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Ex-Raptors coach Dwane Casey weighs in on trading DeRozan for Leonard

While the former Raptors bench boss is sorry to see DeRozan leave Toronto, he understand the NBA is just a business. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

It took about a year for Raptors President Masai Ujiri to make good on his promise to bring culture change to the Raptors, but he certainly left his mark with what’s become the most significant offseason in Raptors history.

With the departures of head coach Dwane Casey and star-player DeMar DeRozan, Ujiri has ushered in a new era of Raptors basketball in Toronto. And while Casey’s firing was largely expected, DeRozan’s trade to San Antonio was a gut shot to a fan base that had nothing but love for the only NBA superstar that completely bought into We The North.

The opportunity to acquire a top-5 player such as Kawhi Leonard was one that Ujiri simply couldn’t pass up, and no one understands that better than Casey.

“For DeMar DeRozan, that’s a hard pill to swallow,” Casey said on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Wednesday. “Like him or love him, if you have any passion for the Toronto Raptors, it’s almost like losing the Vince Carter — from a fan standpoint.

“From a pure basketball standpoint, it’s hard to say you wouldn’t want Kawhi Leonard on your team.”

Casey would go on to sing Leonard’s praises, but the newly-minted Pistons coach also shares the same concerns that haunt many Raptors fans. Is Leonard going to be 100% healthy? Will he be the same Kawhi that we saw in the 2014 NBA Finals? Will he be one-and-done in Toronto?

We’ll have to see how the upcoming season pans out, but there’s no denying the massive risk the Raptors took on with this blockbuster trade. DeRozan, arguably the best player in franchise history, heads to Texas carrying an unsavoury reputation as a scorer who folds in the playoffs, but Casey is quick to defend the player he coached for seven seasons.

“I laugh with people because I heard the same things with Dirk Nowitzki — he doesn’t play defence, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that,” Casey said of DeRozan. “But what he does do — he gets buckets. … DeMar had his flaws, but he contributed to winning in Toronto.

“It’s up to ownership and management to want to get better, and they feel like they got better by firing me and trading DeMar, so it’s their prerogative.”

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