Indianapolis — It’s not just the players who have to be ready in case of a last-minute personnel change.
Pistons assistant coach Rex Kalamian stepped in as acting head coach for Thursday night’s matchup against the Indiana Pacers because coach Dwane Casey missed the game for personal reasons. The team made the announcement about 90 minutes before tipoff and noted that Casey’s absence was not related to COVID issues.
It marks Kalamian’s first time going into the game in the first chair as the coach, after stints as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings before joining Casey’s staff with the Pistons this season.
“There were a few times where with the Clippers, Doc Rivers would get thrown out and I’d take over in the middle of the game, but from the jump ball, this is the first time,” Kalamian said.
There was no indication of how long Casey might be out, but Kalamian said that he’ll hold the reins in the interim.
“I really think it’s a day-to-day thing, as far as I know,” he said. “We’ll just see what happens tomorrow and the next day and how we proceed with it and go from there.”
Casey was around for Thursday morning’s shootaround at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, so the Pistons had the game plan settled for the game against the Pacers. They don’t play again until Saturday at Little Caesars Arena against the Houston Rockets.
Kalamian is in his third stint in working with Casey. He primarily serves as the pseudo-defensive coordinator, which gives him a hand in the plans for each game.
“I set up game plans for what we want to do and how we want to do it, so on that end, I’m very familiar with it,” Kalamian said. “On the offensive end, I’m paying attention to what we’re doing every day, so it shouldn’t be much change from how we run things.”
It’s difficult to glean too many positives when a team is in the midst of a 12-game losing streak, but Casey is seeing some improvement in how the Pistons are working together, and the coaching staff is trying to accentuate some of those positives in their video review.
“We keep reinforcing with video and showing guys where they’re doing things wrong or doing it right,” Casey said. “If we had a group of older guys and we were taking losses like this, it would be very difficult, but our young guys are fresh, they’re open-minded, they’re sponges and they’re smart.”
Casey said that they’re working on instilling winning habits, but without the actual wins to reinforce those lessons and showing that the things they’re doing are working, it’s sometimes difficult for the young players to grasp and measure that improvement.
“They understand what we’re doing. We continue to reinforce the good and cutting down on the bad and showing them where we’re getting closer and closer,” Casey said. “There’s always that segment, whether it’s the third quarter or fourth quarter and one time it was the end of the second quarter. So those segments we’re trying to really shorten and make sure they’re not taking us down when we make some of these mistakes.”
McGruder growing as vocal leader
Rodney McGruder, in his sixth season, has seen his share of ups and downs in his time with the Miami Heat, Clippers and now in his second season with the Pistons. As one of the veteran vocal leaders, it’s important on a team of mostly young players to point out things they’re doing right and working on the growth.
“You’ve just got to keep growing, and just see the growth spurts and the growing pains through it all,” McGruder said. “I think that’s the most important part of it all, because even though things aren’t going the way we want them to go, we have made a tremendous amount of growth, starting from game 1 to game 27.
“Going into game 27, you see the growth, so you just have to take the small wins. You can’t just look at the bigger picture and say we stink, but you see the games that we’ve been in and the leads that we’ve had.”