Mere hours after the Toronto Raptors officially announced the hiring of former Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey as the Raptors’ new head coach, he called into Tim and Sid: Uncut on TheScore Satellite Radio. Here’s a recap of the key subjects they discussed. If you want to listen to the interview, you can catch it on the Tim and Sid: Uncut blog. Casey appears at around the 28-minute mark of the sound clip.
You were in a good position as assistant coach with the defending world champions. Why take this challenge now?
“Well, it’s something that you work for. I really think that Toronto is a great sports city and the number one thing is that Bryan Colangelo is one of the most respected men in the NBA. Working with him, I’m looking forward to that. I think that you have one of the most young, athletic, talented teams. There is work to do, there is work to putting this team together. I thought Jay (Triano) did a good job getting these guys going offensively, but the one thing that we gotta put in is our defensive imprint. We’ll put our footprints all over that and make sure we get together on the defensive end because offensively, by getting ready for these guys (as an assistant with Dallas) and preparing for Andrea, preparing for DeMar, and all these other offensive players you have is a nightmare. But one thing they didn’t do is do a good job of defending and that’s where I feel confident that I know I can make an imprint and have an effect on the team, so that’s the challenge I wanted to take.”
For years, this team, as you know, it’s almost as if they’ve refused to play defense. So the question becomes: How do you take a team like that and flip the switch?
“It’s an approach. I don’t know what drills where run or what emphasis was put on the team before I got here, but I will tell you this. We will make defense a high priority every practice, every time we get together, every film session, to the point where our guys will make it a part of their identity. But I don’t want it to be drudgery, I want the guys to have fun coming to practice, coming to work and working on the defensive game. One thing defense allows you to do, it allows you to get out and run and play in flow, and have some freedom offensively, because it’s hard to run out of the net. Everybody talks about how they want to be a running team. Well, if you want to be a running team and have freedom offensively, you’ve got to get it done on the defensive end… You know, you can have all the schemes you want to have, but if you don’t do it hard and play with intensity and have a disposition that, ‘Hey, when you come through the paint, you’re gonna be touched, you’re not gonna get free cuts through the paint,” then all the schemes in the world aren’t going to work.”
You’ve been around sports long enough. I’ve heard the term “changing culture” so many times that if I had a nickel, I’d be rich now. Is it possible to change culture?
“It is. I do know you can change culture. To give an example, in Dallas, the culture was changed from being an offensive juggernaut to a defensive team. You know, we went up to top seven defensively in Dallas from Don Nelson who was a high-octane, offensive-type team to a defensive mentality type of team. It is a change in the culture and it’s what you emphasize as a coach. It’s the drills you put in, the schemes you come up with to fit your personnel and that’s my job, that’s my charge to do with this team… You know, the first conversation I had with Dirk (Nowitzki), the first thing he would tell you was that his offense is his defense. But then, lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago, he was the first one to talk about, ‘We gotta get stops, we gotta do this defensively, we gotta do that defensively.’ So, to me, that is a change of culture.”
At the news conference today, you mentioned that early in the Finals against Miami when things weren’t going too well, you sat the guys down and played them some hockey tape to show them some defensive schemes. Question one: Where did the inspiration for that come from? Question two: Which team did you use from the National Hockey League to show the type of defense you wanted your team to play?
“You put me on the spot, because it wasn’t the Maple Leafs, it was Boston. It was a Stanley Cup game, those guys were going at each other and checking each other into the walls and I mean, really doing a good job of making sure people were getting touched and that type of thing. I just felt like we were giving LeBron and Dwyane Wade too much respect and not being physical enough with them.”
What’s your current take on Andrea Bargnani and where do you think he can take his game?
“To me, he’s Dirk-like, as far as being seven-foot, one of the best big men shooters in the league, great hands, athletic. Where I see him getting better is being more focused on pushing himself each and every day, putting his nose to the grind and taking it as a challenge each and every day to be the best. That’s the determination I want to charge Andrea with and try to reach him with. I thought he made big steps last year when Bosh left. I thought he took a big step offensively to put more of the team on his shoulders and take big shots. But now the charge is to be more of a leader, to be a better defender, to be a better weak-side defender and there are some things we can do to help him with that. But it’s got to come from within. I mean, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. But we’re going to work with him, whether it’s holding him accountable, putting my arm around him, whatever it takes to work with Andrea because he’s got too much talent to let it fade and not really try to strain his potential out of him and try to get the most we can out of him. Again, he’s our star, he and DeMar are our core guys… That’s going to be our job as a coaching staff is to make sure every day we get in the gym, work with him and push him and see where it lands.”