extend into next year.

In short, this is going to be basically the same team as it was a year ago. Toronto has close to zero potential to add free agents, as it has no cap space and already used a mid-level exception on C.J. Miles. Additionally, the Raptors do not have a single pick in this year’s draft. GM Bobby Webster can hope he can strike gold with another player on a minimum deal who greatly outperforms the deal like he did when he brought in Fred VanVleet. The likelihood of that occurring is seemingly low.

DeMar DeRozanThe best solution for Toronto moving forward is to cut bait with DeRozan and/or Ibaka this offseason via trade. The unfortunate truth is that this Raptors core is not capable of winning a championship. It needs to be revamped or rebuilt. This is more than LeBron simply being the team’s kryptonite.

It would be easy to say, just wait out the Warriors and Rockets, build for the future. However, the Celtics seem to be on the verge of creating a dynasty. The 76ers might be a title-contender by next year.

Becoming a true title-contender can be done in a short time frame too. In 2016, the Rockets were the eighth seed in the West, losing in five games. Two years later, they had the best record in the NBA and pose a legitimate threat to the Warriors. The catalyst was reworking a roster that already had a franchise player. If nothing else, Houston should provide a blueprint for Toronto on how to go from good to great.

Not entirely sure where the Raptors go from here as an organization, but this offseason is going to be crucial for the team’s future plans.

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This One Hurts

I’m not mad. Just disappointed.

It’s that cliche line your parents used on you when you were a teenager to make you feel guilty about what you did. It also sums up how I feel about Kevin Durant heading to Golden State.

Kevin Durant
Durant was a 7-time All-star in his time with Oklahoma City. (Wikimedia Commons)

I get it. The chance to win a title is tantalizing. Playing with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green definitely seems appealing. The money was good too. That doesn’t mean I can’t be disappointed in the decision.

Durant came so close to knocking off the Warriors with his running mate Russell Westbrook. Blowing a 3-1 lead in the conference finals is about as close as you can get without sealing the deal. Durant gave up the chance to do something special in OKC for a perceived easy ring with the Warriors.

Signing with Golden State is similar to when LeBron James left the Cavaliers for Miami. But in reality it is even more of a cop out. James at least went to a building team. The Heat were good before he got there, but he arrived with Chris Bosh to make them a true contender. On top of that, Miami didn’t win the title until James’ second year in South Beach.

The Warriors are already well established, having gone to the last two NBA Finals and winning a championship. They already have an incredible core of guys who have fueled this mini dynasty. Durant joining this team is much worse than what LeBron did and it truly is disappointing. Had he signed pretty much anywhere else, even San Antonio, this wouldn’t feel like so much of a betrayal.

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With Durant joining the Warriors, the MVP from the last three years plays for Golden State. (Wikimedia Commons)

Durant’s signing in Golden State is also polarizing for fans. It will be nothing short of annoying to have another super team dominating the league. However, it will also cause fans to tune in to see what the group can accomplish. Nothing is guaranteed either. As I just said, the Heat didn’t win the first season they had their big three. The Warriors could slip up and choke again, like they did this year. That alone makes them worth watching.

If I’m honest, I don’t think this team is as much of a lock to be better than last year’s team. I don’t see them winning 74 games. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t win 70. Yes they will be good, but like all teams that have a mix of new pieces, there will be some growing pains. This is more turnover than the Warriors have seen in some time. Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezili are all gone. Durant and Zaza Puchillia just arrived.

In some ways, this creates new intrigue in the NBA season. The Heat used to be the villains of the league, which is the role the Warriors will now play. Millions of fans tuned into the NBA playoffs during those years in hopes of watching Miami thwarted in their attempts to create a dynasty. I have a feeling that the playoffs will do the same thing this year in the NBA, as all watch to see if Golden State falters. The regular season may not be great, but these playoffs will draw a lot of eyeballs.

While I am not a fan of the move, you can hardly blame Durant. Nothing is guaranteed, but this gives him the best chance to win a title, which we know is crucial in terms of leaving a lasting legacy in the NBA. Getting one puts you into the conversation of being great.

So yes, I understand why Durant did it. I respect his decision, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

This Rose is Perfect for the Garden

They don’t have a pick in tonight’s draft, currently on ESPN, but the Knicks made a major move to land Derrick Rose in a trade with Chicago.

I’ve heard a lot of different reactions to the deal so far and I wanted to weigh in on the deal. It makes way too much sense for New York. And here’s why.

