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What to do with Dwane Casey?

By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

Raptors GM Uijiri has a tough decision about whether to bring back Dwane Casey as coach. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun)

Raptors GM Uijiri has a tough decision about whether to bring back Dwane Casey as coach. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun)

 Dwane Casey is a fine man running out of time.

His future as coach of the Toronto Raptors is now in question, with his team a defeat away from a disappointing yet contradictory season.

The Raptors have never won more games before in a season. But progress on the court and in player development has stalled, and this playoff matchup against the Washington Wizards has been as much about what the Raptors can’t do as what they can.

Casey’s game is all about defence and the Raptors are among the NBA’s weakest defenders. The roster doesn’t help. And general manager Masai Ujiri is in a strong economic position over the next two seasons to remake the team as he envisions it. But will he be part of that remake?

He has at least one year guaranteed remaining on his contract and close to $4-million owing. Around the team you have to wonder: If the Raptors are swept out of the playoffs, will Casey be swept out with them?

There has been no indication one way or the other from Ujiri, who can’t like what he’s seen this post-season. You don’t meet better people than Casey. Ujiri knows that. It makes what he may be about to do all the more difficult.


The hockey world is small and forever petty: The number of working executives openly cheering for Brendan Shanahan to fail with the Maple Leafs is surprisingly high. Like most professional sports, hockey isn’t big on original thinking ... As we say goodbye to the Nassau Coliseum, it’s important to remember: The New York Islanders won 19 straight playoff series between 1980 and 1984. That will never happen again ... The Islanders were born in 1972. The most playoff series won in a row by the Leafs in those 43 years: Two ... Edmonton Oilers didn’t make the playoffs but are having an incredible April: First Connor McDavid. Then Peter Chiarelli. Up next: To be the City of Champions again ... What Edmonton people don’t seem to understand: I have nothing against the city of Edmonton. Spent eight of the best years of my life in Alberta. I just have little regard for the way the Oilers have run their franchise since the Stanley Cup years. There’s a disinction between the two. Bob Nicholson and Chiarelli will change that ... Shanahan, clearly, did not want to go the established Chiarelli or Ray Shero route in hiring a GM. He will go younger, lesser name in his hiring — someone from the personnel side moving up ... Speaking of Shero, I don’t know how he could get another GM job if never answers his phone. Or is it just my calls he doesn’t answer? ... What do the top four choices on the Maple Leafs coaching vacancy list — Mike Babcock, Todd McLellan, Jeff Blashill and Paul MacLean — have in common? All of them have had success coaching in the Red Wings organization.


One difference between NHL and NBA: The first round of the playoffs is the best in the NHL and the worst in the NBA, where there could be five first-round sweeps in basketball and no upsets ... One of the Raptors playoff failings has been their play in the second quarter. In the three games against Washington, they’ve been outscored 82-50 ... Another reason the Leafs called up Colton Orr for the final game of the season: He gets NHL medical coverage until October. If he needs any work done, he gets a much higher level of coverage than he would have been entitled to had he stayed in the AHL ... This was so easy even the general managers couldn’t get it wrong. The finalists for the Vezina Trophy: Carey Price, Devan Dubnyk and Pekka Rinne ... If Dustin Byfuglien was going to pull a Marshawn Lynch just before Game 4 in Winnipeg, the least he could have done was play like him ... Would it make sense in Philadelphia for the Flyers to pull a John Gibbons and bring back John Stevens to coach? It makes sense for Ron Hextall ... Sidney Crosby was in on 50% of Pittsburgh’s scoring in the Penguins first-round elimination. The only players in on more than 50% of their team’s scoring thus far? Vladimir Tarasenko and Kevin Shattenkirk in St. Louis at 53% ... Filip Forsberg was not a finalist for rookie of the year. He voted for himself on Thursday night, scoring three goals for Nashville.


Have never quite understood the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Mike Bossy is a member. Bryan Trottier is not. And now, 14 years after his NHL career has ended, Paul Coffey has been elected. Which is deserving but odd in the way they come up with athletes and compare sport to sport ... There’s something comforting about turning your television on in an American hotel room, finding the hockey game and hearing Gord Miller or Chris Cuthbert doing play by play. It’s like comfort food ... A Washington reporter’s first impression of Toronto: “Too many homeless. Everywhere I went somebody was asking me for money.” ... Could you call them fast friends? Brandon Banks, the quickest man in the CFL, grew up as close buddies with John Wall, quickest man in the NBA. Branks grew up without a mother; Wall without a father ... He can play on my team: Paul Pierce ... Pierce on being a mentor to the younger Washington Wizards: “I told them, this is playoffs. You can party all summer long. The NBA is all about partying. This isn’t a time to party.” ... An NHL executive on Cody Franson: “He’s a good player on a bad team, a below average player on a good team.” ... The best thing that happened to the Raptors in Round 1: The Atlanta Hawks were sold for $730 million. If the historically moribund Hawks are worth that much, how much are the Raptors worth? ... And no, Bryan Colangelo, who was part of a bidding group, didn’t come away with the NBA team ... Clever fan in Dallas took his Rajon Rondo jersey and covered up the R in the last name and replaced it with a G: Gondo.


