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Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri sat at the dais for his news conference Friday afternoon and attempted to explain his decision to fire head coach Dwane Casey.
Casey just led the team to a franchise-record 59-win regular season and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. He’s the winningest coach in Raptors history, as well as the longest-tenured, and on Wednesday was selected by his peers as the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year.
After a couple of minutes of questions from members of the media, Ujiri had to pause and gather himself.
“What an unbelievable human being,” Ujiri said of Casey. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. (General manager) Bobby Webster and I went to speak to him and I’ve never met anybody that classy in my life. I can honestly say I don’t know that I’ll work with a better person.”
Though no other Raptors coach had the type of success Casey did during his seven-year stint with the team, two consecutive Eastern Conference semifinal sweeps at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up being the last straw.
Ujiri said Casey “completely” understood where he was coming from and was “very graceful” during the firing process.
“I’ve never done this, just to be clear,” Ujiri said. “I’ve never been in this position, to fire a coach. For how he handled it, honestly, in Toronto, in Canada, even in the NBA, we should celebrate a guy like this. I hope coach Casey gets (NBA) Coach of the Year, because he deserves it. I saw everything he did here. I saw the job this year he did. He deserves it.”
The NBA’s Coach of the Year award, which is selected by a panel of media members, will be announced at the NBA Awards show in June, and Casey is one of the league’s top candidates — further proof that no coach is safe from getting the boot.
“Nothing in particular that coach Casey did wrong, but I think it was time for this to happen,” Ujiri said.