When coaches take over new teams, they don’t always have the pick of the litter in assessing their talent. With many vacancies, the teams are bereft of talent and the teams are in various states of rebuilding.
For Pistons coach Dwane Casey, it’s a bit of an anomaly: having a talented core of veteran players, plus a cache of budding talents who didn’t reach their full potential in the previous regime under Stan Van Gundy.
“The most important thing is the talent level you have with Blake (Griffin), Andre (Drummond) and Reggie (Jackson) to start with,” Casey said. “They’re veteran players and the next level is Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson — whom I’ve always admired from afar — and Henry Ellenson, three very talented young players.
“I’ll put Andre in that group, too, as being young. He’s 24 years old and an untapped wealth of talent still there. That’s going to be on me and the coaching staff to draw as much of that as we can there.”
Casey recognizes immediately the need to keep the key players available and on the court. Jackson missed 37 games last season because of a severe ankle sprain and 30 games the previous year because of tendinitis. Griffin is going through his first summer in years without a major injury.
With those three as a foundation, Casey sees the ability to contend in the Eastern Conference for a playoff spot — and maybe more.
“The talent base is there. The No. 1 nemesis is health. We’ve got to work and find a way to make sure we stay healthy, whether it’s being innovative and creative with our training methods to work and stay healthy,” Casey said. “(Injuries have) been a nemesis for us, but it’s part of the NBA.”
The Pistons made the trade for Griffin in late January last season and sent their first-round pick in Thursday’s draft to the Clippers in the deal. It’s a calculated gamble in the long term for the Pistons to have a superstar who can vault them into playoff contention with a healthy, full roster.
Though Casey’s nemesis in Toronto was LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Casey believes the Pistons are better equipped to handle James, if the opportunity presents itself again.
“Somebody said, ‘What happened with Toronto in the playoffs?’ I said it’s about matchups,” Casey said. “Stanley Johnson is the best matchup for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically. Also, you have Blake there. We have two guys who can physically match up with the mental and physical toughness that it takes to go against a guy like that.
“We’re not developing; we’re not two or three years away — we want to win right now.”
Casey said that he’s put together some of the developmental coaching staff and they’re working in Los Angeles with some of the players, including Griffin, Drummond, Jackson, Johnson and Kennard; Ellenson was slated to fly to Los Angeles this week to begin his offseason work.
Pistons senior advisor Ed Stefanski, who is working in the general manager role now, sees things going in the right direction.
“The development is huge. The three young guys have upside potential and that is one reason I said to Tom I wanted to get my arms around the players and called them right away and visited with them. I wanted to get a coach who could develop them,” Stefanski said. “The upside for these three young guys is much better than they’ve shown. I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product to compete with teams.
“We have to win games, as Tom said. You don’t get to an organization that has three core guys like we have. I’ve been in organizations who didn’t have those three, so I’m happy with the three guys we have.”