Pistons' heartbreaking losses turn into learning blocks for growth
A loss on a shot in the final seconds. Another loss in double overtime. A couple of losses after blowing late leads. The first two weeks of the season have been anything but kind to the Pistons, who started 1-5 with a handful of disappointing defeats.
The start of the season could have been decidedly different with a few other choices and circumstances going a different way. In the midst of a rebuild, there are going to be plenty of plays to replay in their heads and wondering what could have been.
Though the Pistons weren’t projected to be a juggernaut this season, the ways they’ve lost games have provided some lessons for the young players, where the benefit isn’t as clear for the short term as it will be in teaching lessons for the future.
“You always have to look ahead. We’re growing as a team; we’re a completely different team than they were last year, with a lot of new players,” forward Jerami Grant said. “We are showing growth. It’s not coming up in the win column, but eventually, when it breaks, it’ll be good for us.”
Grant has been one of the breakout revelations for the Pistons. In the short stretch, he’s emerged as their leading scorer, posting 22.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and shooting 33% of his 3-pointers. He looks to be everything that the Pistons and general manager Troy Weaver thought they were getting in the deal that brought him from the Denver Nuggets to be their new offensive centerpiece.
A cynic would say that Grant’s talent is being lost in the rebuild, but Weaver said shortly after getting Grant that they wanted him as much for his leadership and character than his on-court contributions.
As tough as the losses are for the players, they’re as difficult for a coach, especially Casey, who has a reputation for player development, but wasn’t envisioned as being at the helm of a rebuild when he joined the Pistons. He was coming off being named coach of the year and some deep playoff runs with the Toronto Raptors, and wanted more bites at the apple with a Pistons squad that looked to be on the precipice of contending.
Not so much.
With veterans Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, the Pistons have name recognition, but with that pair in the 30s, the production has dipped some and the supporting cast is all new, giving way to the rebuild and a roster of rookies and transplants.
“Like Blake and Derrick, we were all thinking playoffs and high seeds. Things change and we have to adjust. I’ve found myself invigorated and excited about teaching and coaching young players,” Casey said. “I’m like everybody else — the older you get, the harder it is to lose, but the joy of coaching these young players overrides that for me right now.”
That means more work with rookies Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart on fundamentals each day, sometimes with extra shooting sessions at night on non-game days. Other times, it’s a focus on skill development that would have been done in the summer — but because of the pandemic and the condensed calendar, everything’s been thrown askew.
Things have turned to focusing on the future instead of thinking about playoffs and how Rose and Griffin could have been a dynamic duo. It’s not that they’re insignificant and can be thrown on the scrap heap; instead, the focus seemingly has shifted to what they can contribute to a winning culture to help for years down the road.
There’s still time for the season to turn around, but if the signs don’t start soon, it’ll be another lost season for the veterans, and for Casey, who has to more years left on his contract. The young players have shown themselves nicely this season, but with more seasoning and more work in the development system, there could be more to root for sooner than later.