By Craig Fields
Can you hear it? That sound. It’s the sound of a collective group of guys in Toronto clawing their way back to relevancy. It’s the sound of a team stretching and straining to attain a title of contender in the extremely top heavy NBA Eastern Conference.
It has been six years since the Raptors have sniffed the postseason, and 13 years since the Raptors have had any level of success once they reached the post-season. This starting lineup of 20-somethings, led by a do it all point guard Kyle Lowry and new NBA All-Star shooting guard Demar Derozen, are for real, and they demand respect.
“We’re going out there gaining our respect and everything will come with it,” DeRozan said. “You can call it a coming out party or whatnot. But every time we step on that court you know who you are playing against. When we leave off that court you’re going to respect us.”
Dwane Casey, the current head coach of the Toronto Raptors and winner of coach of the month for December in the eastern conference, has this group believing in each other and playing hard. The ability of this coaching staff to adapt after trading Rudy Gay and two other players, for four entirely different players, is very impressive.
Allowing his job security, or lack thereof to not interfere with his coaching job is commendable as well. Casey’s contract with the Raptors ends at the end of this year. However, Casey is anything but worried.
“I never worried about having a job,” Casey said. “I say that with all sincerity. I never worried about losing a job, getting a job. Because I learned a long time ago how to fish.”
Well maybe that laid back mentality translates over pretty well to this team. This team isn’t outstanding on offense. They are not outstanding on defense. They are currently 28-24 in the east. Just four games over .500. Nothing spectacular. This team is resilient. They have two second year starters. When you have two sophomores on your team in starting positions, you have to be resilient.
“It’s difficult,” Casey said. “The question has come up quite a bit. It’s the most difficult thing in sports, is have two second-year guys as our starters and trying to win and win the division at the same time. The development of our young guys is just as important, believe it or not, for the organization as winning is.”
That process of development for guys like Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas is imperative for the success of this team, this year and in the future. This team also has to find a way to keep their young budding stars. The Raptors lost players like Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and Chris Bosh when they were in their prime.
For this team to become a constant in the postseason, and not some one trick pony, they will need stability at the head coaching position and the ability to keep their talent in house. The development of this team has been a pleasant surprise in what has otherwise been a rather dismal season for the struggling and uncompetitive eastern conference.