Derrick Rose
Rose averages 19.7 points per game in his career. (Wikipedia Commons)

First of all, they really didn’t give up very much to bring Rose over. The Knicks sent an aging backup point guard, a future sixth man and a solid center to the Bulls in exchange for a former MVP with the potential to change the whole team. Jose Calderon is dead weight, Jerian Grant is a tossup with less potential and Robin Lopez is not exactly a superstar.

Rose has a ton potential. He has a well-documented injury history, but when healthy, the point guard has been sensational. He won the MVP award in 2010. He has a history of being great. Grant, Calderon and Lopez all do not. That right there makes this trade worthwhile.

Considering how bad the Knicks have been the past few years, it would be hard for this deal to make them much worse. There is essentially no risk in making this deal and there is a whole lot of potential reward.

That reward goes beyond just Rose’s contributions for 2016. His very presence in New York could attract some bigger free agents. The possibilities are endless. Obviously, the biggest grab would be Kevin Durant, but even some other options like Al Horford, Roy Hibbert, J.R. Smith and more now will find the Knicks a much more desirable team to join. Not to mention, if Rose has a big year and decides to stay on with the Knicks, they look very attractive to future free agents as well.

Phil Jackson also brings in someone who knows how to win and has a history of winning. That could be part of the culture change many figured he would bring the Big Apple when he was hired as general manager and team president.

Russell Westbrook
Westbrook will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017. (Wikipedia Commons)

The biggest thing that this deal gives New York though is cap flexibility. In 2017, the salary cap is going to rise to about $110 million. Rose’s nearly $21 million also comes off the books at the end of the 2016-17 season. That should give Jackson nearly $50 million in cap space to work with next offseason.

New York would love to land Russell Westbrook next year in free agency and rumor has it that the interest is mutual. That’s really what this move is all about. It gives the Knicks a wealth of options going forward, because if Rose does not work out, he leaves after the season is over, and New York gets to take their pick at who they throw money at.

To recap, the Knicks can really only get better and have primed themselves for the future. If you don’t like that deal, you don’t understand how the NBA works.

The better finals rematch

Golden State completed one of the great comebacks in NBA history beating Oklahoma City to advance to the NBA Finals. Those finals against Cleveland began Thursday and I have to admit that I am a little disappointed.

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Steph Curry is the reigning MVP for a second straight year. (Wikimedia Commons)

I know watching Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shoot is fun and the Draymond Green against LeBron James matchup has been interesting, but there was a much better rematch I was hoping to see in the finals this year.

It wouldn’t necessarily have been between two teams as much as it would have been between two players. Think back to four years ago when James was still wearing a Miami uniform. At this time in 2012, LeBron still had not won a ring. Neither had his main adversary in that year’s finals, Kevin Durant.

Fast forward four years and Durant is still seeking that ring while LeBron is desperately trying to bring Cleveland a title. Watching those two matchup again in the finals, granted with much different supporting casts, would have been epic to see.

LeBron_James_vs_Andre_Roberson
James and the Cavaliers have struggled against Golden State this season, but fared well versus Oklahoma City. (Wikimedia Commons)

It was a great battle the first time around. Durant averaged over 30 points a night, while LeBron posted 28, 7 and 10 per game. It was a battle of wills that Durant lost due to having a much weaker supporting cast. He had Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, but that was no match for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in their prime.

Outside of LeBron and Durant matching up, there are a few other matchups I would have loved to see in a Thunder-Cavaliers series, one of them involving the aforementioned Westbrook. He is one of the best pure scorers in the league at this point. His athletic blend makes him a nightmare to guard. One of the players best-suited to slowdown Westbrook is Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving.

We never got to see the two faceoff in the regular season, as Irving missed the first game as he continued to recover from that gruesome knee injury last year. He played just nine minutes in the second meeting. The regular season only scratched the surface of what this matchup could have been.

Kyrie Irving
Irving only played in Game 1 last year before fracturing his knee. (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not saying for a minute that I will not be watching the finals now as a result of the Thunder not being a part of it, or that the repeat of last year’s finals won’t be interesting (especially now that Kevin Love and Irving are healthy), but I think we certainly got robbed.

I have to take what I can get though, and I might as well make a prediction. Cleveland took pretty much this same Golden State team to six games last year, despite missing two of it’s best players.

The Warriors took the first two games. I don’t think Cleveland will end up getting swept. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them snag two wins before the Warriors close it out. Repeat of last year, Golden State wins in six games and the Cavs spend another offseason wondering what went wrong.

