Photo above is of coach Dwane Casey with Raptors players. Photo courtesy of NBA.com.
By Lekan Afolabi
Pride Contributing Writer
A little over two weeks ago, I was exposed to some very negative sentiments and comments about the Raptors play since the NBA All-Star break. I let those interactions marinate up until now, as the team is about to begin its second straight playoff campaign.
Before I get into the narratives which led to my decision to write this piece, I want to make it clear that I know “WeTheNorth” is alive and strong. In other words, this is not about implying that Raptor fans are less than stellar. The opposite is actually the case. I will say this, and I mean it… Raptor fans are by far the best in the NBA!
Some of us, though, need to relax already!
As I stated earlier, a little over two weeks ago… the Raptors lost a very winnable game to the Chicago Bulls. The night before that, it was a disappointing loss to the Detroit Pistons. After the loss to the Bulls, I checked my Facebook account and came across this Timeline post from a friend:
“The Toronto Raptors are so very disappointing, year after year”
This statement then prompted a response from one of his friends:
“All smoke and mirrors… DeRozan is an awful basketball player”
As Raptor fans, we have earned the right to be skeptical… especially when we think the proverbial crap is about to hit the fan, again.
We have earned the right to complain endlessly when our team loses games we think they should have won. We have earned the right to expect the good times to stay only for a brief moment – when the team you root for has been to the playoffs only seven times in 20 seasons of existence, expecting the worst only seems natural.
But I think it is time someone told some of us to RELAX ALREADY!
I was a bit confused as to why the sentiment from these gentlemen were so dramatic. After all, the Raptors were in first place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 42 wins to 30 losses. A position they ultimately held on to as they won their second straight Atlantic Division title. I understand that it is very difficult as fans to see the big picture, because we are not burdened with the micro and macro responsibilities of managing the team. To be honest, I think fans mostly view their team in clusters of five to 10 games; a record of 3 wins and seven loses in the last ten games, would make the average fan want to hurl insults and abuse at the team, its best player, the coach, the general manager and even the team owner. In other words, no one is safe when our team is losing – we will find someone to blame.
But this time, the context of the Raptors situation begged for patience, and an understanding that the goal was “getting back to the playoffs”. It seems obvious to me that this fact was lost on these two Facebook guys.
To them and fans who think like this, Relax Already!
I think it is time we acknowledge what some of us already knew – this Raptors team was never expected nor was it intended to excel like it has!
We need to constantly remind ourselves of the fact that the additions from last year – of Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons – were not intended to elevate the team to a playoff caliber team. It was about creating cap space, about $12 million off the books for this year and beyond, but somehow, unbeknownst to everyone, the new players helped to create a good enough roster in the weaker Eastern Conference.
A few hours after reading the Facebook post from the two gentlemen, I got a call from a friend who really wanted to talk about the Raptors recent losses. After the usual phone call pleasantries were out of the way, he quickly blurted out what was on his mind:
“The Raptors should fire Dwane Casey!”
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated sentiment because I have seen others like this in the comment sections of various online articles. I spent about fifteen minutes trying to explain to him why such an outcry was very premature and misplaced. His response to any sense I thought I was making with my points were, ‘the players no longer respect Dwane Casey and have tuned him out’. Now, I don’t have a locker room press pass, and therefore cannot provide information from some unknown source who then gives me the 411. I watch the games like most fans and come to conclusions based on what I see, and nothing from my observations point to a team that no longer plays hard for the coach.
The truth is that some fans are short-sighted, glass half empty, the-world-is-about-to-end type of complainers. These are the fans who take a small sampling, mixed with a generally limited knowledge or observation of the team, and then spew doomsday sentiments.
Allow me to say this again… RELAX ALREADY!
Casey is not the primary reason for the poor play from the Raptors since the All-Star break in February; ESPN just ranked him 13th out of 30 best NBA coaches. The ranking criteria most likely had something to do with the roster each coach has to work with. Casey’s ranking speaks volumes when you consider the other coaches, and the talent on their teams.
Masai Ujiri, the Raptors GM, seems to have a lot of patience with this roster. He resisted the urge to make moves during the trade deadline. He went on to explain his reasoning:
“Vote of confidence to our players, to our team, to coach (Dwane Casey), keep plugging away,” Ujiri said. “We’ve made a commitment, trying to give this group a chance.”
There you have it, we have “to give this group a chance” to cement their identity. It would seem that some fans got spoiled from last year’s unexpected on-court improvements, and the great start to this season.
The reality is that the team is going through a transitional phase, one which some fans need to see for exactly what it is – a team good enough to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference… but not good enough that bad losing stretches during the season are seen as an extinction level event.
Once more, to them I say… RELAX ALREADY!