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Raptors’ fans give former coach Dwane Casey warm welcome

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When it’s all said and done, when careers are over and it’s time to sit on the porch and reflect, Dwane Casey is going to look back on his seven seasons in Toronto, a time of unprecedented success and growth with the Raptors, and his chest will swell.

It might not be for a few years and there are many more NBA wars to be fought and won or lost, but that day is assuredly coming and the most successful stretch in franchise history will relish in what he did.

Former Raptors coach Dwane Casey waves to the fans after receiving a warm welcome back to Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday night as coach of the Detroit Pistons.
Former Raptors coach Dwane Casey waves to the fans after receiving a warm welcome back to Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday night as coach of the Detroit Pistons.  (Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“I left a lot of blood, sweat and tears here, I left here with my head high and did what I was asked to do,” Casey, now the head coach of the Detroit Pistons, said on the occasion of his return to Toronto for the first time since the Raptors fired him in May.

“I know revisionist history and everyone wants to take credit for the wins and the losses is an orphan. I’ll take all the losses but I know what we started with, how it was built, what was built and how it got there.

“I take total pride in that.”

Casey’s imprint on the franchise cannot be understated. During his seven-year run, the Raptors went from an afterthought to a perennial playoff team and a legitimate conference championship contender. His 320 wins — against 241 losses — are the most by any coach in team history; his 21-30 playoff record may not be glittery but it’s better than anyone has ever done in Toronto.

He took a ragtag group that won 23 games his first season and willed it to a franchise-record 59 wins last season, weeks before he was fired after a playoff sweep administered by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There was bitterness in the immediate aftermath of that dismissal and some of it lingers. But it’s slowly being replaced by the realization that what Casey accomplished here was significant.

Remnants of Casey’s fingerprints remain on the Raptors roster that boasted an NBA-best 12-2 record going into Wednesday night’s game. He was patient enough and prescient enough to see something special in the likes of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas, all young players who have morphed into major contributors on a very good team.

“That also is rewarding, to see a kid like Pascal get player of the week and grow to where he is,” Casey said. “I saw Pascal a lot this summer because he’s in L.A. and our guys were in L.A. working out, so I got to watch him work.

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“I knew a lot of great things were going to happen for him, watched Fred, Delon, Norm (Powell), all those young kids grow, it just great to see.”

VanVleet, for one, appreciates the opportunity Casey gave an undrafted and undersized point guard; turning VanVleet from a D Leaguer into a finalist of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last season.

“Obviously, I think that he respected the work that I put in coming in everyday — from training camp — just coming in, busting my tail and working, staying ready, and I give him a lot of credit for throwing me in there sometimes late in fourth quarters or whenever we needed a spark my rookie year, playing a little bit in the playoffs and that experience just kind of helped propel me,” VanVleet said. “And then, obviously, last year my role grew a lot and I earned the trust over time.”

He was feted with a tribute video during the first quarter of Wednesday’s a game, a way for the franchise to say thank you for his service and success.

The fans began periodic cheers for Casey the minute he walked on the court after the national anthems and the cheers reached a crescendo with a lengthy standing ovation during the tribute.

The former coach thumped his chest in appreciation.

“I’m not going to get emotional,” Casey said Wednesday morning.

“I’ll appreciate it, I’ll really absorb whatever comes my way, the boos or the cheers, but not to the point where I’m going to cry or anything like that. I wouldn’t live it down.”

Casey, his wife and two children were integral parts of their adopted homeland over seven years, and Casey said he was proud of developing Canadian traits.

“Just, again, treating people right, doing right by people, being nice to people, being honest with people,” he said. “All those things are positive Canadian norms and values that I hope my kids picked up, and it rubbed off on me, too.”

And it’s not the only thing Casey and his family have exported to Detroit.

“Tim Hortons,” he said. “My son loves Timbits and thank God they have Timbits and Tim Hortons in Detroit because he wouldn’t be able to survive.”

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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