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Dwane Casey was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year on Monday night for a season in which he led the Toronto Raptors to their best regular season, only to be fired after they were ousted for a third straight playoffs by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Casey, who has since been hired as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, led Toronto to a team-record 59 wins this past season and the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but he lost his job after the Raptors were swept by the Cavs.
“Once you get fired, it’s not a good feeling when someone, after you have a franchise record [in wins] and then you still get let go, that’s the uneasy part,” Casey said. “Say, OK, something must be wrong with me. But the opportunity in Detroit has given me more enthusiasm, and I’m excited to get going again. Again, a lot of it goes with Tom Gores, the owner; he’s exciting and excited to get another chance in Detroit.”
Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics and Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz also were up for the award.
The Raptors’ record improved in six of seven seasons under Casey.
“A lot of the same core guys have been there and they grew,” Casey said. “That’s a regret you have that we made it to the Eastern Conference finals, but we couldn’t get over the hump to get to the Finals to try to win a championship. So that’s always a regret. But, again, I can still hold my head high from what we had and what we grew from, and nobody can ever take that away.”
Last month, Casey also was named winner of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award, which is voted on annually by the league’s 30 head coaches.
“I have no regrets,” Casey said. “I’m excited about the new journey in Detroit with the group we have there. So can’t look in the rearview mirror. Winston Churchill said success is measured by failure, failure, and then come back with enthusiasm, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Other awards handed out at the NBA Awards show in Santa Monica, California:
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert of the Jazz
The center was the leading vote-getter for the league’s All-Defensive first team. Gobert anchored a Jazz defense that ranked second in the NBA in defensive rating.
He beat out Anthony Davis of New Orleans and Joel Embiid of Philadelphia.
“Defense to me is something that, when you watch a game, you don’t really pay attention to defense unless you’re very — unless you’re a specialist,” Gobert said. “People watch the points, they watch the highlights. But the defense I think helps the offense. I think when you’re a very good defensive team — it’s very rare a team wins a championship when you’re not a very good defensive team.
“I think when you’re a very good defensive team you give yourself a chance every night, on the road, at home, it’s a big factor and something to build on.”
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams of the LA Clippers
The guard became the first player to average at least 20 points for the first time in his 13th season or later.
He led the league in fourth-quarter points and scoring average.
He beat out Houston’s Eric Gordon, last year’s winner, and Fred VanVleet of Toronto. Williams kissed his two young daughters on his way to the stage after becoming the Clippers’ third winner in the past five years.
“I go out on the floor. I play as hard as I can and I live with the results,” Williams said. “It’s extremely exciting to be recognized for it. To have an opportunity to win a Sixth Man, this being my second in my career, being one of the guys that go out there night in and night out, that’s in that lane.
“You’ve got the Jamal Crawfords, Eric Gordons, VanVleet, we’re like special teams, and we go out there and try to do the best we can for our respective games and turn the course of how games go. So to be recognized for that tonight is an amazing accomplishment.”
Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers
The guard averaged 23.1 points in his first season with the Pacers.
He earned his first All-Star berth, too. Oladipo also led the league in steals for the first time. He beat out Clint Capela of Houston and Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets.
“I put in a lot of work, obviously it was a great season,” Oladipo said. “I’m blessed and thankful. Sometimes you get to points in your life where you do surprise yourself. But at the end of the day I’m thankful. It’s only the beginning for me and the Pacers organization, so I’m looking forward to the future.”
Lifetime Achievement Award: Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson
Robertson received the award from presenters Charles Barkley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
After Barkley mentioned last year’s recipient Bill Russell, Boston’s Hall of Fame center flipped his middle finger in Barkley’s direction.
Robertson is the career leader in triple-doubles and was the first player to average one for a season. His antitrust case against the NBA also ushered in free agency for players, which Robertson said was his most important assist.
Backstage, Robertson commended the activism of today’s players, although he wondered why more white athletes aren’t speaking out.
“The only thing that really bothers me is where are the white athletes when this is happening?” he said. “This is not a black athlete problem. You see injustice in the world. It’s all around.”
Robertson went on to say he hopes “the whites and the blacks get together, even with the football,” a reference to NFL players who have taken a knee or sat in silence during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
Information from ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk and The Associated Press was used in this report.