Solving college basketball’s one and done problem

Every year we see it at Kentucky. A bunch of 19-year old kids leave school after just one year, as they enter the NBA draft. They leave behind an incomplete education with hopes of making millions in professional basketball.

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Karl-Anthony Towns only spent one year at Kentucky, but has transitioned well to the NBA. (Wikimedia Commons)

Kentucky isn’t the only school where this is happening though, as it has morphed into a problem across the entire NCAA landscape. This “one and done” phenomenon is a product of the NBA’s rule requiring players to spend one year in college or playing overseas before entering the league’s rookie draft. This leads to several, I won’t say all, student-athletes heading to school to essentially major in basketball.

They take a couple of classes to keep their GPA up to be eligible for the basketball season and then leave school after one year with no real education. This year, we saw potential number one overall pick Ben Simmons withdraw from classes early, after the season had ended so he could focus on training for the upcoming draft combine.

Many of these players make millions at the next and have no need for an education, but for those who fall through the cracks and fail to take hold in the league, they suddenly find themselves out of a job without a college education.

The quality of play has dropped off as well. Back in the best days of college basketball, you had players staying for three or four years at their respective schools, developing into polished players before making the jump to the pros.

Think back to the days when Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Patrick Ewing and so many others stayed in school long enough to become superstars and transcend college programs. College basketball lacks that right now, with very few of the game’s top players staying for more than a year at the collegiate level.

That is what college basketball needs to increase the level of play again. The NBA could use the same thing to be honest. Most of these rookies enter the league and require a year or two essentially sitting on the bench or playing in the D-league because they aren’t ready to compete at the next level yet. Very few come in as polished products ready to contribute on day one.

Tyler Ennis
Ennis was drafted in the first round in 2014 by the Phoenix Suns. (Wikimedia Commons)

Look at Tyler Ennis as an example. He had one great year at Syracuse and then decided to make the jump to the pros. Ennis would have benefited from another year in college, but as a result of the one and done culture, felt that he needed to enter the draft. Over the last two years, Ennis has only played 79 games, averaging around 14 minutes per game. He is constantly bouncing back and forth from the NBA to the D-league and while he is still young, his NBA career has gotten off to a very slow start.

Ennis is far from the only one either. Anthony Bennett failed to translate to the NBA after just one season an UNLV. Austin Rivers is still only a role piece as he left Duke after just one year.

To solve all of these issues, the NCAA and the NBA needs to work out a new structure for how long college athletes must stay in school and about the requirements of going to school.

The NCAA should adopt a system similar to what it has set up for college baseball. Players are not require to play a year before entering the professional draft. However, if these high schoolers decide to attend a college as a student-athlete, they must spend three years at the school before they can enter the draft. I would also like to add some other provisions as well.

Universities would be required to honor a player’s scholarship if he chose to come back and finish his degree after his playing days had ended or if he decided to complete it during the summer. They would also be required to honor the scholarship of student-athletes in the event of an injury that cost them their career.

This system would actually solve so many different issues. First and foremost, players would finally have a more complete education having to finish three years of school rather than just one. That additional year required to finish most undergraduate degrees would be much easier to complete at a later time and the athletes would have it covered by their scholarship. The student-athletes would also be able to continue their education in the event of an injury, which happens way too frequently and results in a loss of scholarship.

While it seems like the NCAA is giving up a lot here, there would be some major benefits. To start, they would see a huge jump in the quality of play for college basketball. With players staying school longer, they can become more marketable to fans and television networks, meaning an uptick in revenue.

The schools would also see an increase in Academic Progress Ratings. The NCAA describes this as, “hold[ing] institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.” With a higher retention rate and increased graduation rates of players, schools would be able to boost their ratings.

College basketball as a whole would benefit from this system as the talent would begin to spread. With student-athletes staying school longer, coaches would not need to recruit as heavily each year, which would mean that players would have to start looking at schools other than the traditional powerhouses if they wanted playing time right away.

We would also see an improvement in play at the NBA level. The guys who are ready to compete right out of high school would no longer have to waste a year playing college ball without a real educate in place. There are still plenty of them that transition seamlessly into the pros after just one season in college. Those who need a little time to develop would have three whole years to hone their skills and refine their game before jumping to the NBA. That would lead to an increase in pro-ready prospects.

This system is not perfect, but it is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to repairing the current dysfunctional method to college basketball.