Raptors Cage

Three recent cases similar to the Casey firing and how they ended up

The Raptors firing of Dwane Casey is unlike most firings. DC getting the axe after getting swept by Cleveland should surprise no one, but it will go down in infamy nonetheless. It was an unprecedented move given the team’s regular season success and the heights Casey had brought them to, but likely necessary.

With all the questions surrounding how the Raptors actually plan to get better by firing a successful coach, it’s important to look to the past, and how teams in a similar situation fared.

Things like this don’t happen a ton, but there are three firings that can be seen as somewhat of a parallel towards it.

George Karl, 2013, Denver Nuggets

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How is it similar?

This is the most famous of the cases, and its parallels to the Casey firing are uncanny. Karl had received the Coach of the Year award just a month before his dismissal, making the move surprising to people around the league. Karl had just taken a hodgepodge of lesser-known players to 57 wins by the strength of their depth. Their leading scorer, Ty Lawson, only averaged 16.7 PPG. Like the Raptors, the firing was about playoff struggles and almost nothing else, as Karl’s Nuggets had been bounced from the first round of the playoffs four years in a row. The team had set a franchise record in wins (hmm), but disappointed when when the postseason began. A candidate to make the Finals, the Nuggets lost to the lower-seeded Warriors in six, back when losing to Golden State was a bad thing.

How is it different?

Overall, the move was more shocking than the Casey firing. Many saw the early playoff exit as a lesser disappointment given that a key contributor, Danilo Gallinari, was injured. Players were stunned and tweeted in dismay.

Now, the situation wasn’t entirely the same. Rather than just the disposing of a coach, the firing was part of a complete overhaul. Masai Ujiri, who happened to be the Nuggets GM, left almost right as Karl did. The Nuggets were looking to revamp their culture rather than simply replace coaches. That summer, the team dealt Andre Iguodala to the Warriors for Randy Foye. They lost Danilo Gallinari as well. Other than that, they ran it back.

How did the team fare?

The next year, now under Brian Shaw, was an awkward semi-rebuild, semi-attempt to earn a playoff spot. It failed. They were 36-46 without Karl, and have been stuck in the NBA’s zone of horror since. The teams that aren’t good enough to make the playoffs, but don’t get great draft picks. Luckily, a 2nd-round flier on Nikola Jokic has turned their hopes around, but the Karl firing hasn’t resulted in much.

Tom Thibodeau, 2015, Chicago Bulls

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How is it similar?

Before this year, it was Thibs’ Bulls who gave LeBron James the biggest run for his money in the East. That’s why, like Casey, his firing was also an interesting one, as the 50-32 Bulls had just pushed the heavily-favoured Cavs to six games in the conference semifinal. Thibs was seen as a defensive godsend who got the most out of his roster, but the Bulls couldn’t get to the next level with LeBron in their way. You’re not alone, Raptors fans.

How is it different?

The move was less of a firing and more of a result of a toxic relationship between Thibs and ownership. Everybody saw it coming, as Thibodeau and the Bulls executives disagreed on many things, including Thibs and his want for more power within the organization. It was clear to many that the only solution was to find a new coach.

How did the team fare?

The Bulls tried to make a splash, hiring Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg to coach the team. That year, they did something that Thibs hadn’t done with them in his five year tenure, which was miss the playoffs, even without much roster turnover. It was clear that Hoiberg was no Thibedou. Since then, the Bulls tried to overhaul their team, dealing away Jimmy Butler in hopes of competing once again way down the line.

David Blatt, 2016, Cleveland Cavaliers

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How is it similar?

He may have not been much of the reason behind it, but the Cavaliers were very successful under Blatt. His 2015-16 Cavs team was 30-11 at the time, and looked much more dominant than that of the Cavs of today. The year before, the Cavs would have had a great shot at being crowned champions had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love not been out for the majority of the Finals. Blatt seemed to be a decent option at coach, but was canned halfway through the year in a shocking, out-of-nowhere manner.

How is it different?

It’s hard to compare this to Casey’s firing. The Cavs thrived under Blatt, but obviously, it wasn’t really because of him. It was because of LeBron James, and if Blatt wasn’t an adequate coach in terms of what LeBron James needed in a coach, then there was no reason that he should remain the coach. He wasn’t hired to coach LeBron in the first place, as he came on with them just before LBJ’s return, and thus he likely just wasn’t the right pick.

How did it end up?

Tyronn Lue took over and the first-seeded Cavs won the Finals. Again, as we all know, it’s hardly his doing, but the move was successful nonetheless.

So what do we take away from these three examples?

It’s an interesting case study, but since every scenario is so unique, it’s hard to learn much from them. In the cases of Denver and Chicago, re-tooling with a new coach only set the team back. A lot of it seems to depend on hiring the right coach, so it’ll very important for the Raptors to get this right. I don’t envy Masai right about now.

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