“I think everybody thought I would be, ‘Woe is me.’ But I looked at it the other way,” Casey recently told The Athletic. “What it did, it reinforced what I was I doing. And that group took it over the hump and finished it. The foundation, what we were building, how I was building it, was good. Running the same offense, same defense, same philosophy, same things we built there for seven years, so it enthused me. I was happy for the players, for the country and the team. It really energized me, that what we were doing was right. I took that with it, more than jealousy.”
“It was all positive. There was nobody that I know, family or whatever, that was pissed off that (the Raptors) won the championship. Believe me, I was just pulling for them, as much as every else. Everybody was expecting me to be like,” Casey paused, lowering his head, slouching his shoulders, and curling his lips as if to mope. “No, not at all.”
“I wasn’t there to see it through fruition but you can’t take away the numbers and what we accomplished. Again, it’s not a championship. But I don’t know if we were really ready or built for a championship with that group,” said Casey, the only coach in Raptors franchise history to leave with a winning record (320-238). “They had to add (Marc) Gasol, and Danny Green and Kawhi to that foundation that was there, to go ahead. That’s what I want to do here. That’s why Tom has given me a long term contract to build it here and that’s what we’re on the road to doing.”
But even with those roster changes, Casey takes some pride in having a hand in developing and molding players such as Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell, who were essential figures in the title run. Casey said he sent congratulatory text messages to several of his former players. “I was so excited,” Casey said. “All of those guys that I had there, I was excited for.”
Before the Finals began, Ujiri made it a point to acknowledge Casey’s contributions to the organization, while adding that Casey and DeRozan, “are part of this.” During the season, Lowry credited Casey, a coach with whom he didn’t always see eye-to-eye, for giving him the freedom to fail. “We had our disagreements but not arguments about how we should play, the way I play, the way the team plays. But we figured it out, which is a big thing in this game is to earn the trust of each other,” Lowry told The Athletic.
“For me, I’m going to prove to you what I can do and I’m going to make you trust me. He made me prove it, and once I proved it, he let me do whatever the hell I wanted. He became a better coach because he was able to adjust to everything, everybody and let us all become better basketball players. He’s helped a lot of people and we’ve helped him.”
“It was kind of, do you take Kyle? Don’t take Kyle? People don’t realize, when he first came in, Jose Calderon was the starting point guard but Kyle kept his nose to the ground, changed his body,” Casey said. “Kyle is self made. Does a lot with a little. So proud of him, the way that he’s become a leader of the team and the legacy he’s going to leave in Toronto is going to be second to none. Probably DeMar, Vince Carter, and that group will be right there at the top.”
VanVleet cracked his way into Casey’s rotation despite being an undrafted free agent and Powell become a serviceable role player despite going in the second round, but Casey is especially proud of seeing Siakam blossom into a Most Improved Player award winner who averaged 19.8 points on 50.5 percent shooting in the Finals, despite being guarded mostly by a former Defensive Player of the Year in Draymond Green.
“The thing about Pascal, I saw where he started,” Casey said. “The dude had no load management, he worked three times a day. It just didn’t happen this year. Everybody wants to say that, no, I saw that building. That first year, his rookie year where he started 40-something games, gave him confidence. Made him hungry to build in the summer time. He put the work in, to get to where he is, to be a max player that he is now.”
After his first season in San Antonio ended with a disappointing first-round exit, DeRozan escaped to Wyoming to clear his mind while the player he was traded for went on to claim his second Finals MVP. Casey needed no getaway but his summer included a dinner with DeRozan that he said involved little discussion of Toronto. “DeMar is over it,” Casey said. “We talked more about San Antonio. What’s going on with his career, his family. Nobody is sitting around crying in spilled milk about what happened, what could’ve happened. Everybody has got to move on, and move on to the next phase.
“I’m happy as I can be, as far as for them and what we’re building in Detroit is the same thing we were building in Toronto.” Casey said. “What we started here is ahead of where we started in Toronto. We’ve got good, young players here. A good mixture of old and young. The guys are working, putting the time in and the good thing here is we do have some veteran guys like Blake and Reggie (Jackson) and Andre (Drummond) that are more established than we had in Toronto, but the same footprint.”