Dwane Casey

For the past week or so, it seems like it’s been a matter of when — not if — Dwane Casey would be hired as the new head coach of the Toronto Raptors. Today, the Raptors will officially announce that Casey will be the franchise’s eighth coach in its 17th season.

It’s not hard to understand why Casey would be seen as a desirable candidate to coach this team — he was reported to be the “defensive architect” behind the Mavs’ championship run this season, including the zone defense that confounded LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the Finals. I’m not sure how much credit Casey really deserves for the Mavs’ defense, considering that Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has been one of the better defensive coaches in the league for quite some time. But Raptors fans can hope that he’s learned a lot from “the master” and can apply those strategies to a team that has had the NBA’s worst defense for two straight seasons.

Casey’s previous NBA head coaching experience was in Minnesota, where he compiled a 53-69 record over a season-and-a-half from 2005 to 2007. When Casey took over the Timberwolves for the 2005-06 season, he improved their Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) from 15th overall in 2004-05 to 10th in the NBA in his only full season. Casey was fired midway through the 2006-07 season with a 20-20 record, and the T-Wolves proceeded to go 12-30 under his replacement, Randy Wittman.

After his January 2007 firing, ESPN’s Ric Bucher described Casey as “classy and soft-spoken” while then-GM Kevin McHale said, “Case is a tremendous guy. I couldn’t find a negative thing to say about him.” Former Seattle SuperSonics radio play-by-play announcer Kevin Locke had this assessment of Casey after he learned about Casey’s dismissal in Minnesota:

“Casey is one of the best people I have known in this business. He works diligently at his task and has a vision for what he believes and how he believes basketball should be played. He is tireless. He is high quality.”

With the Mavericks’ recent success and considering how he seems to be regarded throughout the league, it’s not hard to see why he would appeal to Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo. My only question is: Why did it take him so long to get another head coaching job after he lost his Minnesota gig?

For years, Casey was one of those guys who always seemed to get mentioned as a candidate for any head coaching vacancy, but it never really panned out for him. Maybe it’s that “soft-spoken” thing, which can make you likable but doesn’t necessarily command the respect of a certain type of player. Luckily, the Raptors’ likely key players going forward — Demar DeRozan and Ed Davis — don’t seem to be the kind of players that need to be yelled at for motivation.

While most of us would surely have preferred a more experienced leader like Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman or Mike Fratello, those guys likely aren’t interested in taking over rebuilding team like this one so Casey is probably the best of the remaining options. He certainly brings a winning pedigree coming to the Raptors after he was a key figure on the coaching staff of the reigning champs — that ought to earn the players’ respect in Toronto immediately.

What are your thoughts on this hire? Is Casey the right coach to finally lead this team to competitive respectability?