The Pistons have found their next head coach — and he’s coming off the Eastern Conference’s top regular-season performance. Detroit will hire former Raptors coach and 2018 National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
It’s a quality hire for a Pistons team in desperate need of a turnaround. Former coach/general manager Stan Van Gundy struggled in his four seasons in Michigan, making the playoffs just once and failing to win even a single game in the postseason. He was fired May 7 after a 39-win campaign that marked his third losing season in four years.
The Pistons took their time to land on Casey, whose resume in Toronto is pocked with regular-season success but diminishing returns in the playoffs. The veteran leader earned top honors from his peers this spring after a 59-23 season that saw the Raptors claim the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. However, his club fell apart in the conference semifinals in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers. A third-straight postseason defeat against Cleveland was more than general manager Masai Ujiri could take, and Casey was served his walking papers May 11.
Why is this a good hire for the Pistons?
Detroit needs to change its image, and Casey has proven he’s a dynamic head coach capable of getting the most from his players — until they have to match up with LeBron James in the postseason. When it looked like DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry had hit their ceiling with 2016-17’s Raptors team, Casey remade his team by opening up the Toronto offense, turning to his less-heralded players, and turning up the defensive intensity. That unlocked a second gear that turned the Raps into a contender, if only briefly.
He’ll have a similar challenge in Detroit, where he’ll have to find a way to build around two stars (Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond) by gleaning more from his supporting cast. The Pistons have committed nearly half their salary cap space to that pairing, but after trading for Griffin last winter, it’s still unclear whether he and Drummond can thrive next to each other.
There isn’t a wealth of talent behind them, but Detroit has the pieces to make their frontcourt pairing work. An Ish Smith-Reggie Bullock-Stanley Johnson-Griffin-Drummond lineup was the team’s most effective group in 2017-18, creating the Pistons’ most efficient defense and leading to a plus-41 scoring margin in the 252 minutes they shared on the court. All five will be back with the team this winter, and Johnson, a 22-year-old former No. 8 overall pick in 2015, could find the space he needs to reach his potential under Casey.
Detroit needed a coach who could reset its team without tearing down for a rebuild. Casey did that over the course of seven seasons and 320 wins with the Raptors. With little room to make a splash this offseason — the Pistons don’t have a first-round pick this year thanks to the Griffin trade and no practical salary cap space with which to work — he will be tasked with doing it again; this time with an all-star pairing in the frontcourt instead of the back.