When the Detroit Pistons brought in coach Dwane Casey, they did so with the intention to win now. After trading for all star Blake Griffin, the Pistons were ready to make some noise in the playoffs. And after riding Blake Griffin’s best season as a pro to the playoffs to the point of no return, that dream died. After the Pistons brought in Troy Weaver, it was decided that Detroit would finally enter a rebuild. With a coach of the caliber of coach Casey, a one time coach of the year winner in Toronto, it would be understandable if he didn’t want any part of a rebuild. However, Dwane Casey has stayed committed to the Pistons, but most importantly, to the process. Coach Casey found himself in a very similar situation in Detroit that he did when he joined the Toronto Raptors.
In Casey’s time in Detroit, there have been a lot of ups and downs. There’s been a lot of change. The Pistons roster that Dwane inherited on day one doesn’t have one single player remaining from it. And despite the losses, despite being at the bottom of the standings, Dwane Casey has been able to consistently get his players to fight on a night to night basis. The Pistons have endured a lot of tough losses, even some blowouts for sure. However, there are a lot of signs of life on this Pistons roster that justifies coach Casey’s place in this organization. He has the respect of the front office, and he definitely has the respect of his young players. And in my opinion, he should have your respect too.
Dwane Casey is elite at developing young talent
At the beginning of coach Casey’s tenure, Detroit had little to no young assets. The team had spent the past decade in NBA purgatory, not being good enough to make a playoff run, and not bad enough to draft at the top of the NBA lottery. However, in Casey’s 4 year tenure in Detroit, that has changed drastically. The first young player to shine under Dwane Casey was Christian Wood. Wood came to the Pistons at the rock bottom of his career.
And at the end of his tenure, Pistons fans were left asking themselves if we traded away a franchise player. Christian Wood came in to be another backup center for Pistons big man Andre Drummond. He didn’t play much at the beginning of the year, but when he did, he showed flashes of good play. However, after the Pistons traded Drummond to Cleveland, Christian Wood had his chance to start. And he went on to have numerous 20 point games in a Pistons uniform.
In his one year in Detroit, Wood was able to resurrect his career, and even though Detroit couldn’t afford to keep him, they turned his signing into another first round pick in the 2020 draft. In fact, with other moves such as trading the Pistons guard Luke Kennard, they had three first round picks. And the Pistons took guard Killian Hayes, center Isaiah Stewart, and forward Saddiq Bey. Stewart and Bey both have especially shined under coach Casey, being recently named to the NBA Clorox Rising Stars game. They will be joining their rookie guard Cade Cunningham, marking the first time Detroit has had three players named to the rising stars game in one season.
Jan 30, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey yells out during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Need more proof? Look at Jerami Grant and Cade Cunningham
The shining example of player development these past couple of years has been Jerami Grant and Cade Cunningham. Jerami Grant came to the Pistons with the desire of having a more prominent role on the offensive end. And after his first season in Detroit, he finished second in the Most Improved Player race just behind the Knicks forward Julius Randle. Grant averaged a career high 22.3 points per game on an efficient 43% from the field, and doubled his offensive output from his time in Denver. Despite missing significant time this season due to a torn ligament in his thumb, Jerami Grant is now the most sought after player in this year’s trade deadline. Under coach Casey, Grant’s value has risen dramatically, and Grant is now much more respected as an offensive player.
And that brings us to the new face of the franchise, Cade Cunningham. As the season has progressed, Cunningham has been given the keys to the car, and is now the Pistons go to closer. In addition, Cunningham was recently ranked as the top rookie in the NBA. And even though that’s the expectation of the number one pick, Cade has looked like an NBA veteran at times. As long as Cade Cunningham continues to thrive under coach Casey’s system, there is a lot of reason to be excited about his development.
BUT SEAN, WHAT ABOUT HIS TIME IN TORONTO?
One of the most common criticisms of Dwane Casey is what transpired in his time in Toronto. Specifically, when the top ranked Raptors couldn’t defeat Lebron James and the Cavaliers. A lot of the blame for those series has been shifted towards DeMar Derozan and coach Casey alike. Derozan and Casey both have some blame to shoulder for sure. However, let’s remind ourselves why exactly the Raptors won a championship a season after Casey left. First of all, the Raptors moved their star guard Derozan to the Spurs in exchange for superstar forward Kawhi Leonard. At the time, Leonard was widely considered a top three player in the world. In addition, that same offseason, LeBron took his talents to the Western Conference and to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even though Nick Nurse is a high caliber coach (who learned under coach Casey by the way), there’s no way you can attribute Casey’s departure as a difference maker. The Raptors did need change, but they needed luck as well. The luck of the bounce as Kawhi sent the 76ers home. The luck of the Warriors losing both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson during their finals series. And even if coach Casey wasn’t able to bring the Raptors to an NBA Championship, he did leave them with the pieces and the infrastructure to get the job done. Now, Casey has the chance to build his program again in the city of Detroit.
Dwane Casey isn’t going anywhere. Not for a while.
I previously had the chance to interview two Pistons beat writers in Rod Beard and James Edwards III. I asked them both the same question: what’s something about the Pistons we don’t see that we should know about? And they both quickly answered the exact same thing: he has the respect of the players in Detroit. Beard and Edwards both detailed how much respect the young core in Detroit has for Coach Casey and his staff alike. And as long as that continues to be the case, Dwane Casey can stay in Detroit as long as he would like.
It is not guaranteed that Dwane Casey will be the coach of the Pistons when they win their next championship. However, with the Pistons in the midst of their rebuild, there is nobody better in the coaching seat for Detroit than coach Casey. His resume of players that have developed under his coaching is only growing, and his ability to teach is rivaled by few in the league. You can criticize his X’s and O’s, you can be upset with the Pistons record this season. However, the Pistons are growing. Their record is improving. And there are many reasons to continue to have hope. Dwane Casey, for all of these reasons, is perfect for the Pistons restoration. Ultimately, time will tell Casey’s fate as the Pistons coach. However, with that time, Casey can do what he does best: coach the Pistons and develop young players.
Follow Sean on Twitter at seanhalfcourt
Featured image credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports