Of all the coaching changes that took place this off season few were as big of a head scratcher as Toronto’s decision to get rid of Dwane Casey. We are talking a guy who had just won coach of the year and made it to the Eastern Conference Semi Finals where his team lost to LeBron. The general consensus is you don’t hold it against someone who loses in the playoffs to LeBron but Toronto felt it was time to go against common practice and take a new direction. Casey landed on his feet but some people might be thinking he landed barefoot into an underground fecal fountain with his new job being the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. I’d say they don’t know Dwane.
The situation in Detroit going into the season isn’t what most coaches would call ideal. The roster is a unique one as the center pieces are Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. To the new age basketball hipsters who say “you can’t play basketball with pieces like these anymore” to those knuckleheads I say there is plenty of room for a little Lord of the Rings offense a.k.a. Two Towers. Now, while there is a place for this style of play, Detroit’s ride to this genre of basketball seems to have two flats and a bad transmission but it is a misdiagnosis. The possibilities with Griffin and Drummond are well known but there is a need for the right pieces to be around them to make that lineup work. Generally speaking the supporting roster looks a lot like the Island of Misfit Toys but the only thing that is missing is their own personal Rudolph. The Pistons picked up a couple of guards in the 2nd round of the draft from Creighton and Miami but this team needs free agent help to make the immediate splash they are looking for. Bad news is it ain’t gonna happen. The Pistons currently have all but 6.2% of their cap tied up in contracts with Griffin, Drummond, Jackson and wait for it…Jon Leuer taking up the majority of the cap space. All of that to say that the team Detroit currently has is the team Detroit is going to have.
Casey is coming into a roster that hasn’t changed and went 39-43 last season. The record should make anyone cringe but let’s not forget we are talking about the Eastern Conference. Comparing East records to those in the West is like comparing dollars to rupees, one is worth more than the other. That particular win total had the Pistons right outside the playoffs in the 9th spot in the East and this luckily for Piston fans is familiar territory for Coach Casey. When Casey took over the Raptors in 2011 their previous year’s record was 22-60. Two years later Casey had them in the playoffs with a young Demar DeRozan, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani. The good news is things aren’t that bleak in Motor City. Having not missed the playoffs since 2013 there is no reason to think that the Pistons won’t continue on his trend in April as the pieces are there. Griffin is still a top ten power forward in the league and having him for a full season this year (barring any injury) as opposed to just 25 games after the trade will help the win total greatly. Blake proved in L.A. that he can stretch the floor and post up when necessary making him a versatile scorer and defender. Drummond is also a top ten player at his position and he can control the paint on both ends of the floor just as well as some of the more well-known centers like Demarcus Cousins. When both are in the lineup it is hard not to argue that these two are one of the more dominant frontcourts in the NBA. Not being the biggest fan of Reggie Jackson this is the one area of concern in my analysis. It is a struggle to imagine him running an offense because I am pretty sure the pass button is broken on his controller. Somehow he was able to weasel his way into a 5 assist average this past season but I am not ruling out him hacking into NBA records to make that so. Reggie Jackson comes off as an above average backup point guard but Casey has been in situations similar to this in his Minnesota days. Casey was spoiled in Toronto with guards like Kyle Lowry and DeRozan but he made a backcourt full of reserves look serviceable while coaching the Timberwolves so he has the background necessary to lay out a plan to get his current guards to play on the level he has needed from his playoff caliber teams. One thing this Detroit team does have is a handful of young guards with potential to be major contributors. Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson are two who will definitely see a boost in their play under Casey’s system. Adopting the style we have seen in Toronto for so many years is going to put them into more positions to succeed as they both thrive scoring from the perimeter through shooting and attacking the basket. Reggie Bullock is another player who will play a big role as we see Detroit extend their range this year, he was their most consistent shooter from 3 percentage wise and will be featured a great deal in Casey’s offense. Detroit was a little behind the eight ball the past couple of years finding themselves towards the bottom of the rankings in shots taken behind the arc. All signs are pointing to a complete 180 after the pre-season as well as what we know Casey historically likes to do on offense. For this team offense has been the issue in regards to getting over the hump and taking the next step as a constant playoff participant and Coach Casey has the track record that would lead us to believe he will be able to lift a team that finished 9th into one of the top 8 spots in the East.
We in part should be onboard with this coming to fruition because the new look Eastern Conference has seen the last of the banes of Dwane Casey’s existence. That’s right I’m talking about LeBron James. There are two things all the teams that have ever knocked Casey out of the playoffs have in common; they either had LeBron James or Paul Pierce on their roster. As of today Pierce is on The Jump and LeBron is two Southwest flights away in the Western Conference. No individual player with a history of sending him home is impeding his path to the Finals anymore. This is not to say the Pistons still don’t have their hands full. They are in the Central Division with the Pacers and Bucks and they still will have to see Boston, Philly and his old stomping grounds in Canada. Sure Casey is known for dominating in the regular season and teams like Boston and Philly aren’t going to scare him any because he spent the last six years in that division. His issues, and what probably played a role in his ousting in Toronto, is his playoff shortcomings. As many people know comparing a regular season gameplan and a playoff gameplan is like comparing times tables to quantum physics. Come playoff time your opponent has more time to find and exploit weaknesses as well as tweak their gameplan to put you at a disadvantage. Coaching in the playoffs is truly a chess match and a key component of these chess matches are adjustments, especially in game. This is one area where Casey has been suspected to have come up short in the past. With his new staff that consists of a member of the Championship Dallas team and a veteran NBA assistant along with the numerous playoff games (both wins and losses) under his belt we are due to see some growth in his playoff acumen in the coming seasons.
The board is set for Casey and the Pistons to surprise the league with a jump in not only wins but also the Casey legacy with playoff success. Several coaches in the East are going to be looking to prove themselves this season and none more than Casey as he looks to justify his selection for Coach of the Year and instill regret in the Raptors Franchise that let him go.