After more than a month of searching, the Pistons finally made the move that they hope will take them back to the playoffs — and maybe further than that.
Dwane Casey and Pistons owner Tom Gores agreed to a five-year contract, the team announced Monday. A source told The Detroit News that the deal is worth a little more than $7 million per season, with other potential bonuses.
Casey's hiring fills one of the Pistons' key vacancies, as they've been without a head coach since May 7, when they parted ways with Stan Van Gundy, who was also the team president. The Pistons next will look to hire a general manager but it's unclear if they'll finish that process before the NBA draft on June 21.
“Dwane is one of the most successful and highly respected coaches in our league,” Gores said in a team statement. “He’s a great communicator and a leader who will connect with our players and accelerate their growth. Having spent many hours with Dwane over the last few weeks, I’m confident he is the right person to get us to the next level.”
Casey, 61, was instrumental in turning around the Toronto Raptors, leading them to a franchise-record 59 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference last season. His bugaboo, though, was being swept out of the playoffs for the second straight year by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In his seven years with the Raptors, Casey helped improve the team each season, from when he took over the franchise at 23 wins, to helping earn the conference's top seed. Playoff success eluded Casey and the Raptors, with just one appearance in the conference finals, while James reached the NBA Finals eight straight years.
"I like the hire," said Greg Kelser, analyst for the Pistons broadcasts on Fox Sports Detroit. "Look where he took Toronto from and to. He demonstrated he could adapt his style of play and he had success with it."
With the Pistons, Casey will have an intriguing roster, including five-time All-Star Blake Griffin — acquired in a deadline deal in January — as well as All-Star center Andre Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson. Keeping them all healthy will be the primary focus.
“I am excited and honored to join the Detroit Pistons, a franchise with a championship history and a roster that is ready to win now,” Casey said in the team statement. “Tom really won me over with his vision for the team and the city. He clearly wants to deliver for the fans in Detroit and I believe in the strength of his leadership to do so.
“I’m confident that this team has the pieces in place to compete at a very high level. There is a lot of talent, a solid core and some exciting young players eager to get better. We’re getting to work right away on the things that will make us all successful.”
Casey is expected to begin player meetings in Los Angeles this week and will begin putting together his coaching staff before being introduced formally at a press conference next week.
The Pistons are coming off a disappointing 39-43 season, as Jackson suffered a severe ankle sprain and missed 37 games, and the Pistons went 12-25 during that span. The hope is that Jackson and Griffin will return at 100 percent next season, vaulting the Pistons back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and just the second time in the past decade.
“In our meetings, he displayed great insight into what this roster can accomplish, and great passion about our city and the team’s role in bringing people together,” Gores said. “He’s an outstanding man with impressive character. He embodies our culture and will be a great representative for our franchise.”
In his attempt to turn the team around, Casey will not have much roster flexibility, as the Pistons are over the salary cap and are nearing the luxury-tax line. They will not be major players in free agency, which begins on July 1, and do not have a first-round draft pick, though they do have a second-round selection (42nd overall).
Casey’s five-year deal shows a commitment to the current roster and the belief that the team can get back to the playoffs quickly. He is regarded as a players' coach and is noted for having good relationships with his players in his time with the Raptors.
"He will have to balance being a players' coach and he has to have discipline and have expectations — and he's smart enough to do that," Kelser said.
Casey was selected by his peers as coach of the year and could also win the media vote, which will be announced on the NBA awards show on June 25.
Casey emerged from a candidate pool that included Michigan head coach John Beilein, San Antonio Spurs assistant Ime Udoka, Miami Heat assistant Juwan Howard and Toronto Raptors assistant Nick Nurse, among others.
Dwane Casey’s record as an NBA head coach:
2005-06: 33-49 – Did not make playoffs
2006-07: 20-20 – Fired after 40 games
2011-12: 23-43 – Did not make playoffs (regular season shortened by lockout)
2012-13: 34-48 – Did not make playoffs
2013-14: 48-34 – Lost to Nets in the first round of playoffs
2014-15: 49-33 – Lost to Wizards in the first round of playoffs
2015-16: 56-26 – Lost to Cavaliers in Eastern Conference finals
2016-17: 51-31 – Lost to Cavaliers in Eastern Conference semifinals
2017-18: 59-23 – Lost to Cavaliers in Eastern Conference semifinals; fired after season