In his three weeks on the job, Ed Stefanski has been in a bit of a whirlwind. When Pistons owner Tom Gores hired Stefanski to be a senior adviser, the two big tasks were to find a head coach and to fill out the front office.
He’s already completed one of those, with the hiring of Dwane Casey as the Pistons’ new coach this week. He’s still working through the second big task and is making some progress, but it’s not quite done.
“It’s been extremely busy but it’s all good. We’re very happy to bring Casey on board; it was our first priority,” Stefanski told The Detroit News. “We’re very fortunate that the coach of the year was sitting out there without a job.
“It’s unusual in any sport that that caliber of coach is out there; it’s fortunate for us.”
Casey, who led the Toronto Raptors to a franchise-record 59 wins and the top playoff seed in the East last season, is set to be introduced formally at a press conference next week. He took over a 23-win franchise seven years ago and led them to three straight 50-win seasons.
The biggest knock, though, was three straight playoff defeats against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, including series sweeps the past two seasons. The other read is that he made the Raptors relevant again, as shown by the honor for coach of the year, as voted by his fellow coaches.
“He took Toronto to higher heights than they expected; they got the top seed and I don’t think they saw that was going to happen,” Stefanski said. “He’s done it on a higher level and brought the franchise up. We’re ahead of where Toronto was when he took over there.
“He has good relationships with players and that’s so important in the game now and he’s a good X’s and O’s coach.”
The first step for Casey was meeting this week with some of his players who are doing summer workouts in California, including Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard. He’s looking to start establishing relationships and setting early expectations.
“He’s been able to wrap his arms around a number of the players who are working out in Los Angeles and he’s been on the phone with the others,” Stefanski said. “Now he’s seeing what kind of staff he wants to put together.”
Casey will have a revamped staff from his seven years in Toronto, as his top assistant, Nick Nurse, was promoted to head coach this week and another assistant, Rex Kalamian, went to the Los Angeles Clippers.
It’s unclear how Casey will adapt his system to the roster of players he’s inheriting from last season’s team, which finished 39-43, but there are some things that Casey already likes about the group, including the playmaking abilities of the top three players.
“He’s getting an idea of how each guy will play and have them work that into their individual (summer) workouts,” Stefanski said. “He likes playmakers and Andre Drummond had 3.5 assists per game last season and Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond make plays.
“(Casey) wants good passers and to open up the floor.”
Now that the focus has shifted from the coaching search to finding executives, Stefanski can figure out the rest of the nuts and bolts. He has extensive experience with four franchises: the Nets, Raptors, Sixers and most recently, the Grizzlies. He was brought on with the title of senior adviser, but in truth, he’s doing many of the same functions of a team president.
With a three-year contract, he’s certainly not a short-timer and he’s reporting directly to Gores. Obviously, the Pistons need to have a front office in place, but they won’t rush to get it done, even with the draft approaching on Thursday and free agency coming on July 1.
“There’s no urgency (in hiring a staff) before the draft; there’s no set timeline,” Stefanski said. “All of the draft (preparation) is done.”
Several reports have named Brent Barry and former Piston Tayshaun Prince as potential assistant general managers, and current Pistons assistant GM Pat Garrity has been an asset in the transition process and is “in the mix” to be retained with the next front office.
Because the Pistons already are over the salary cap, they are limited in what they can do in acquiring more help. They were active in the past two seasons in bringing in complementary pieces, including Anthony Tolliver, Reggie Bullock and Langston Galloway last season, and Jon Leuer, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic the previous season, but that type of activity is highly unlikely this summer.
The Pistons likely will have to wait until the first wave of big signings are done and then see what players are left — something akin to shopping in the bargain bin and getting good value. It’s similar to what happened last season when they parted with Aron Baynes because they thought he would command a big salary, but they were surprised when he signed with the Celtics for only $4.3 million.
“It’s important, but not this year because we have no funds,” Stefanski said. “We’ll see who’s out there in the second wave.”
The salary pinch — and being close to the luxury-tax line — could prevent them from bringing back Tolliver, who made $3.3 million last season. After a good season with 8.9 points and 44 percent on 3-pointers in 79 games, his salary could double or triple.
Stefanski said they could look into moving a big salary to clear space to open more options, but it just depends on the market and finding a team to deal with.
As far as the draft, the Pistons have a second-round pick (42nd overall) but their cap situation could limit their options. They don’t have their first-round pick, which went to the Clippers in the Griffin deal, and trading back into the first round is unlikely.
“We have very limited space but could get to the back of the first round (at best),” he said. “The luxury-tax line is on us. We’ll see what players are available. The team we have now is our team because we don’t have the flexibility at this time.”