Bill Bayno sought a more secure and cosmopolitan life and perhaps a way back to a head-coaching job when he left the Timberwolves last summer for Toronto’s top assistant position.
In doing so, he joined a franchise that’s now aimed firmly at the playoffs.
The Raptors — visitors Sunday night at Target Center — changed the course of their season with a December trade that sent away star forward Rudy Gay and brought back four players who have solidified the team’s bench. It also has given guard DeMar DeRozan the space and freedom to blossom into a star.
The Raptors arrive Sunday well over .500 and battling Chicago for third place in the Eastern Conference while the Wolves team for which Bayno worked the past two seasons is chasing a distant playoff spot in the more competitive West.
“It has been a fun year,” Bayno said last week from Toronto.
The assistant coach who Wolves fans might most remember for banging center Nikola Pekovic with oversized pads during warm-ups left last summer when Bayno was uncertain if Rick Adelman would return this season and Raptors coach Dwane Casey offered his coaching staff’s top job.
The offer gave Bayno the chance to join a coach he’d known for a decade, ever since Bayno made a minor-league stop in Yakima, Wash., while trying to rebuild his life and his career and traveled to Seattle to watch SuperSonics coach Nate McMillan run practices with a coaching staff that included Casey.
“It was a move up, and in this league that’s hard to get,” said Bayno, 51. “When I looked at all of it, Dwane Casey was a lot like Rick. A great guy who delegates and lets you coach. I loved it in Minnesota. I loved working for Rick, but at the time all this came up there was still a good chance he wasn’t coming back.”
The move took him to Toronto, a destination he considers the Canadian version of the New York City that he dearly loves. Bayno grew up in a small town less than an hour north, but received his basketball education on the playgrounds of New York City and its boroughs.
“It’s a smaller, cleaner New York, culturally diverse,” Bayno said. “That’s how I grew up. I love the diversity and the people are really friendly. I’m a city guy. I love the energy of a big city.”
Casey, the former Wolves coach, pursued Bayno because he considers the former UNLV and Loyola Marymount head coach a “very good teacher” for a team that has its fair share of young players.
Bayno also worked for John Calipari at Massachusetts, Larry Brown at Kansas and P.J. Carlesimo at Seton Hall.
“We’re still in that teaching stage,” Casey said earlier this season, after the Raptors traded Gay for Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez as well as veterans John Salmons and Chuck Hayes. “Whether we like it or not, we’re still in that development stage.”
Now Bayno tutors Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas — just as he did Pekovic and the Wolves’ other post players — and leaves himself open to accepting a head-coaching job again.
Hired by UNLV at age 32, Bayno, 12 years sober now, admittedly drank too much the first time around. He quit after just three games at Loyola Marymount his second time around when an anxiety disorder and the job’s responsibilities left him unable to sleep nights.
“I’m open to that now, for sure 100 percent,” said Bayno, who partly credits meditation for helping him find balance in his life. “If that’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I’m not stressing over it. I love my job. I’m not going to go out there and promote myself. If someone feels I’m the right guy for the job, I’m ready to do that now.”
Let it fly