By Stephen Brotherston
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The fingerprints of Raptors Head coach Dwane Casey are all over this off season’s moves in Toronto. It was Casey who saw incoming rookie Terrence Ross at a practice in Washington during the lockout and told Colangelo that this was a guy they had to watch. Landry Fields is the glue-guy defensively with a three-point shot, last year’s issues in New York notwithstanding, that Casey was looking to add on the wing and after watching Aaron Gray all of last season, Casey knew the role Gray could fill on the Raptors.
“He is one of our best screeners. You’ll notice that when guys come off of him, they get open,” Casey told HOOPSWORLD during the season. “I like a lot of what he is doing. He has great hands. He is smart. He knows all the positions on the floor defensively, so he is doing a good job.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Raptors have agreed to bring the 7’2” 270 lb free agent center back for two more years of clogging the middle and setting hard screens. The big man finished his season in Toronto with 40 starts and played all of them the same way. Gray was the definition of hard work and effort rather than excessive talent which made him a fan favorite at the Air Canada Center. In a late February home win over Detroit, Gray battling with Greg Monroe earned his first double-double of 12 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks and he was send to the free throw line six times in the fourth quarter as Detroit deployed a hack-a-Gray strategy, the Raptors crowd responded with chants of M-V-P. (It was a rough season in Toronto.) Read Aaron Gray On A Roll In Toronto for a more complete picture of what he was contributing.
The Raptors didn’t need to add a big name center to their roster for next season. They have 7’ rookie center Jonas Valanciunas coming over from Lithuania to join the team after his Olympic obligations are complete. Gray fits what Casey wanted to add in the middle, a true big man who can’t be pushed around in the post and can help create opportunities for other players.
“He sets the tone offensively for us as far as screening is concerned,” said Casey.
Gray is not expected to play big minutes for the Raptors, last season he averaged just 16.6 minutes a game. Not a savior, but rather an important role player on a developing young team trying to learn to play the game the right way at both ends of the floor. Re-signing Gray is the right move at the right time in Toronto.