In need of a culture reset

Did the Raptors miss an opportunity with Jerry Stackhouse?

 

Let the record show that I have never been truly opposed to any decision Masai Ujiri has made since he took the reins of the Toronto Raptors back in 2013…I’ve given him plenty of THUMBS UP and figurative pats on the back for his dealings.

He successfully signed Kyle Lowry to not one, but two UFA contracts to keep him in Toronto while the vultures circled and sources claimed he was as good as gone.  Say what you want about Lowry, but he has been integral in transforming Canada’s only NBA franchise into a perennial upper tier team in the Eastern Conference, and still is considered an upper tier elite point guard.

Ujiri took all but 30 seconds to re-sign DeMar DeRozan, arguably the greatest by the numbers player in franchise history (That debate is for another time.  I’m torn between him and #15 – No, not Amir Johnson; and while possibly second on my list,  not Jorge Garbajosa) .  Similar to Lowry, DeMar is not without his detractors and doubters for his style of play and perceived inability to achieve elite superstar status.  Nonetheless, I’ll have you know he’s a top-tier 2-guard in the NBA with the ability to take over a game, even if he does so as one of those “volume shooters”.

Masai has orchestrated several franchise-altering trades, including off loading Rudy Gay’s monster contract for a package that included Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, Greivis Vasquez, and John Salmons (That trade was meant to trigger a rebuild — a rare miss by Masai??).

John Salmons for Lou Williams and Bebe Nogueira??? HA!.  Approved.

Could he possibly trade Andrea Bargnani for something more than a bowl of Primo Pasta & sauce??? — Yes, he can, and he did…for 3 players (Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, and Marcus Camby) along with several picks for Il Mago, one of which turned out to be Jakob Poeltl.

He swapped “I walk with a swagger and that’s about it” Greivis Vasquez for the rights to Norman Powell (HAHAHA) and a future first round pick (OG Anunoby).  CALL ME CRAZY, but I’m super high on Delon Wright, Poeltl, and even Siakam,,, and will admit to buying into the thought of meaningful Bruno Time in 2017-2018.

Lowe Post w/ Jerry Stackhouse – LISTEN HERE (Bruno endorsement around the 41:00 minute mark!!)

Case and point: Ujiri has been money.

The DeMarre Carroll signing turned ugly, but most would admit to praising and supporting the signing when it took place back in July 2015.  If you were lukewarm at the time, I commend you, because he checked all the boxes from a team needs standpoint.

A Jonas Valanciunas extension that followed shortly after was met with slightly more skepticism but one could argue they needed to do it and the price-tag was reasonable, especially with the approaching cap hike.  Ask any Raptors fan, and they are likely to sing the praises of Ujiri’s savvy front office dealings, and his ability to construct and maintain a competitive NBA roster without sacrificing flexibility.

Fast forward to the present…

On the heels of a successful draft that saw the Raptors take a high ceiling prospect in OG Anunoby, a free agency period highlighted by some much-needed roster modifications, most notably adding CJ Miles, a result of trading backup point guard Cory Joseph, and ridding the team of Carroll’s contract to the division garbage men Brooklyn Nets, Ujiri’s most puzzling decision actually came shortly after the season’s end — before all of the above.

A decision that seemed to contradict his end of season plea for a change in the team’s style of play.

I’m referring to the choice to stick with Dwane Casey, not a new face, to oversee a full-scale culture change and shifting of the team’s offensive direction & philosophy (with DIAL DOWN THE ISO BALL! being the most likeliest subject line of the “Flagged as Important” email circulated by Masai following the Cavaliers sweep).

Casey, first and foremost, is a high character first class human being.  He is a loving husband, father and has done many great things for not only the Toronto Raptors, but the city of Toronto as well.  You won’t ever hear me say Casey isn’t a good head coach, because I think he is just that.  However, a good coach only gets you so far and I genuinely feel this team needs a fresh voice to get them to the next level.  Despite the consistent winning seasons, franchise records for regular season wins, and annual trips to the NBA’s second season, this team may have peaked with Casey at the helm.

This was the off-season for Masai to pull the trigger on a coaching change.  A plea for a culture reset combined with an obvious protest of a coach’s offensive philosophy after successive playoff face plants, one would have thought the writing was on the wall that Ujiri was planning to hand Casey his walking papers.

Casey owns a regular season winning percentage of .548 as (261-215), but his playoff winning percentage falls short of acceptable at .415 (17-24), and that right there is my main issue with him…He’s never gotten his team to peak come playoff time.  Included in his record are some heart-breakers, I get that.  I remember the game 7 home loss to Brooklyn.  What I also remember is the dismal effort put forth by the Raptors in game 6. They were bad.  They were terrible!!!! — You can point to Lowry’s night, a blistering offensive rating of 64, while simultaneously using up 26.1% of his team’s offensive possessions.  Sure, but he was one of many no-shows on a night where there was no excuse not to come out for the kill.  Casey has to shoulder a large portion of that blame. His men were simply not prepared.

The next year…remember that spectacle?

A first-round sweep at the hands of the Wizards…the team everyone wanted to play.  So much for all those right of passage lessons learned in the Brooklyn series.  No defensive intensity and the same one-dimensional offence, and it was all over in the blink of an eye.

The next two seasons offered better results, but still followed a similar trend — one step forward, and two steps back.

