Pistons' Casey revisits place where head coaching career was launched
Minneapolis — It’s not quite the fervor and media spectacle that Pistons coach Dwane Casey experienced in Toronto last month when he coached against his former team.
In many ways, Casey’s time leading the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2005-07 was a blip on his coaching resume. He managed a record of 53-69 in less than two seasons, his first time being the head man.
Beyond Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves were scrapping, managing just a 33-49 record, followed by a 20-20 mark, before Casey was fired. Casey’s stint in Toronto has earned him the title of coaching survivor, a moniker that he’d prefer not to have.
“I’d rather not be a survivor; I’d rather be a sustainer and stay in one spot. I would rather to have stayed in Minnesota or have stayed in Toronto but that’s the NBA,” Casey said Wednesday. “You do a good job and there’s not a team owner who says that Dwane didn’t work his butt off and do a good job and left the place a better place and leave better people behind.”
“Players have achieved a lot, whether it’s Toronto — and not so much here because we had an older team — but every player in Toronto was well rewarded and the team is in a better place. If that’s a survivor, I’ll be called a survivor but it’s trying to do a good job wherever you are.”
Casey spent the following three years as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks, including a championship in 2010-11, before rising as a head coach in Toronto. Some would say that Casey got a raw deal in being fired by Raptors team president Masai Ujiri after leading them to the best record in the Eastern Conference, but it’s not simply about things being just.
“Life is not fair. You win coach of the year and (have the East’s No. 1 seed), but life is not fair,” Casey said. “That’s Ujiri’s decision, as I was told and we weren’t creative enough to get past Cleveland.
“So be it. If that’s what they wanted to fire me for, there are a lot of coaches in that long line.”
It was a rebuilding situation with the Raptors, who won 22 games in 2010-11, the season before Casey arrived. He was responsible for leading their turnaround but as he’s gone from team to team, the objective has been the same: build it into a winner.
Minnesota was the starting point, which sticks with Casey as a good first opportunity.
“Here, we were at a crossroads of whether to trade Garnett to start over again. We were trying to build around him but we were trying to resurrect some things that were already past,” Casey said. “If I’m (Timberwolves owner) Glen Taylor, I would do the same thing. That was a little bit different situation.”
In the summer, Casey was prepared to sit out for a year to focus on his family and potentially just do TV commentary. When he met with Pistons owner Tom Gores, Casey was leaning in the other direction, but was able to be convinced to sign on to become head coach.
“I first told Mr. Gores, ‘No,’ and I was going to sit out the year and wait to see what happened,” Casey said. “He convinced me and talked me into staying, which wasn’t hard to do because this team is right there.”
On Tuesday night, Pistons forward Jon Leuer had his jersey number 22 retired at Orono High School, near Minneapolis. Leuer was a standout in Orono before going to the University of Wisconsin and eventually became the No. 40 pick in the 2011 draft.
“Honored to have my high school jersey retired last night,” Leuer posted to Instagram. “Thanks to all my family, friends, coaches, teammates, and teachers who showed up and made last night special. I’ll always be a Spartan!”
Most of his Pistons teammates joined him for the ceremony, a testament to their camaraderie and closeness as a group.
“Fortunately, we have a close-knit team,” Casey said. “Jon is a coach’s dream. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and I’m just happy to see him get his jersey retired.”