Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores on rebuild: This one feels different

Detroit Free Press

The 2021-22 season has been one of growth for the Detroit Pistons, who are 18-30 since January after going 5-28 over the first three months of the season.

Cade Cunningham looks the part of an emerging star, Jerami Grant bounced back after an injury -marred start to the season, and former first-round picks Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Killian Hayes are positively impacting winning.

Pistons owner Tom Gores said he sees the growth as well. The franchise has just two playoff trips — with no playoff wins — since he purchased it 11 years ago. But after several failed rebuilds, he said this one feels different. Less than two years after Troy Weaver’s arrival as general manager, the team is showing signs of improvement. Coach Dwane Casey and players talk highly of the culture that’s building. Opposing teams have given the Pistons props for playing hard. There’s hope this team can make a leap soon.

Gores addressed the media during halftime of the Pistons’ home finale against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. Here’s what he said:

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Faith in Casey

Detroit’s 23-58 record would suggest otherwise, but spirits have generally been high this season. Casey preached a growth-oriented mindset, and it helped his team focus on the big picture even as losses piled up. His approach has paid off, and behind-the-scenes work is translating to better play.

When asked if Casey will return as head coach next season, Gores gave a vote of confidence.

“I want to see Dwane more than next year,” Gores said. “Dwane, he has threaded the needle this year because to lose a lot — and we lost a lot of games — the key is, can you keep everybody’s spirit alive? His ability to keep everyone’s spirit alive is such a talent. He’s a great man, and we love each other, Dwane and I, but that’s not enough to win basketball games. But he really understands how to keep these guys engaged while they’re going through a hard time. He’s really threaded the needle. He really had this ability just to keep everybody inspired, and the players love him, and I do, too. But the players really love him.”

Casey last May signed a one-year contract extension through the 2023-24 season.

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Pistons aiming higher

With significant cap space — largely the result of Blake Griffin’s contract coming off the books — and a potential top-three draft pick this offseason, the Pistons are positioned to improve their roster and perhaps nab a playoff berth next season.

The hope is, Gores said, by this time next year, the Pistons will still be playing meaningful games.

“Only because this team wants to win,” he said. “You’ve seen them out there. They’re fighting and clawing. This is the culture that’s being built. I do. You can talk to players about it, but their DNA now is to win. That’s their DNA.”

Gores said he wouldn’t make any predictions and the goal is still to be patient. But it’s safe to say the organization would prefer not to win fewer than 25 games for the fourth season in a row.

“We’ve been patient, and Troy’s got such a vision on the kind of player he wants,” Gores said. “That’s a thing that Troy and I have really been able to connect on, is the kind of players we want. We’re fielding a great team. You can ask Troy if you want tonight, but this team is only capable of competing. It’s just who they are. All of our players. They just want to compete.”

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Cunningham’s ‘resilience’ a plus

No player is more responsible for Detroit’s late-season surge than Cunningham, who, since Nov. 30, is averaging 18.8 points, 5.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds on 43.7% shooting, 34.4% on 3-pointers and 84.1% on free throws. On the floor, he’s the Pistons’ floor general. In the locker room, he’s a leader.

Cunningham is living up to the lofty expectations set in front of him as the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft.

“He’s special,” Gores said. “I met Cade in Malibu before he was drafted. He’s got poise, and as I said he’s got real resilience, and even when it doesn’t go right, he’s able to handle it. There’s a real comfort at game time that he’s able to show up.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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