Entering this NBA season, the Toronto Raptors had never won 50 games, had never been to a conference finals, and had only advanced past the first round once – and not since 2001.
Well, all of that went out the window. The Raptors went 56-26, came within one game of being the top seed in the East and advanced to the conference finals, ultimately losing to the Cavaliers in six games.
“Going into the season, we preached the whole time about growing and continuing to grow our program,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “We started a few years ago after trading Rudy Gay to Sacramento and kind of developing where we are. This year was going to be another step. We’ve tried to improve our team each and every year, and this year we took another step. But I will say we have another level to get to (in order) to be . . . in the class of teams like Cleveland and Golden State, the elite teams in the league, San Antonio and OKC. But that next step for our program, our culture, is a huge one. We’re a good, solid team. Our guys complete hard. But if someone said this year when we started that you were going to be in the Final Four of the NBA playoffs, I would have said, ‘You’re probably smoking something, and it probably wouldn’t be legal.’
“But our guys competed and played hard,” Casey continued. “Kyle Lowry had an outstanding year, DeMar DeRozan had an outstanding year, Bismack Biyombo had a career year, Cory Joseph came in and had a career year. So we had some guys who had career seasons for us this year, so a lot of good things fell in place for us. Again, we’re proud, but we’re not satisfied.”
The Raptors’ top priorities this offseason will be resigning DeRozan and Biyombo. DeRozan, who averaged 23.5 points per game this season, is perhaps the best midrange shooter in basketball. Biyombo, meanwhile, is an elite defender and rebounder. He only averaged 6.3 points in the Eastern Conference Finals, but he also averaged 10.3 rebounds and had 11 blocks in the final five games of the series.
“I’ll tell you what: I would take two or five Bismack Biyombos,” Casey said. “I love the kid. First of all, he’s a beautiful young man. I’ve been in this a long time, and you come across people that are impactful as a person – and that young man, he is for real. Some guys come across being that way, but they’re that way because it’s a contract year. His spirit and his drive is real. I saw him have some record-setting performances. I saw him one night get 25 rebounds against Indiana and 26 in a playoff game. It’s for real. His defensive intensity, his talking, his understanding of what he has to do and who he is on the defensive end, he understand this limitations, he has improved his free throws each and every year of his career – hopefully we can get hm back here because he does mean a lot. We went from 22nd defensively to 10th or 11th because of him. So I got real smart as a defensive coach because of having him come in. But I don’t know. it’s a business and he’s got to make a business decision. He had a career year and I’m sure there’s going to be teams out there that need a guy like him like we did.”