Professional sports can be a ruthless business. Just ask Dwane Casey. Coach of the Year on Wednesday, out of a job by the weekend.

However, though that seems a harsh way to end a season that saw the Raptors clinch the Eastern Conference with a record 59 wins, there was an inevitability about his firing, given the way that Toronto surrendered in the playoffs.

Back in 2011, when Casey was on the coaching staff of the Mavericks, he helped devise a strategy that enabled Dallas to defeat the LeBron James-inspired Miami Heat to clinch the title.

However, seven years on and Casey no longer has the key to defeating James. Three times in three seasons the Raptors have gone up against the Cavaliers, and three times LeBron has knocked Toronto out of the series.

This time around, Toronto fans had hoped it would be different. That record-breaking regular season and the first-ever top seed in the East represented improvement and at least gave them a theoretical shot of competing with the Cavs.

However, from the first game, when the Raptors missed 15 of 16 shots at the end of regulation and the start of overtime, this series was as one-sided as any that had preceded it.

Unless LeBron makes a dramatic move West, we can expect the Cavaliers to once again dominate the Eastern Conference betting with companies such as Stakers ahead of the next NBA season. Where does Toronto go from here?

Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri has a tough task on his hands in finding Casey’s replacement and will be under pressure to get this pick right. He could give the job to Nick Nurse, their highly rated assistant coach who has rejuvenated the Raptors offense this season.

They also could opt to promote Jerry Stackhouse, currently running their G-League team, and he may have the key to getting more out of some of his former protégés. Rex Kalamian, defensive advisor to Casey, may also be in the reckoning.

Whoever gets the job will face two problems: how to stop LeBron, and how to improve a team with limited options for recruitment given their salary cap position. The answer to both problems probably lies with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

The Raptors’ big stars are a major part of the $126 million salary commitment that the franchise will have to meet in the next two seasons. So far, they have failed to deliver the kind of elite-level playoff performances that their wages and their reputations suggest they are capable of.

In the recent series, Lowry and DeRozan’s stats combined were still short of what LeBron was able to achieve. Given their salaries, moving those two on is a non-starter.

The key to unlock playoff success for the new Raptors coach will be to keep what works, replicate this season’s regular-season success, and find a way to get the best out of Lowry and DeRozan.

If he can do that, then there is every chance that Toronto will finally be able to get past LeBron and push for a championship.


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