Why Dwane Casey is moving to Detroit Pistons front office after 5 years as head coach

Detroit Free Press

CHICAGO — Dwane Casey is taking a new job after five years as head coach of the Detroit Pistons.

His new path will keep him with the organization, though: Casey is joining the Pistons’ front office.

He broke his own news Sunday at United Center, after the Pistons concluded the season with a 103-81 loss to the Chicago Bulls, informing the media during his postgame news conference.

“I told the guys that this is my last game,” Casey said after exiting the locker room. “I’m moving to the front office. We’ll have an official meeting later on this week, but it’s been a good 44 years (in coaching). Tom (Gores) has given me the opportunity to move to the front office, and talked to Troy (Weaver). To work with Troy, I’m excited about it, to move to the next phase of my life. It’s time for me to be with my family and spend more time with them. It’s a good time.”

The Pistons will begin the coaching search with a handful of names they’d like to interview, including former Boston head coach Ime Udoka, Milwaukee associate head coach Charles Lee, Toronto assistant coach Adrian Griffin and former Villanova head coach Jay Wright, according to league sources.

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Udoka, 45, led the Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first season in 2021-22, but was suspended by the team for the 2022-23 season for having an intimate relationship with a female Celtics staffer.

Lee, 38, has been an assistant with the Bucks for five seasons after playing college ball at Bucknell and professionally overseas.

Griffin, 48, has been with the Raptors for five seasons and played nine seasons in the NBA.

Wright, 61, retired from Villanova in 2022 with two national titles in 21 seasons; he was a CBS studio analyst during this past season.

Pistons ownership allowed Casey to pick his own destiny after five seasons as head coach. He had one season remaining on his contract after signing a one-year extension in May 2021. The Pistons went 121-263 under Casey, but the past four seasons were played during various stages of a front office-led rebuild. The team went 41-41 in 2018-19, Casey’s first season, and was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Bucks.

Casey, 65, is joining a different front office than the one in place when he was hired in 2018. The Pistons hired Weaver in 2020 and have embraced a youth movement led by Cade Cunningham and this year’s rookie class of Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Casey was viewed as the ideal coach to develop Detroit’s young players and establish a winning culture. The front office has backed him, but he acknowledged, following an NBA-worst 17-65 season, that it’s now time for a new voice.

“It’s totally my decision,” Casey said. “Tom gave me that opportunity to do that, and I appreciate it to make the decision the way I wanted to. Not a lot of coaches have had that opportunity, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life.”

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Casey’s announcement concludes a 44-year coaching career that began when he was hired as an assistant for his alma mater, Kentucky, in 1979. After a decade in the college game, and several years in Japan, Casey made the NBA as an assistant with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994. He spent 11 seasons with that franchise before getting his first NBA head coaching job in 2005 with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

His longest coaching tenure came with the Toronto Raptors, who he coached from 2011 until his dismissal in 2018 — the same season he was named NBA Coach of the Year. Casey noted he initially wanted to take a year off before joining Detroit, but owner Tom Gores recruited him hard. The franchise believed they were ripe to win.

“I’ll never forget, we were still in Toronto and (Gores) called at one o’clock in the morning and we talked for an hour, Brenda and I did,” Casey said. “He was going to send a plane to pick us up. He recruited me. That recruitment turned into a friendship, and that’s where we are today.”

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That 2018-19 team, led by Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson, fell short of expectations despite all three playing 75 games or more. The core disintegrated the next season with poor play, injuries and a lack of skilled role players.

After Weaver’s hire, Casey’s job shifted from winning now to building up a young roster the team hopes will be able to make a leap as soon as next season.

“We limped into the playoffs, but we made it,” Casey said of 2018-19. “Health is so important in that situation. I came here with Tom with a charge to coach. Things changed, health changed. We both took it down to the studs. Hopefully, my legacy will be the growth of this program from these young guys, getting to the foundation of growth. Not for the wins and losses. I don’t care who you bring in here with a young team. This league is not forgiving in wins and losses. I’m not trying to run away from that.”

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Casey has a close relationship with Gores and Weaver, and that mutual respect insulated Casey from the usual rules that dictate coaching changes. His win-loss record, from their perspective, was unimportant. He helped the Pistons stay on course while weathering three developmental seasons. Now, he will continue to help guide the rebuild from behind the scenes, rather than from the front chair on the bench.

“I hope that our fans will see that and appreciate where they guys are going, where they’ve been,” Casey said. “Troy has done a good job of bringing the right guys in, and help keep the locker room together the last two years. We haven’t seen our guys on the police blotters or in trouble, or whatever. He’s brought high-character guys in and he’s worked to keep the locker room in the right way and going the right way.”

Casey will now have more time with his wife and two teenage kids. The Pistons will interview several candidates for their vacant head coach position, though Casey noted no decisions have been made.

It’s a fitting end for one of the longest-tenured coaches in Pistons history — one whose legacy will continue to be shaped in the coming years as the team looks to turn the page and snap a 15-year drought without a playoff win.

“Troy is a good man, he’s a smart man, he’s a good basketball man,” Casey said. “I’m excited about working with him and (assistant GM) George David, the front office he has. He’s got a good crew in there. I’m really excited to learn from all of them and contribute in any way I can.”

Listen to “The Pistons Pulse” every Tuesday morning at 5 and on demand on freep.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. And catch all of our podcasts and daily voice briefing at freep.com/podcasts.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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