Detroit — The numbers tell one story: 20 wins, 20 wins and 23 wins for the Pistons in the last three seasons under coach Dwane Casey.
The eye test tells another story — especially this season, when the young Pistons have a satchel full of impressive wins over playoff teams. They also have impressive showings by their young players that are at least the pilot light for a flame of optimism.
What’s important is that Casey has the backing of general manager Troy Weaver and Pistons team owner Tom Gores, which seemed to be the case going into next season.
Gores removed all doubt on Friday.
“I want to see Dwane more than next year. Dwane has threaded the needle this year, because to lose a lot — and we lost a lot of games — the key is whether can you keep everybody’s spirit alive,” Gores told reporters. “So, he has the ability to keep everybody’s spirit alive. I just think it’s 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.
“He really understands how to keep these guys engaged while they’re going through a hard time. So, he’s really threaded the needle. He really has this ability to just to keep everybody inspired, and the players love him, and I do too.”
The wins haven’t been there for Casey, who came from the Toronto Raptors as the NBA Coach of Year in 2018. Gores anticipated that the Pistons might be in for one last push toward forming a winner core with a veteran roster, but that didn’t come to pass, which led to the current rebuild.
Casey was renowned for his ability to connect with players and for developing young talent. In the current restructuring of the roster, Weaver — who is in his second season — and Casey have made an impression on Gores with the way they’ve handled things.
“I’ve enjoyed seeing the results, but honestly, we have great people in charge, Dwane and Troy,” Gores said. “So, as much as I always get nervous about where we’re going and everything, we have great leaders. Dwane and Troy are just tremendous leaders, both for the team and our young people.”
This looks to be a critical offseason for the Pistons, with some significant space in the salary cap and a likely top-five draft pick. Given the young core they’ve built with Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes, they can go in any of several directions to jump-start the rebuild.
The big question is when the Pistons will be a viable contender for the postseason, which could come as soon as next season, with the right roster moves in the offseason.
“I think we will make a leap. I’m not going to make any predictions for Troy, but he has plans too. We’ve been patient and Troy has had such a vision on the kind of player he wants,” Gores said. “That’s the thing that Troy and I have been able to really connect on is the idea of the kind of players we want.
“We’re fielding a great team … this team is only capable of competing. That’s just who they are. All of our players, they just want to compete.”
It’s a ringing endorsement for both Casey and Weaver, and for the path forward, which looks to be toward expectations of a postseason spot next season, if everything goes to plan. That’s still going to take some work, but the framework is there.
Pistons at 76ers
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Sunday, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
Outlook: The Pistons (23-58) can clinch the third-worst record and the best odds at the No. 1 overall draft pick with a loss. The Sixers (50-31) are playing for postseason seeding, and they can get the No. 3 seed with a win and a Celtics loss.