Dwane Casey returned to Toronto for the first time since they won the NBA championship last season. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Toronto — When the Toronto Raptors won the NBA title last season, Dwane Casey was watching on TV in Los Angeles with Pistons team owner Tom Gores. It was an odd intersection between Casey’s past and present and Casey admitted there were some emotions.
He texted with his former point guard, Kyle Lowry, and had some well wishes for some of his former players as they reached their pinnacle.
Casey had a sense of pride, knowing that he helped build the franchise from a 23-win struggling crew into a group on the precipice, only stopped by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference playoffs during their peak.
Last season, Casey and the Pistons won in their first trip back to Toronto. But after an NBA title, the questions persist about the relationship between Casey and his former team, now that they’re the defending champions.
Casey said time is making things easier to transition to not thinking about his time in Toronto, but he’s looking to move forward to help the Pistons reach the same success.
“It’s less weird; you get used to it and (changing teams) is part of the NBA,” Casey said Wednesday before the Pistons played the Raptors at Scotiabank Arena. “I’m so proud of the team from last year and how they came out and won the championship. Seeing the banner up there was beautiful for the team, the organization and for the country.
“It irks me when I read the narrative that Dwane is salty. I can’t say anything right. If I say we got better every year, (it’s) ‘He’s salty.’ (If I say) we developed those guys, (it’s) ‘He’s salty.’ Dwane Casey is not salty at all. I’m happy for everybody here and for the organization.”
Casey said he and Raptors team president Masai Ujiri talked in the summer and there is no animosity between the two, after Ujiri fired Casey following his winning coach of the year in 2017-18.
“There’s no animosity in my heart whatsoever; I can live and I can sleep at night,” Casey said. “There’s no saltiness, no pepper, no hot sauce, anything whatsoever.”
For what it’s worth, the Toronto fans gave Casey a warm reception both when he was announced in the pregame introductions and also during one of the first timeouts, when the Raptors paid tribute on the video screens. The team was acknowledging the biggest contributors in their first 25 years and feted Casey.
Luke Kennard started for the second straight game and looks to be the short-term solution to add an offensive punch to the first unit. He had a subpar game on Monday, but without Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson, they’re struggling to find other options.
Kennard provides a good ball-handler and another shooter, but it takes away the pairing with Derrick Rose that has been one of the biggest revelations of the season so far.
“One thing Luke gives you is spacing. He’s one of our best 3-point shooters and people have to respect that,” Casey said. “It’s his spacing, ball-handling in pick-and-rolls, his passing and playmaking. That gives us another weapon and that’s something that was really evident versus Indiana the other night.”
Things could change when Griffin returns, which could be this week. But for now, Kennard is the option to prevent long offensive droughts.
“I love keeping the second unit together and they’re very productive. He and Derrick Rose have a good combo going,” Casey said. “When Blake does come back and Reggie, it takes a little from his game as the fourth ball-handler (in the starting lineup). We have to balance that out but right now, it’s something we have to go with to make do.”