Detroit — The Pistons are starting a new era — and the clear message is that it’s not some wishing-well fantasy. The next phase of the franchise kicked off with the introduction of new head coach Dwane Casey on Wednesday afternoon at Little Caesars Arena.
Although Casey had been on the job for more than a week, the formal introduction was delayed as he got to work quickly in building relationships with the players and worked to start assembling his coaching staff.
With a core group of Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, the message is clear: they’re not waiting for success. Even with their last three first-round picks, Luke Kennard, Henry Ellenson and Stanley Johnson, Casey sees promise in the Pistons’ near-term future.
“Our time is now. We have the core group now with Blake, Andre and Reggie,” Casey said. “The key is the summer for our young guys, with Stanley, with Luke and with Henry. They have everything it takes to compete.”
More than six weeks after firing Stan Van Gundy at head coach and team president, Pistons owner Tom Gores appeared at Wednesday's press conference, flanked by Casey and Ed Stefanski, whose current title is senior adviser, but who is serving as de facto general manager.
It was somewhat of a dual-purpose press conference, as it was the first public appearance of Stefanski, as well. Stefanski was hired last month and was tasked with hiring a coach and stocking the front office.
“I give Ed a lot of credit because he could play any role — general manager or president of basketball operations,” Gores said. “I give him a lot of credit in that he didn’t put his title first; he put the organization first. That’s why Ed is here; he’s plug-and-play. Ed can do anything and he’s willing to and he’s very experienced.
“We could make Ed the GM tomorrow; that’s easy, if you want a title. But that’s not the point. The point is that we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”
Casey, 61, reached a five-year deal with the Pistons for about $36 million last week, just a few weeks after the Toronto Raptors fired him, following a franchise-record 59 wins. Casey’s undoing was three straight playoff losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers, including sweeps in the last two years.
Gores is looking for a change of course for both the team and for Casey, who enters with high expectations — getting the Pistons back to the playoffs for just the second time in the past decade. The task will be tougher with very little flexibility with the salary cap and no first-round pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.
Still, Casey sees possibilities in the Pistons’ current construction, with two big men as the centerpieces, deploying resources in a different manner than Van Gundy did in his four seasons before being fired May 7.
“We have to get up more threes and play more of an analytical game," Casey said. "Tom teases me about being a modern man — it’s about wanting to win more than anything else and you have to adapt in this league or you die. I’ve done that the last three or four years in Toronto, adapting to the NBA game. That’s the main topic we had last week with the players, making sure we understand the shot spectrum and the efficiency of shots we want to take and how we want to play.
“It’s about playing the game the way the NBA is going. No disrespect to any other coach, but that’s the way we’re going to play.”
Casey is renowned for his relationships with players, as exemplified by his desire to meet with them almost immediately in Los Angeles, where many of the Pistons are doing summer workouts. That rapport already seems to be working.
“The thing about Dwane is he’s ready to speak to the players and really listen. It was hard (for Van Gundy) on the front-office side. That was difficult,” Gores said. “The reality is that I believe in Dwane and we had a great meeting with the players. I’m hopeful — but we have to win.
“One of the things I was impressed with Dwane was that he knew every single player in detail, every move.”
Casey still is working on forming his coaching staff and likely will have everything in place before Summer League begins in early July in Las Vegas.
The Pistons enter Thursday's draft with just pick, in the second round.
"We want tough, high-IQ kids," Stefanski said of their draft approach. "We want a guy who the coach can put him out there and trust him."
The Pistons traded their first-round pick in January in order to acquire Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers.
"(Griffin is) a big-time player and an All-Star," Stefanski said. "If he stays healthy (we can win). … I’d rather have Blake than the (12th pick) in the draft."