Basketball Notes

Rapture for Casey in getting another shot

By Gary Washburn
July 17, 2011

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The excitement of Dwane Casey’s new job in Toronto has been muted by the NBA lockout rules that prohibit him from mentioning the players he will coach. Who knows if he has spoken of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, or Andrea Bargnani to anybody but his wife while enjoying the Seattle summer.

So instead of basking in the glow of being hired to run the Raptors, he waits to get started.

Casey was a finalist for two openings last offseason, losing out to Vinny Del Negro with the Clippers and to Larry Drew in Atlanta. His stock increased when he gained recognition as the defensive mastermind behind the Mavericks, who stifled the Heat during the NBA Finals.

A team known for high scoring and disheartening playoff eliminations made an improbable run to the title partly because of Casey’s savvy leadership as Rick Carlisle’s top assistant. And the Raptors, in desperate need of leadership, tabbed Casey as their next commander.

Casey is considered one of the league’s good guys, but like former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau (the reigning NBA coach of the year with the Bulls) isn’t a self-promoter and was passed up for jobs by more prominent candidates. Casey’s low-key style should fit perfectly in Toronto, but he said he has the enthusiasm to make basketball relevant in Canada.

It’s no wonder Raptors fans have become jaded. They have watched players such as Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Vince Carter, and Chris Bosh leave for greener pastures, leaving the franchise barren of stars. While DeRozan, Davis, and Bargnani make up a young, talented core, the team desperately needs direction.

“The misnomer that you are in Canada and not in the States is totally misplaced,’’ Casey said. “Because it’s a great sports city. I can’t imagine if you turn the program around how exciting it would be. It’s a melting pot for anybody. But a lot of times players just come there in the dead of winter and don’t really get a taste of the city. That’s one thing that’s going to be our mission, is to try to change that image and go back to my recruiting days at Kentucky, and try to recruit.’’

Twenty-plus years ago, Casey was one of the country’s best recruiters but got caught up in the Eddie Sutton scandal and was accused of sending money to prospective players. The NCAA couldn’t prove that Casey actually sent money and he was exonerated, but not without damage to his reputation. Casey resurfaced in the NBA and spent 11 years in Seattle as an assistant coach, primarily under George Karl, before taking the Timberwolves’ top job in 2005.

He was fired during the 2006-07 season, despite a 20-20 record, amid increasing rumors that Kevin Garnett wanted to leave. Casey missed out on some coaching opportunities over the last four years, but he won his first championship last month.

“Winning solidified what we had been preaching in Dallas for years, defense wins,’’ said Casey, who was 53-69 in Minnesota. “When we first went there, I thought [former coach] Avery [Johnson] had just started to turn the corner with the defense. It’s the same defensive system we used in Minnesota and Seattle. Dallas was a great training ground for me to be ready for pressure and know what expectations for ownership is. Mark [Cuban] challenges you every game and that helps you grow.

“But never at one time did I say, ‘Hey, when am I going to get my next coaching job?’ ’’

The Raptors were 26th in points allowed and 29th in field goal percentage last season. So Casey has an arduous task to fix a franchise that has lacked defensive urgency.

“It’s just something you have to emphasize,’’ Casey said. “It’s something we’ll preach, make time for, we’ll follow through with it, hold guys accountable. It’s going to be part of our practice plan more than guys will like . . . it’s gotta be because any time you are last in the league in defense, and you lose 60 games, something’s gotta change and change quickly. And that’s going to be our approach. It’s not only a changing-the-culture situation but a teaching situation because the team is so young.’’

It’s a challenge Casey has wanted for nearly five years, and he is excited about working with new talent, though those names can’t be uttered publicly until there is labor peace.

Overseas not foreign to him It’s been a mind-boggling year for former UMass standout Gary Forbes, who earned a roster spot with the Nuggets, became a key rotation player, watched the whole Carmelo Anthony saga unfold firsthand, and participated in the NBA playoffs.

Forbes is now hosting a basketball camp in his hometown of Brooklyn. It includes a lesson on eating better and education on diabetes, which Forbes was diagnosed with in 2005.

And while he ponders whether to return overseas during the lockout, Forbes will be playing for his native Panama in the FIBA Americas tournament in August, hoping to land a berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

Forbes is one of those players who may suffer the most from the lockout. He earned near the league minimum last season but as a restricted free agent he would have earned double his $473,604 salary by returning to Denver.

With Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler also restricted free agents and J.R. Smith an unrestricted free agent and likely to depart, Forbes would be in line for increased playing time next season. But that will have to wait.

No business is being conducted right now. Forbes, who may have played for Denver’s summer league team if the NBA hadn’t canceled both sessions, is unsure of his future beyond the FIBA tournament. But he has endured changes and unpredictability throughout his career, and he isn’t about to start panicking now.

