Detroit — When Dwane Casey returns to Toronto for the first time as an opposing coach, there will be some uneasiness.
All indications are that the Raptors will have some kind of tribute video or appreciation for Casey when the Pistons play Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena, their only trip to Toronto this season.
Things are different in Toronto now. Casey was fired in May after seven seasons, helping the Raptors become one of the league’s best teams in the arduous process. DeMar DeRozan went to the San Antonio Spurs in a blockbuster trade that brought Kawhi Leonard.
When he returns for the first time, Casey will get mostly applause from the fans, but All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, who played six seasons under Casey, would like to see some definitive appreciation for this former coach and former teammate.
“Standing ovation. They have done a lot for the city and the organization,” Lowry told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears last week. “Welcome them with open arms, which I’m sure Toronto fans will do. I have no doubt about that.”
Their defining “We the North” mantra is borne of Casey’s teams’ work ethic and the pride that the city and country took in the Raptors’ growth — and helping to build that remains a source of pride.
“Big-time pride — right, wrong, or indifferent. That’s something that when they let you go, they can’t take away from you,” Casey said recently. “I mean, those guys busted their behinds and stuck with it. It wasn’t easy; it wasn’t always pretty. Fans always wanted more.”
The Raptors have the NBA’s best record and under new coach Nick Nurse, who was Casey’s assistant, they’re looking to get over the hump in the Eastern Conference and make the NBA Finals.
Casey is having his growing pains with installing a new culture with the Pistons, who are 6-6 and just looking to make the playoffs. It’s not so much a revenge motivation, but the Pistons want to get a win for their new coach.
“I would love nothing more, honestly. This one would be special if we could get a win for him,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “He’s not going to say anything about it and we probably won’t talk about it, but guys will have it in the back of their minds.
“I can’t sense anything from him. That’s how great a dude he is: he’s not going to say much, and he has the utmost respect for Toronto; he talked about it when he first came here.”
After his firing, Casey, 61, placed an ad in the Toronto Star to thank the fans for their support during his time there. He hasn’t had any ill words of the Raptors organization, despite his dismissal following a third straight playoff exit at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The new-look Raptors will be a challenge for the Pistons, who have just one game this week. The Pistons will look to get back above .500 after Sunday’s loss to the Hornets. It would be a boost and certainly the Pistons’ best win of the season — for themselves and for Casey.
“It’d be huge. I know he really wants that win,” guard Langston Galloway said. “He won’t say it — but we need to get this win for him.”
Back to work
With only one game on the schedule this week, Casey wants to take some of the extra time to tighten up some of the principles the team has struggled with in the past few games. That means resting and nursing some injuries but also getting back to the practice court.
“We’re going to have some good practice time, at least in the coaching staff’s mind. We’re looking at it as a good stint for practice, with a tough game Wednesday,” Casey said Sunday. “It gives us a great time to shore up some things and really get back to basics on some things that we’re working on.”
The Pistons will have played their first 14 games against teams from the Eastern Conference. They won’t play a West team until Houston on Nov. 21, the first of a home-and-home, with the Nov. 23 matchup at Little Caesars Arena.