A trip to the Eastern Conference Finals was exciting, a franchise first, but it ended with a loss (No, I’m not being harsh – LeBron or no LeBron, you are in the business of winning and this was yet another loss on the resume).  This past season, a round earlier and in four games instead of six, the Raptors found themselves exiting the playoffs courtesy of Cleveland.  They were left with numerous unanswered questions, and a “what could’ve been?” feeling (A thrilling ECF against the Celtics, resulting in the winner having the honour of getting seriously embarrassed by the Warriors in a comical Finals being my answer to that).

What does this Raptors team need to get over the playoff hump????

Remember those Mark Jackson Warriors teams???  Great regular seasons marred by disappointing playoff exits.  Consistent regular season performers — Inevitable underdog come playoff time.  You know what a consistent underdog does more than anything? LOSE! (Basketball on Paper…Dean Oliver…Read it).  Those Warriors were, and these Casey-led Raptors are consistent, which isn’t bad.  Consistency is good, but in both cases, the playoff versions were consistently bad...Enter Steve Kerr…

(HOLY SH*T! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!)

Historic seasons…Championships…and 975 back surgeries — Get well Steve, you truly are a gem and I love when you’re Wired for Sound.

Why cant the Raptors find their Steve Kerr?

Wait a second, he may be right there in front of them.

Most are familiar with Jerry Stackhouse’s NBA pedigree.  High quality, high character player.  A two-time All-Star with a career that spanned nearly 20 NBA seasons.

Well, he just so happens to be the 2016-2017 G-League coach of the year, guiding the Raptors 905 to their first league title.

Before taking over the 905, “Stack” spent time as an assistant on Casey’s staff.  He’s the prime understudy and when you listen to him speak, you can understand why he is able to easily establish meaningful relationships with his players and get the most of them.  If you didn’t click on the link above to Zach Lowe’s “Lowe Post” episode with Stackhouse earlier, here’s another reminder.

He should have been named Head Coach of the Raptors following this season…He should be leading the culture change alongside Ujiri and Bobby Webster, not Dwane Casey.  Perhaps he can help DeRozan learn how to work the three-point shot into his game night performances?  He MIGHT even convince DeMar to actually play defence.

Maybe Jerry Stackhouse is the Raptor’s version of Steve Kerr.  Maybe he’s the new voice, the new face, and new blood this Raptors squad needs to surge to the top of the East. Apart from the veterans that have spent years under Casey (including one year with Stackhouse as an assistant), the majority of the young players have spent time with the 905 during Stack’s tenure as head coach.  They know him, are comfortable with him, and are familiar with his philosophies and coaching style.

Norman Powell, due to be an RFA in 2018, credits Stackhouse for keeping him ready during his 2015-2016 rookie season that saw his playing time fluctuate sporadically. Powell would lean on Stackhouse’s experience and guidance when his playing time would go from a DNP-CD to starting and being asked to guard Paul George in a road playoff game.

Stackhouse has clout with the vets too.  He was a player and he knows and understands the business — You don’t think he could appeal to Lowry’s burning desire to win and be the best?

Stackhouse was a hard-nosed competitor just like Lowry.  I have ZERO doubts about whether he could build a connection and trust with all the veterans the same way he successfully did with the “kids” of the 905.  His offensive philosophy encourages transition.  Get out and run before the defence gets set.  Strength in numbers.  Fill the corners.  Carolina Secondary offence 101, just like Dean Smith drew it up.

The Raptors 905 ranked 2nd amongst playoff teams in offensive rating (111.7), and 1st in defensive rating (97.9) leading to a 6-1 record and G-League title in Stackhouse’s first and only season.  It would appear he found something that worked, and don’t give me the “well it’s only the G-League so who cares?” argument.  Those guys in that league are high quality players, all looking to make a living playing the game and prove they belong in the NBA.

The 905 got stronger come playoff time, they excelled in high pressure situations, two observations one would have a tough time making about the Raptors playoff performances under Casey.  So I once again ask, why didn’t Ujiri give Stackhouse the chance to perform at the NBA level.  What more does he need to do, and when would the timing be more appropriate with so many of Jerry’s students seemingly ready to graduate to full-time NBA duty?

Before you go pointing out the fact that the Raptors 905 ranked near the bottom in pace, both in the regular season and playoffs, one must consider the main intent of G-League teams: To prepare its players for action with the big club.  To mimic the style of the parent club for seamless integration in the event of call ups.  He needs to have guys play a certain way such that they are familiar and accustomed to the style of play Casey prefers…slow, stagnant, and predictable come to mind as appropriate adjectives.

Given a clean slate and chance to put his stamp on the team’s offensive and defensive philosophies, I would expect Stackhouse to transform the Raptors into a team that relies on and thrives in a more free-flowing, less ISO reliant offence.

Case and point — Four straight playoff appearances has got me convinced  that Dwane Casey has gotten all he can out of this squad…and it would have been well worth the “perceived” risk to see if Stackhouse could have elevated the Raptors to even higher heights this season than Casey has taken them to in his tenure.  Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work and you’re forced to initiate a rebuild.

Ahh hell, it remains to be seen if the 2017-2018 Raptors successfully make the transition to a more modern-day NBA offense under Casey.

Can JV make the required defensive leaps to warrant crunch time minutes? Will he be traded?

Can CJ Miles solve their achilles heel at the 3?

Will DeRozan add the three-point shot to his arsenal and learn how to be a more effective distributor, trusting his teammates to make shots when called upon? —— All of these questions will be answered come October.

But I’d feel marginally better about the team’s ability to move the needle if Ujiri had opted to go in a different direction at the head coach position.

We shall see…

Ciao for now,

As always, thank you to nba.com and basketball-reference.com for providing access to copious amounts of information

 

 

 

 

 

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