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Dwane Casey’s voice being heard as Pistons rebuild ramps up

Matt Schoch
Special to The Detroit News

Like many Michiganians trying to hide unwieldy hairdos these days, Pistons coach Dwane Casey has been wearing many hats lately.

Brought in as an experienced coach to push a veteran team as far as it could go, Casey transitioned last year into the familiar role of nurturing a young, developing team.

Lately, Casey has been the face of the franchise, sharing the story of his Kentucky upbringing and marching with Detroit protesters downtown for racial equality.

Pistons head coach Dwane Casey says Detroit could use another point guard to go along with Derrick Rose.

And as the front office undergoes another shuffle, Casey certainly will be heard behind closed doors this offseason.

“As a coach, what you want to do is, ‘Here’s what we need,’” Casey said, addressing the media Wednesday for a year-end video conference nearly three months after the final game. “Having a voice in the room is something that we do here. We’re very collaborative.

“I think we’re doing it the right way.”

The Pistons have opened a general manager search, as two of Casey’s bosses in Arn Tellem and Ed Stefanski are trying to find a third.

With Casey at the table, the franchise has a head coach with two rebuilding situations on his resume and two others where he helped teams to the NBA Finals as an assistant coach.

Casey said he was treading water in his first head coaching stop in Minnesota but then developed prospect scouting chops in Toronto, aiding as Masai Ujiri built what would later become a championship roster.

There’s a long way to go for the Pistons, whose 20-46 mark finally goes in the books as their second-worst season since drafting Isiah Thomas No. 2 in 1981.

It ended as bad you remember — or more likely, forgot: The Pistons lost 12 of their last 13 games after trading Andre Drummond to Cleveland and went 3-18 down the stretch.

That futility gives a clear rebuilding direction and an important piece to help stock up. Detroit will have the fifth-best odds of landing the No. 1 pick in the lottery at 10.5% and a 42.1% shot to land in the top four on Aug. 25.

With more time to watch film on prospects during the shutdown, Casey figures to weigh heavily into draft night on Oct. 15.

Casey said Stefanski and director of player personnel Gregg Polinsky, who heads college scouting, take leading roles there. Notably, the coach did not mention associate general manager Pat Garrity, a holdover from the Stan Van Gundy era whose future with with the Pistons might be in limbo.

But it’s all about development in Detroit, a once-proud sports town long reduced to ashes and in search of a spark — any spark.

Rookie Sekou Doumbouya produced the most meaningful flash of hope this season during an eight-game stretch in January where he averaged 14 points and 5.3 rebounds before later losing steam.

“The talent level is in there, and I probably didn’t do a good enough job of developing him,” Casey said. “He’s got to get in great, physical basketball conditioning and he’s doing that now.

“And the competition. He needs to go against NBA players each and every day in competition this summer."

Casey said Doumbouya, who turns 20 in December, needs to continue to mature.

“That consistent growth is what he’s got to do, and he’s taking steps towards that,” Casey said. “I think this summer is a big summer for him, and next season and next summer.”

Doumbouya has been among the Pistons who have worked out in the team’s New Center area headquarters since it opened Thursday, the day the team officially found out its season was over. 

Casey said Bruce Brown, Luke Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk, Derrick Rose and free agent Brandon Knight have also worked out with coaches, who wear gloves during the sessions.

It’s just another example of what will be a challenging offseason across the board, especially for the eight teams uninvited to the league’s resumption next month in Orlando.

Casey said he’s in favor of reported proposals for the league to have late summer or fall mandatory mini-camps or regional scrimmages for non-qualifying teams.

“With the teams in Orlando having a competitive advantage by going against each other in a very competitive atmosphere, it really puts us behind the eight ball from a competitive standpoint,” Casey said. “Hopefully the league will come up with something.”

Those scrimmages should have more of a summer-league feel in developing young players, Casey said, and not for veterans like Blake Griffin and Rose, who are constantly dealing with injuries at this point in their careers.

Casey has said Kennard is fully recovered and was nearing his return when the season was postponed after he missed 36 games with a knee injury. 

Brown also is ahead of schedule in his recovery from thumb surgery, which hampered the end of his second season, Casey said, and free agent Christian Wood is fully recovering and working out after testing positive for COVID-19 in March.

Griffin said on Monday’s “Pardon My Take” podcast that he’s been cleared for activity after having surgery on his left knee in January.

Casey also addressed the need for adding a point guard to supplement Rose, who was on a minutes restriction all season.

That could come through the draft in prospects like LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton or Killian Hayes or a free agent such as Fred VanVleet, who Casey coached in Toronto.

There will be many decisions for the Pistons, who have five players under contract, six others who have a player option or team option, and five unrestricted free agents.

In the pre-pandemic world, the Pistons were projected to have more than $30 million in cap space. 

However, the NBA’s economics could be turned on its head this summer. The impacts of missing out on dozens of televised regular-season games, along with revenue lost from empty stands the rest of this season and likely beyond, are unknown.

But as the book officially closed on the season last week, Casey and the Pistons finally know they’re fully looking ahead, searching for bright spots down the road, eager to show fans some progress in dull Detroit sports days.

“We do have educated fans here in our market,” Casey said. “They know what a potential championship team and potential championship players look like.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.