Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors

On Monday I attended the season ending media conferences for Dwane Casey and Bryan Colangelo, which you may have watched yourself live and can still watch for yourself in its entirety at raptors.com. While we can go through every little thing that the Raptors’ coach and General Manager said, I chose instead to highlight the parts of the pressers that stuck out to me. Below, you’ll find those talking points and my thoughts on some of those points.

First up was Dwane Casey…

- While the team’s record was disappointing, Casey said he’s proud of the development he saw this season, specifically from the team’s young players.

- When talking about some of the frustrating losses the team suffered this season and how a few bounces going the other way could have changed things, Casey referenced Kobe Bryant’s heroics in the loss to the Lakers, Kyrie Irving’s deep three-pointer that beat the Raptors in Toronto (Alan Anderson’s lax defence on that play still frustrates me) and Al Jefferson’s game tying three-pointer earlier in the season, which was big Al’s only three of the season. While few of us needed a reminder about the frustrations of this season, hearing Casey reference even three of what was a plethora of heartbreaking and crushing losses just reinforced it. Geez, this team lost way too many of those games this season.

- Casey reminded us that coming into the season, he never said that the team would make the playoffs but rather that the team would be knocking on the door of the post-season, which he feels they did when they got to within four games of eighth place Milwaukee in late February. He also mentioned that the following week, where the Raptors lost to Washington, Cleveland and Milwaukee, was where things got away from them again.

Personally, I don’t consider being out of the race by March and mathematically eliminated in the first few days of April “knocking on the door,” but I do agree that the same week (February 25-March 3) Casey referenced is the week that put any hopes of the eighth seed to bed.

- Casey mentioned at one point that Rudy Gay is a deceptive defender, and it got me thinking that while everyone pointed to Gay as a one-dimensional player/athlete with little interest in using those abilities on the defensive end, it appears as though he’s actually a more valuable defensive player in the NBA than he is an offensive player.

Rudy was solid defensively for the Raptors  and was a big part of why the Lowry, DeRozan, Gay, Johnson, Valanciunas lineup measured so well on that end of the floor, but he absolutely has to be a more efficient offensive option next season. Casey also mentioned that Gay will work with Raptors strength and conditioning guru Alex McKechnie over the summer to add strength, specifically core strength.

- Casey talked about how winning and developing young players at the same time is a difficult task and also stated that the summer will be big for player development this year, whereas next year will be about winning.

- Casey downplayed the media reports of he and Kyle Lowry butting heads as him just coaching and said that they talked everyday. In one of the more forthcoming moments of the morning, however, Casey acknowledged that he “probably hindered (Lowry) a little bit” by making sure he was looking to feed his teammates since Kyle’s gift is getting to the basket.

The relationship between Casey and Lowry was a topic of discussion all season, as was Lowry’s play. The way I see it, Lowry needs to find a better balance than he did this season between attack mode and totally selfless, but Casey also needs to let his point guard take the reins.

- When asked about why Andrea Bargnani wasn’t able to replicate his early 2012 success under Casey, Dwane reiterated that he believes in Bargnani’s unquestionable talent, but also said that in terms of the All-Star level of play Andrea played at early in 2012, “Pulling that out of him, I used every bit of experience that I had in the book.” Casey later added “I’ve got to do a better job of pulling it out of him, but he’s got to meet me halfway.”

To be honest, while you can criticize Casey for certain things this season, I don’t think he should be taking any of the blame for Bargnani’s¬†inconsistencies and failures . He shouldn’t need to expend energy on getting a $10 million player to play with motivation – that’s on the player.

On a final note about Bargnani, Casey also mentioned that the offensive package the coaching staff had designed for Bargs coming into the season was similar to the offensive package Casey saw in Dallas for Dirk Nowitzki.

- When asked about whether Landry Fields is still seen as a big piece of the future here, Casey was adamant that he is. Fields’ basketball IQ and off-ball movement were once again lauded and Casey mentioned that Landry will have his shot reconstructed much the same way Ed Davis did last summer. Dwane said that Fields “fits in well with the way we want to play” and reaffirmed that “he will be a big part of what we do going forward.”

As regular RaptorBlog readers are aware, my thoughts on Fields are pretty similar. He needs to regain his shooting form and individual offensive touch to be truly worth his contract, but from a strictly basketball perspective, he’s an overall positive presence on the floor because of his defence, his rebounding and the way he creates space for teammates on offence by moving off the ball.

- In terms of Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, Casey talked about how the tough start made Valanciunas a better player later in the season, how the big rookie started seeing and reacting to double-teams in the final week or so and how he should have a “huge role” on both ends of the floor next season. As for Ross, Casey talked about how impressive the rookie’s athletic talent is, but admitted that Terrence had “an up and down year” and that the next step for the 22-year-old is to lock in and focus on every possession and learn when to drive, when to pass and when to shoot on offence.

We all know how much potential is stored in Valanciunas’ seven-foot frame and what we expect of him as he continues to develop, but I think Ross’ role and potential for 2013-14 is more of a mystery. I’ve said before that when you look at his natural shooting ability, his defensive principles, his rebounding at the wing position and his athleticism, you can make the argument that his ceiling is higher than DeMar DeRozan’s. The questions now are will Ross put the same level of off-season work in that DeRozan does and can he put all of those tools together in a breakout sophomore season next year?

- Casey said that finding a veteran backup point guard will be important.

It’s easier said than done, but the Raptors need to find a pass-first backup point guard who can play at least average defence and takes care of the ball, because John Lucas III/Sebastian Telfair logging minutes as the primary backup at the point is not going to cut it for a team that’s already talking about the 2014 playoffs.

- When asked if there’s a team out there that the Raptors’ rebuild/direction can be compared to, Casey pointed to the process Indiana has gone through in recent years “with similar athletes.”

If you recall way back in September, the Pacers and Grizzlies were the two teams I compared this Raptors’ rebuild to at the time. For the record, Indiana finished in ninth or 10th place with 32-36 wins for three seasons from 2007-08 to 2009-10 before making the playoffs with just 37 wins in 2010-11 and then emerging as a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference last season. In 2012-13, the Pacers won 49 games and finished third in the East for a second straight season.

- Overall, Casey was more forthcoming than I thought he would be in dissecting the season that was and what went wrong, but his overriding message seemed to be that he remains convinced the Raptors are headed in the right direction.

(NOTE: I’ll have notes and thoughts on Bryan Colangelo’s presser later tonight)