“I just treat it like last summer when I wasn’t on an NBA team,’’ Forbes said. “I’ve been doing hot yoga to gain flexibility, just trying to get my body right for whenever the time needs to be and get ready for FIBA games next month. I am just taking things in stride.’’

Forbes, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in 2007-08, appeared in 63 games for Denver last season, averaging 5.2 points and 12.6 minutes per game. Because of the Anthony shake-up, Forbes’s playing time fluctuated; he played just two minutes in the first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City. But he is a valuable commodity because he comes inexpensive and can play defense.

“I definitely didn’t have a normal rookie year, so many ups and downs starting with the trade rumors,’’ he said. “One thing I did learn, we did focus on handling the task at hand and we didn’t let all the outside distractions [in]. Going on to my next season in the NBA, I know how to deal with the outside pressures.’’

Forbes, 26, spent a few years playing in the Philippines, Venezuela, Israel, and Italy, and is not against returning to international basketball if the lockout lingers. Forbes will receive added exposure playing in the FIBA Americas next month.

“I’m pretty much used to [playing overseas], I’ve been there before and it would be nothing different for me,’’ he said. “I thought about it. My agent is working on some good situations and hopefully if the lockout ends before that I will be getting ready to put on a Denver Nuggets jersey next year. As far as next year goes, it will be different just having the whole year without having any distractions.’’

Regardless of what happens, the undrafted Forbes is a success story, and holding his first basketball camp in his hometown has special significance. It wasn’t long ago that Forbes was in the same position as his campers, a teenager with NBA aspirations.

“It’s been great, there’s been a buzz around Brooklyn and the city and it feels good to give back,’’ he said.

Losses reveal bigger picture The NBA has laid off 114 employees in the last few weeks, hoping to reduce its budget. League spokesman Mike Bass sent an e-mail to the Associated Press saying that the layoffs are “not a direct result of the lockout but rather a response to the same underlying issue; that is, the league’s expenses far outpace our revenues. The roughly 11 percent reduction in headcount from the league office is part of larger cost-cutting measures to reduce our costs by $50 million across all areas of our business.’’

The league claims that player revenues are far outpacing the league’s revenues. The Players Association has challenged the league’s claim of mass losses, something the league has disputed in print.

If anything, recent layoffs by the NBA, the Pistons, and the Bobcats show that the lockout affects people who have nothing to do with the issues that have divided the players and owners.

The NBA has quietly let employees go over the last few years, an indication that the league’s growth has subsided. And while the league has plans to expand internationally, with offices around the world, some of those blueprints have been shelved.

Meanwhile, players’ association director Billy Hunter has given the players his approval to seek deals overseas. The poster boy for that is Nets guard Deron Williams, who has agreed to join Besiktas in Turkey. Williams is the first superstar to commit to playing overseas if the lockout lasts into the fall, and other players have said they will consider such a move.

The possibility of a mass exodus overseas is a little farfetched, considering players would be risking the voiding of their NBA contracts if they were to sustain a serious injury. But the league has no right to block such moves because the owners initiated the work stoppage.

Kahn’s wrath a deterrent The Timberwolves finally relieved Kurt Rambis of his coaching duties, and general manager and quote machine David Kahn said he wants a coach who will emphasize defense and an up-tempo offense. There is a shortage of candidates because of Kahn’s eccentric ways. The way the Timberwolves handled Rambis was embarrassing, with the coach realizing he would be fired nearly a month ago. Kahn is up to something but no one outside the Target Center knows exactly what. The team is talented, young, and will have salary cap space, but Kahn has to adjust his approach for the franchise to attract a top-notch coach or a premium free agent.

Layups The Pacers astutely hired former Lakers assistant Brian Shaw to join Frank Vogel’s staff. Shaw was not re-signed by the Lakers after they hired Mike Brown as coach, leaving Shaw in a bizarre position after he had been unofficially tabbed as Phil Jackson’s successor. The Lakers wanted to get out from Jackson’s shadow, temporarily leaving Shaw unemployed . . . The Celtics could be bitten by the overseas bug during the lockout as Mark Bartelstein, the agent for guard E’Twaun Moore, said he is seeking opportunities for his client. Moore, the 55th overall pick, likely would have participated in the summer league had both sessions not been canceled . . . Michael Jordan, owner of the Bobcats, asked the league for permission to participate in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship this weekend because it will feature five NBA players, including the Celtics’ Ray Allen and Kings rookie Jimmer Fredette. The NBA ruled that Jordan could participate but cannot have contact with any players . . . The league warned Portland GM Chad Buchanan about his public comments wishing there was a summer league. The NBA wants no team executive to comment about any aspects of the lockout . . . Former Boston College standout Tyrese Rice has signed with BC Lietuvos Rytas in Lithuania. Rice has been a hot commodity for European clubs, having already played in Greece and Germany.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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