Omari Sankofa II | Detroit Free Press
When Dwane Casey was hired by the Pistons during the summer of 2018, he joined a franchise with immediate playoff aspirations. It was a few months after the franchise had traded for Blake Griffin, and there was a strong hope for the team’s first playoff victory since 2008.
Casey himself was coming off of winning NBA Coach of the Year after guiding the Raptors to a franchise-best 59 wins and an Eastern Conference semifinals appearance. His mix of proven playoff experience — the Raptors had five consecutive playoff appearances berths — and affinity for developing young players made him an ideal fit for a Pistons team with a superstar in Griffin, several young players looking to make a leap and nearly a decade of postseason disappointment.
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Nearly three years later, zero players from Casey’s first day on the job remain on the roster. The Pistons have a new general manager in Troy Weaver, and a new direction: Wins and losses aren’t the primary focus anymore. The goal is simply to compete every night, and to develop a new group of young players into franchise centerpieces.
It’s not the job Casey signed up for. But he’s enjoying guiding this young Pistons team, 10-26 at the midway point of the season. They’ve seen significant growth from their young players and have been more competitive than their record suggests.
Weaver praised Casey during a media availability on Tuesday, calling him the ideal person to lead Detroit’s rebuild. Casey has long been praised as a coach who can identify players and develop talent. Weaver said this team has taken on Casey’s identity.
“I’m really pleased, can’t say enough about Dwane and his staff,” Weaver continued. “You think a lot of times when you’re going through the situation, people will say you might want to have a different coach or look at things differently. I absolutely believe and trust that we have the best coach in the world for what we’re going through. His steadiness, the way he sets the tone with these guys, they often say that the team takes on the personality of the coach and that’s happened.
“These guys have been steady,” Weaver continued. “They come in, do their job every day and that’s who coach Casey is. He’s really set the tone inside the ball club of doing the right things and competing every day, whether it’s practice, shootaround or the game. That’s afforded us to feel good where we are in spite of the record.”
In turn, Casey has endorsed team owner Tom Gores and Weaver for establishing a clear direction for the franchise. Weaver has been aggressive in remaking the roster and finding players who fit his vision for the team. Entering the season, only four players remained from last season. It’s now down to two — Svi Mykhailiuk and Sekou Doumbouya — now that Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose have both departed for winning situations.
Ten players on the roster are 23 or younger, including guards Saben Lee and Frank Jackson, who are playing on two-way contracts. Many of them have made significant strides. Lee, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart have been rotation fixtures as rookies. Josh Jackson, a top pick in 2017 signed as a free agent in the offseason, is having his best season. Dennis Smith Jr., on his third stop, is finding his groove as the starting point guard.
There’s no playoff mandate from the front office. And while the Pistons are still competing to win single games, that approach has freed Casey to focus on the big picture — helping players grow their games.
“It’s a direction, and long-needed for this organization, which I applaud Tom in having a vision for us,” Casey said in February. “It’s not easy, believe me. To be honest, I didn’t envision this when I signed up to come here, to rebuild or retool. But I enjoy it. It’s part of the job description and I’m having fun doing it. Don’t enjoy the losses, but it’s part of where we are right now as an organization. It was a long time coming and Troy’s done an excellent job of putting things in the right place, identifying the needs of the team going forward, and I totally trust what his vision is.”
Weaver may not have hired him, but Casey has still been granted a significant voice within the front office. It was Casey who advocated for the Pistons to sign Mason Plumlee in the offseason, Weaver said. Plumlee is in the midst of the best season of his career, averaging 10.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists, with two triple-doubles.
Plumlee’s ability to function as a secondary playmaker and thrive in pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs appealed to Casey, who said Wednesday it’s increasingly important to have a center who can “quarterback” and bring more to offenses than just posting up.
It shows how much Weaver values Casey’s opinion. Casey said he appreciates Weaver’s vote of confidence, and that Weaver’s past stops prior to arriving in Detroit have led him to being secure in leaning on his coaches’ insight. They’re in “lock-sync,” he said.
“We talk every day, we communicate every day,” Casey said. “We’re on the same page as we go forward with this challenge. We know what our goals are, know what individual players need to get better. We’ve been collaborative all the way from top to bottom and it’s been great. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem asking him for what I need or what we need and that type of thing. We’re in this together and see things the right way and he;s been great to work with, communicate with. We talk about everything from our team to family to off the ocurut stuff, football, whatever it is. We draw a lot from each other and he tells me what he sees on the floor and we’re open about it and there’s nothing off the table that we can’t talk about.”