Emotions will run high when Casey makes his return to Toronto
Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey watches play during the first half of the team's NBA preseason basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, in San Antonio. Casey woke up Monday morning thinking about the Toronto Raptors. But the coach said if there was any trepidation about Wednesday's return to Toronto, it was more about facing the league's best team, and less about being back in the place from which he'd been unceremoniously punted six months ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP /Darren Abate
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, November 13, 2018 4:35PM EST
TORONTO -- Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas spent a dozen years between them developing under coach Dwane Casey. Valanciunas had never played for any other NBA head coach before this season.
When they welcome Casey and his Detroit Pistons back to Toronto on Wednesday, the two longest-serving current Raptors know emotions will be running high. But they'll roll up the red carpet once the ball gets tossed up.
"It's going to be different, but hey, I'm still gonna try to take his head off, the team's head off," Lowry said with a laugh.
The 12-2 Raptors face Detroit (6-6) for the first time since Casey was fired days after Toronto was jettisoned from the post-season by Cleveland for the third consecutive season.
Lowry became a four-time NBA all-star under Casey's watch, while Valanciunas has grown into a multi-skilled big man. Casey had kind words for both Raptors in a phone interview a day earlier, saying he was proud of their growth.
Lowry -- who got off to a rocky start with Casey when the Raptors acquired the temperamental guard in 2012 -- and Valanciunas returned the compliment on Tuesday.
"(Our relationship) changed a lot," Lowry said. "It went from a guy who kind of wasn't trusting in what I did, and me not trusting in what he wanted, and kind of us battling back and forth, to him being like 'Hey listen, I believe in what you can do, you show me what you can do,' and me saying 'All right if you show me that and I've showed you what I can do, I'll listen to you more and we'll have a good relationship.'
"It turned into a great coach-player relationship. And him having young kids, and me having ... they played soccer together, so we created a bond off the court also."
Valanciunas has "big respect" for the coach who gave him his start, and hopes the Scotiabank Arena fans give the 61-year-old coach a warm welcome on Wednesday.
"He did some really good things for the city, for the team. I think everybody respects him," said the Lithuanian centre. "(But) as a business we've got to move on and he (ended) up pretty well, so that is life. Sometimes we're separating."
The Raptors have a video tribute planned for early in the game.
Nick Nurse, who was promoted to head coach after Casey's dismissal, insisted he was "looking forward" to seeing his former boss. Rumours had surfaced in the off-season that there was little love lost between the two.
But if there's any truth to reports the two hadn't spoken since the firing, Nurse wasn't biting Tuesday.
"My communication with whoever is between me and whoever I'm communicating with, whether its between Kyle and me and Kawhi (Leonard) and me or Case and me. . . or whoever," Nurse said with a stern look. "I'll keep that to myself. I am looking forward to seeing him."
Nurse characterized his relationship with Casey as "good."
"We have five years together and a lot of success. A lot of battles and a lot of long hours together, working hard," Nurse said. "He took a team from relative obscurity or the hinterlands to relevance, and that may be the hardest thing to do in this league. I'm glad I was a part of it for five years. We had a lot of success and I learned a lot from the guy and have a lot of respect for the guy."
The 51-year-old Nurse said the biggest lesson learned under Casey was professionalism and diligence.
"The seriousness of the day-to-day, the grind and probably most importantly is the work ethic," Nurse said. "He used to say it to us a lot. He'd put his work ethic up against anybody in the league and he was right in that. The guy always had a our staff prepared and our players prepared, he taught me all those things."
Casey is renowned video junkie. He'd spend late-night flights home poring over game video.
"He did watch a lot, man. I'm not quite sure how he did it, to be honest with you," Nurse said. "I don't think I watch as much as he did, and I don't think I did while he was here, either. I used to say 'When I'm awake my laptop is up and rolling,' right? But that maybe isn't quite true. But he was very diligent with his preparation."
The Raptors won't face the Pistons again until March 3.