Stefanski's task with Pistons: Get GM, coach in place

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Ed Stefanski

When Pistons owner Tom Gores made the announcement Thursday that they were adding Ed Stefanski as a senior adviser to guide their front office, it came as something of a surprise. For more than two weeks, the Pistons seemed to be a rudderless ship, without direction at the top of the organization.

General manager Jeff Bower, the highest-ranking member of the staff remaining after Stan Van Gundy was removed as team president and head coach, still is running the day-to-day operations but Bower’s contract expires on June 30 and there’s uncertainty about where the Pistons will go from there.

Enter Stefanski, 64, who will be tasked with hiring a general manager and head coach firstly. Stefanski agreed to a three-year deal, which means that he’s not some short-timer who’s just going to clean up the front office and move on.

He’s not the Pistons’ president of basketball operations, but he’s something close to that.

The Pistons will utilize Stefanski as a senior adviser, similar to other teams in recent years — including Magic Johnson with the Lakers, Jerry Colangelo with the Sixers and Jerry West with the Clippers — to help guide them in rebuilding the front office and hiring a head coach. Stefanski will report directly to Gores, which puts him on the same level with a team president, but he doesn’t have that title.

What the eventual role will be could change. But for now, Stefanski has the keys.

“(The role) will evolve; I don’t know exactly. Right now, (Gores) wants me to focus on the structure and the interviews we have to get from the coaching staff and general manager,” Stefanski told The Detroit News on Thursday. “Right now, I can say senior adviser, which is fine, and help Tom put that together. They are changing from one guy controlling it from a managerial and a head-coaching position.”

That doesn’t preclude him from getting a more defined role with the franchise after the dust settles. The Pistons may, in fact, keep Bower because of his familiarity with the team and some of his other assistants in the front office.

More likely is the notion that they augment Stefanski’s vast experience in front offices around the league — including the Nets, Raptors, Sixers and Grizzlies — with a fresh, up-and-coming candidate. That could include Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon or Heat executive Shane Battier, among others. That younger candidate could learn the ropes and work his way into a better situation by learning from Stefanski.

The first order of business seems to be getting a front office in place first, then pursuing a head coach. The search could be a short one, as the best candidate on the market looks to be former Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who is rumored to be the Pistons’ first choice. It looks to be a good fit, because of the success that Casey had in building the Raptors to the No. 1 seed in the East this season before they were summarily swept out of the playoffs again by LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Casey was selected by his peers as coach of the year, but James proved to be the hump that he couldn’t get over. That’s not exactly a sterling headline for the Pistons, but if Casey gets the job, he inherits a roster that could be ready to rise in the East with the right coaching and push from a new voice.

There are some interesting possibilities with Casey. If he’s the choice, he could bring former Piston Jerry Stackhouse — who also has been mentioned as a coaching candidate — as the potential head-coach-in-waiting. Stackhouse is the head coach of the Raptors 905 squad, the development league affiliate in Toronto.

Stefanski could choose to go in a completely different direction and give a young coach a prime opportunity. He’ll have Gores’ ear and will make some immediate decisions in shaping the direction the Pistons will go in the next few years.

It’s not a perfect situation, though.

The NBA Draft is less than a month away and the Pistons don’t have a clear definition of which way they’re heading — nor who will lead them there.

There’s still more work to be done, but at least figuring out who will be making the moves has been figured out.

What’s next will keep fans and experts watching.