The rock sits right outside the Toronto Raptors’ locker room – in plain view of anyone who happens to pass by. Over two feet high, it serves as a striking representation of the imprint that Dwane Casey has already made on the club, really just one week into his coaching tenure.
The rock is just that – a rock – but it has already come to symbolize the type of unified, singular message that Casey has instilled, the very sense of purpose that has been lacking from recent Raptors’ squads.
“Pound the Rock” is the rallying cry, underscored by the presence of an actual rock shipped over from Thornhill, ON by club employee Graeme McIntosh at the behest of Casey. Though subject to the scorn and derision of some (mostly media members), many Raptors have come to embrace the concept on account of the philosophy behind it.
It’s no accident that the rock embodies the type of strong, tough, unbending presence that Casey wants his players to adapt. The phrase, itself, touches on the need to be aggressive, get the ball inside and fight for every inch of positioning on the court.
It isn’t enough to call Casey a preacher of defence. Yes, he will emphasize protecting the rim and playing hard on your own end of the court, but the former Mavericks assistant aims to develop a winning mentality in all aspects of the game, brought on by personal accountability and a collective effort to work hard within your role.
“One thing I can promise,” asserts GM Bryan Colangelo, “we’re not going to lay down, we’re going to lay it out there every single night, we’re going to fight hard. I know Dwane’s not going to tolerate anything less and there’s going to be some accountability with regards to their performance this year and how they play.”
While it’s only training camp (in other words, the time for empty rhetoric), the message seems to be getting through early. The front office has demonstrated their faith in Casey with his fingerprints all over the team’s recent veteran acquisitions (Anthony Carter, specifically, is a Casey guy through and through).
Meanwhile, the players speak with reverence (mixed with maybe a little fear) over the culture which he is working to institute.
“I know what type of guy [Casey] is,” says newcomer Anthony Carter, who played under Casey in Minnesota. “He’s a hard worker, and that’s what he expects out of his players and that’s why he wanted to bring me in – because he knew how hard I worked.”
Carter will be a key part of Casey’s strategy of having his approach to coaching re-enforced to the players from within. He was one of five veteran free agents, alongside Jamaal Magloire, Rasual Butler, Aaron Gray and, most recently, Gary Forbes, whom Casey identified as being able to help both embody and encourage the traits that he is hoping to see out of young guys like DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Jerryd Bayless.
“We needed to get veteran players in here to, kind of, echo what we’re talking about as a coaching staff, which he, Magloire, Rasual and even Gray are doing,” says Casey. “It’s a huge help to us – its changed the tone of practice, changed the physicality of practice and that’s part of our culture we’re trying to establish.”
That culture begins and ends with Casey, the most important “new guy” of the bunch. If he can get the group to buy in, these Raptors could grow up in a hurry. At worst, the team won’t allow themselves to be pushovers.