Here are five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors' seven-game loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
1. JOE JOHNSON (Nets): If I had to pick the guy that was the MVP on this Series, No doubt in my mind it was him. Forget his numbers for a second which were impressive to say the least. It had more to do with his presence and the inability for the Raptors to find a viable/consistent solution to overcome his vast talents. Bottom line, he's a very difficult cover and his strength, post skills, passing ability, creativity off the bounce and distance shooting make him a fascinating and gifted offensive player. Give him credit, He took on all the challenges and made the adjustments and was the difference in this series.
2. STATEMENT: Thanks again! You - the fans have made a wonderful statement across the North American sports landscape and in the NBA community that Toronto and the country of Canada is a growing and vibrant hoops hotbed and will be heard from for generations to come. Can't tell you the impression it's made on folks all across the NBA. Utterly remarkable to say the least. Great Opportunity for Raptors President and GM, Masai Ujiri, to now build from a position of strength in his retention and recruitment efforts as he formulates his vision for the long term success of the franchise. A step forward. Long way to go though - yet you can start to see the light.
3. KYLE LOWRY: No idea what will happen with him regarding his future with the Raptors. I'm hopeful they can work something out. I'll say this though, the man has really impressed me this season. Every day he left everything out there on the floor for you and competed like few players ever have in a Raptors uniform. For that, we should be grateful and impressed at the same time. He's been a joy to watch this season and an inspiration to so many young players that can learn from his sheer will and effort that you can overcome a whole lot if you give it your all. He came up short but the man is a winner. Fingers crossed it all comes together and he's back in Toronto.
4. MARCUS THORNTON (Nets): In a Game 7, many times you need that guy that just comes out of left field that gets you over the hump particularly when you're the road team. Give coach Jason Kidd credit, he played a great hunch and it paid off huge dividends for him. His perimeter shooting, creativity, rebounding and overall explosiveness were the edge the Nets sorely needed to pull off the road win in a deciding game. He was lousy in the early part of the series after playing quite well since being acquired from Sacramento but Coach Kidd showed renewed faith in him and was justly rewarded for it. Joe Johnson was the MVP but he was the 'difference'.
5. DWANE CASEY: 'Actions speak louder than words'. Three years and each year his teams have gotten better and he has grown each year as a head coach. As good a coach as he is - and he's a very good one - he's an even better man. Class act. He did an outstanding job this year and when I reflect over the three year period he has been consistent and stayed true to his core beliefs which I truly respect. He led a team this year that had many limitations (as we could all plainly see in this Series) to 48 wins, an Atlantic Division title and came up a bit short to a much more experienced, talented and deeper Nets team. Yes - We're all bitterly disappointed in the loss of this series yet when you take time to reflect, this organization has a true leader who is bright, steady and won't be out-worked by anyone. When I evaluate a coach, I always point to year three as my barometer of where you truly judge them. They've had more than enough time to get things the way they want and now you want to see that vision unfold before you. He has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in my mind that he's more than deserving of being the head coach of the Raptors and when I evaluate him against his peers I'm quite impressed. As a former coach, I think I have a pretty decent feel when I compare/contrast coaches strengths/weaknesses and when I look at coach Casey I see a man who has rolled up his sleeves, paid his dues and is truly a right fit for the task of the challenges that lie ahead for the organization. He's a coach's coach and I can tell you flat out that the men in his profession not only truly like him but all respect him tremendously. Happy for his success. Good man. Good things do truly happen for good people.