The next chapter in Dwane Casey’s career has begun exactly one month after being fired by the Toronto Raptors.
Casey reportedly agreed on Monday to a five-year deal to become the next head coach of the Detroit Pistons. It leaves Toronto as the only NBA team currently without a head coach.
Not unlike the Raptors in 2011 when Casey first arrived — fresh off a championship season as the de facto defensive co-ordinator of the Dallas Mavericks — he’s walking into a fairly unstable landscape in Detroit.
The Pistons still do not have a general manager after firing Stan Van Gundy in May. They do not have a president of basketball operations. They hired former Raps executive Ed Stefanski to oversee the hiring process on those fronts just last week.
What they do have is a dysfunctional roster built with little foresight and no clear path to improving any time soon. The Pistons enter the off-season already well over the salary cap, and just $5 million below the luxury-tax threshold.
Apart from the limited financial flexibility, there are no rising young talents you’d peg as a potential future star on the roster, and no current all-stars leading the team.
Casey will get to choose his coaching staff, so he has that going for him, in addition to a long-term, five-year contract — and it’s unlikely he took much of a pay cut, if at all, from the more than $5 million per year he was earning with the Raptors.
Just like when he first arrived in Toronto seven years ago, Casey will have his work cut out for him in turning this Pistons team into a contender in the East.
The organization took a swing for the fences near the NBA’s trade deadline, acquiring five-time all-star Blake Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers in a move aimed to boost attendance, fan interest, and help push the Pistons into a playoff spot.
The team got off to a promising start with Griffin in the fold, reeling off four straight wins with him in uniform. That was followed by an eight-game losing streak, and a total record of 12-17 to close the season. They finished comfortably in ninth place, four games back from a playoff spot. It was the eighth time the Pistons missed the playoffs in the last 10 years, a pair of first-round sweeps to (drumroll please) LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009 and 2016 the only exceptions.
Griffin gave the Pistons name-recognition talent, but his production is steadily declining. With more than $102 million owed to him over the next three years — plus a player-option for $38 million in the 2021-22 season — it’s safe to say he’ll be sticking around Motown for the foreseeable future.
Maximizing Griffin will be among Casey’s biggest tasks and one made trickier given his fellow frontcourt star, Andre Drummond, the 24-year-old centre coming off his best season to date.
It’s a decent starting point for any team, but the two are an imperfect pairing.
Drummond, a throwback low-post presence, often forced Griffin out of the paint, hoisting mid-range jumpers and often handling playmaking duties — particularly when injury-prone point guard Reggie Jackson was sidelined.
Griffin’s ability to stretch the floor and handle the ball are assets, especially as his explosiveness wanes, but they are tools he relied upon a little too heavily in his first season with the Pistons.
He went from taking 52 per cent of his shot attempts from within 10 feet while with the Clippers last season to just 42 per cent in 25 games with the Pistons. He lumbered with the ball and was forced to create his own shot opportunities. In Los Angeles, 22 per cent of his shot attempts came after three to six dribbles versus 26.5 per cent in Detroit and he saw a similar rise in shots attempted after seven or more dribbles.
With the Clippers, 16 per cent of Griffin’s shots came after holding the ball for six seconds or longer, and that number also rose to 20 per cent in Detroit. Those are trends moving in the wrong direction.
Part of that is because of the team around him. Beyond Griffin and Drummond, there isn’t a whole lot to be excited about when you take a look at the Pistons roster heading into next season – particularly in the talent-starved backcourt.
Jackson is a shoot-first point guard who shot just 30 per cent from beyond the arc last season. He’s set to earn $17 million next season.
Rookie shooting guard Luke Kennard, the 12th-overall pick, didn’t move the needle and when all is said and done will likely best be remembered as the guy drafted one pick ahead of Rookie of the Year favourite Donovan Mitchell.
Stanley Johnson, Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith, and Langston Galloway are fine, but it’s hardly a core that inspires a ton of confidence.
Of course, you would have said the same of the team Casey inherited in Toronto. In Casey’s first season with the Raptors, he inherited a 22 year-old DeMar DeRozan who averaged just over 16 points in 35 minutes per game, and was forced to dole out major minutes to Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, and James Johnson.
The Pistons have more top-end talent — enough to compete for a playoff spot as early as next season — but a very limited ceiling as currently constructed. Like in Toronto, you can expect a far different roster in place during the end of Casey’s Pistons tenure than the one he’ll take over next season.
It took a combination of luck, consistency, more luck and, eventually, a willingness to evolve for Casey to turn things around in Toronto and lead them to the East’s top seed.
He’ll need the same in Detroit. That, plus time. A lot of time.