TORONTO — Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas spent a dozen years between them developing their games 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 night (Thursday, Manila time), the two longest-serving current Raptors know emotions will be running high.
"It's going to be different, but hey, I'm still going to try to take his head off, the team's head off," Lowry said with a laugh.
The Raptors will face Detroit for the first time since Casey was fired, just days after Toronto was ousted from the playoffs 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 on the eve of his visit. Lowry got off to a rocky start with Casey when the Raptors acquired the temperamental guard in 2012, but he and Valanciunas returned the compliment.
"(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."
Nick Nurse, who was promoted to head coach after Casey's dismissal, insisted he was looking forward to seeing his former boss despite rumors the two were not close.
"My communication with whoever is between me and whoever I'm communicating with, whether it's between Kyle and me and Kawhi (Leonard) and me or Case and me. . . or whoever," Nurse told The Canadian Press. "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 our staff prepared and our players prepared, he taught me all those things."
After leading Toronto to a team-record 59 wins and the top seed in the East last year, Casey was also named the NBA's Coach of the Year — after his firing.
The Raptors have a video tribute planned for the 61-year-old Casey early in the game.
"He did some really good things for the city, for the team. I think everybody respects him," Valanciunas said. "(But) as a business we've got to move on and he (ended) up pretty well, so that is life. Sometimes we're separating."