Charles Lee is a fast riser in the NBA and could be the next Detroit Pistons head coach

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Pistons are still in the early stages of finding their next head coach. But two weeks into the process, strong candidates have emerged.

Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Charles Lee, New Orleans Pelicans assistant Jarron Collins and former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie have stood out and are expected to make the team’s second round of interviews, league sources confirmed to the Free Press. The team held Zoom interviews last week, and will meet with more candidates this week. Lee, Collins and Ollie will likely meet with the team again for an in-person interview round.

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The Pistons are angling toward hiring a younger coach compared to their previous two — Dwane Casey, who was 61 at the time of his hire, and then-54-year-old Stan Van Gundy. Both had multiple head coaching jobs prior to joining the Pistons. Lee, Collins and Ollie would all be first-time head coaches in the NBA. Ollie is the oldest of the bunch at 50, while Collins and Lee are 44 and 38, respectively.

Let’s start with a breakdown of the youngest of the bunch — Charles Lee.

Lee is a longtime Budenholzer assistant

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer has grown an impressive coaching tree over the years. Himself a former longtime assistant under legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, several Budenholzer assistants have been sought after. The list includes former Utah Jazz and current Atlanta Hawks coach Quin Snyder, Memphis Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins, former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham (Saginaw).

Lee could be next. He has been a Budenholzer assistant for nine years, initially joining him in Atlanta in 2014 before following him to Milwaukee in 2018. After interviewing for several vacancies last summer, Lee was promoted by the Bucks to associate head coach in an effort to keep him. 

Under Budenholzer, Lee has been a key part of a Bucks team that won the championship in 2021 and a contending Hawks team that won 60 games in 2014-15.

Lee is passionate about player development

The Bucks recently posted a sit-down interview with Lee on YouTube in which he talked about his responsibilities as an assistant coach and scout, the importance of film and his player development work — namely with Khris Middleton, Grayson Allen and 2022 first-round pick MarJon Beauchamp.

It’s an insightful interview that gives a good look at who Lee is as a coach.

The Bucks are a veteran team, and Beauchamp is one of their few players younger than 27. Lee discussed the patience required to coach up a young player such as Beauchamp, while also getting in work with the veteran Allen, a 6-foot-4 sharpshooting wing looking to round out his game.

“It’s a cool little dynamic, too, because you have two veteran players in Khris and Grayson, and then for myself, reminding myself how to work with a young guy and the attention to detail that it takes and the consistency,” Lee said. “They don’t pick things up as much, so having some patience and explaining things. It’s been really good for me and my growth as well, because I’ve learned a ton from MarJon.”

Lee said he wants to help Beauchamp better prepare his body for an 82-game season and make him more competitive on both ends of the floor. As for Allen, Lee noted that he had to run more pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs (DHO) with Middleton injured during most of Milwaukee’s 2022 playoff run.

“This summer, the focus is let’s hunt more 3s, how do we get our body and early shot prep together, and then also how are we making pick-and-roll reads, DHO reads, and just feeling more comfortable against different coverages?

“It’s really cool to see him now start to come into his own and have more force when he’s driving the ball, and his paint percentages go up,” he continued.

Lee was a standout at Bucknell

Lee never played in the NBA, but his basketball résumé is strong. He led Bucknell to consecutive Patriot League championships and NCAA tournament berths in 2005-06 as a co-captain. He earned a long list of awards — 2006 Patriot League Player of the Year, back-to-back tournament MVP awards (the first player in the conference to do so), and three all-conference selections.

During his junior and senior seasons, Lee averaged 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 43.5% overall and 39.7% from 3. He’s one of 44 players in school history to score at least 1,000 career points, and was a key part of two of the school’s eight NCAA tournament appearances.

He was one of 25 players named to the Patriot League’s 25th Anniversary Team in 2015, and was inducted into Bucknell’s Hall of Fame in 2017. Though he went undrafted in 2006, he played four years in Europe before returning to Bucknell as an assistant in 2012, where he coached for two years before moving up to the NBA ranks.

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

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