CHICAGO - After winning 59 regular season games and claiming the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors looked like a rose ready to burst in full bloom and make a postseason run for the ages.
But against LeBron James and friends, who were installed by Las Vegas odds makers a minus 160 underdogs, the Raptors decayed right before our eyes. What took months to build took only the fourth quarter of Game One to undo.
It was a miserable 12-minute stretch in which Toronto surrendered an 11-point lead and missed their last 12 shots in regulation. They never recovered from the mental trauma of losing a Game One where they led wire-to-wire for 48 minutes before getting KO'd in overtime.
After such catastrophic failure in just Round Two of the playoffs, heads are expected to roll and none bigger than head coach Dwane Casey.
"The evaluation period is ongoing but, according to sources, the Raptors are leaning towards making a coaching change," Josh Lewenberg of TSN Canada wrote. Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer chimed in with a report that said "NBA executives anticipate Dwane Casey firing."
For my money, I think coach Casey, 61, will get the ax.
Is it fair?
No. Because his record was superlative - four division titles in five years and three seasons of 50-plus wins.
So is firing coach Casey unfair?
No. Because sports is about "what have you done for me lately" and his lately was just horrible. Casey has a $6 million a year salary and he was provided with a lethal roster led by a pair of All Stars. When discussing a serious topic, I hate deriving wisdom from a guy in a costume but Spider Man was right, "with great power comes great responsibility."
Also, the Raptors lost 10 straight playoffs games to Cleveland. Maybe they do need a new voice, a new direction.
Ironically, Casey is a victim of his own success. The recharged offense, the prolific plays of his stars, the franchise-record 59 wins and the No. 1 seed created an expectation of Toronto at least making the Eastern Conference Finals.
MORE OF THE SAME. Firing Casey is easy. All Toronto needs to do is swallow the final year of Casey's contract and issue a press release saying both parties had a "conscious uncoupling," to borrow a line from Gwyneth Paltorw's divorce depiction.
The more challenging task, however, is realigning the troops. And here's why: Toronto's top three players have a combined salary of $192.4 million, which is nearly impossible to trade.
Per Yahoo Sports, DeMar DeRozan is owed $83.2 million for three years. He's really good, nice guy, too. But for that price, I don't know.
Kyle Lowry will make $64.3 million in the next two years, but he's 32 and he vanished in the Cavs' series-clinching Game Four win, scoring a meager five points.
Serge Ibaka has two years and $44.9 million left on his deal. He is only 28 but his best years in Oklahoma City seem to be a distant, fading memory.
Toronto can package some of its young turks - OG Anunoby, Fred Van Fleet and Paskal Siakam - for an established talent. Question is, would that, plus Lowry and DeRozan, be enough to top the East where the Sixers and Celtics are emerging powerhouses?
SOMETHING BURNING UNDER THE HOOD. There are mortal sins in every job.
A doctor can't misdiagnose a patient. A lawyer can't perjure himself. A writer can't plagiarize. In the NBA, a player cannot defy a coach.
Apparently, Rodney Hood did not get the memo.
Up 110-80 with 7:38 left in Cavs' Game Four rout over the Raptors, Hood was asked to check in. He declined, saying, "I'm good. I'm fine. Play the other guys," ESPN reported.
Having lost his starting job because of poor play, a pouting Hood thought that garbage time was beneath him. And though the Cavs thought it wasn't a big deal and won't reprimand the defiant act, I think they only did so to quickly kill the story and not make it a distraction moving forward.
For Hood, who is 25 and an impending free agent, this wasn't a good move. It's a stain that will stay with him throughout the rest of his playing days in the NBA, assuming there are even any left.
Yes, Latrell Sprewell found employment after choking coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997. But Sprewell was an All-Star caliber player who averaged 18.3 points per game. Hood is a fringe NBAer, who was dismissed in Utah and benched in Cleveland.
Scottie Pippen said it best on The Jump, "If you're playing like garbage, you need garbage time."