Try and make sense of the Blue Jays. They sweep Baltimore but lose four of five to Tampa Bay. They have Jose Bautista, Devon Travis and Jose Reyes all hurt but not on the disabled list. Most runs scored. Second most runs given up. Lots of good. Lots of bad. Terrible turf. Lots happening in a busy three weeks ... And I wonder, outside of Toronto, is Bautista becoming the most hated player in the American League? ... Playing big roles for the Flames, Sam Bennett and David Jones: One of the major law firms in Calgary: Bennett Jones ... Department of dumb decisions (mine, in concert with my boss): Passed on the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight because I didn’t want to miss Games 5-6-7 of the Raptors series ... I’m told the apparent mystery buyer of the Argos isn’t former owner David Cynamon, although that rumour is out there. It might end up with Larry Tanenbaum owning the Argos and also hearing that David Braley’s insistence he be part of future Grey Cup revenue continues to cloud sale of the team ... If I was hiring the Leafs GM, I would have hired Chiarelli. Now if I’m Shanahan and not going that way, I’m hiring a bright assistant, either Paul Fenton in Nashville or Mike Futa in Los Angeles ... Tyler Myers was a steal for Winnipeg. He’ll lead that defence for the next 10 years ... Why an Eastern team might be the Stanley Cup winner: Better goaltending ... Love this line from former NFL coach Brian Billick: “Need is a terrible negotiator and an even worse evaluator.” ... How long does development take? In the case of Bennett, quickly. In the case of Colin Wilson of Nashville, not so fast. Wilson, playing so well for the Predators, was drafted in 2008 and is just now at 25 is establishing himself as a strong NHL performer ... Happy birthday to the wrestler, Kane (48), Carol Burnett (82), Doug Shedden (54), John Isner (30), Glenn Goldup (62) and Lou Thornton (52) ... And hey, whatever became of Brendan Witt?


What to do about Noah Hanifin?

That is the question for both the Arizona Coyotes and the Maple Leafs? And there may not be an easy answer.

The Coyotes pick third in the NHL draft. Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be gone by the time they get to choose. But what do they do? Do they take Hanifin, the No. 1 defenceman available, or select, Dylan Strome, the prototypical NHL centreman? Indications are the Coyotes are more likely to pick Strome rather than Hanifin.

The Leafs, in a position of strength either way, then have a difficult decision to make. There is some dispute over Hanifin’s eventual upside, but the same discussion is heard about Strome and London forward Mitch Marner. There is likely no bad pick here. But there is forever the question of best player versus positional need.

A scout I trust believes Hanifin will be an elite NHL defenceman, which makes him hard to pass over. The same scout is not certain Strome will be elite and the fascination with Marner is, the skill is there, the size isn’t.

Quite likely, the Leafs will have a shot at Hanifin. Whether they take it won’t be determined until draft day in June.


Amir Johnson came to Toronto as a little known 22-year-old backup, struggling to find minutes in the NBA. Next week, he turns 28 and Sunday might be his last game after six solid seasons with the Raptors.

He wasn’t just a player here. He was a leader, a goodwill ambassador before Drake was given the throne. The kind of athlete this city so admires — all heart and effort and let’s be honest, his game is not very pretty. Just effective.

And now Masai Ujiri has so many decisions to make about his disappointing team, but maybe none more emotional than this one. Johnson is a free agent. He may be more valuable to the Raptors and Toronto the city than he is to most NBA teams. But his body is breaking down, his ankle is forever in some state of peril.

The Raptors need his kind of player, only healthier, maybe younger. You can make a case to keep Johnson, but a less emotional one to let him go.


In the first Dave Nonis interview granted after his firing, we spoke about almost everything of his time as Leafs’ general manager. If you haven’t read the piece, here is is the link

What didn’t make the paper:

On the next Leafs coach: “I know how Brendan wants the team to play. He’ll do a thorough search. I don’t get the sense he’s in any hurry to make a decision. I think he knows who he wants.”

On trading Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel: “Everyone thinks you just pick up the phone and make a trade. Making a deal is hard. It takes a lot of work.

If you give those guys away, you’ll set the franchise back three-four years.”

On the David Clarkson signing: “I don’t think it’s fair to talk about any one player. You’re not going to make right decisions all the time. If you go over the decisions we made, I think we made a lot more right ones than wrong ones.”

On Jonathan Bernier: “He has shown flashes of being great. But he hasn’t maintained that. If he wants to be that (No. 1) guy, he has to be more consistent. He has to do it regularly. I think he can do that. He has to show it.”


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