The Detroit Pistons are taking a ... novel approach to rebuilding their team following the dismissal of president and head coach Stan Van Gundy. While most orgs did the dirty deed of firing their coach in April, the Pistons waited until May.
And whereas some organizations quickly targeted, interviewed and hired replacements the Pistons have taken a different path. They’re doing plenty of hiring, sure, but not of head coaches or GMs but of advisers to conduct a search for a head coach and GM.
First their was Ed Stefanski, a former GM, who was given a three-year deal to advise owner Tom Gores on how to hire the right people to lead his organization. Then there was former head coaches Bernie Bickerstaff and Jim Lynam who were brought on to advise the coaching search.
So far the biggest headline has been that the Pistons have met more than once with current TNT analyst Kenny Smith. This has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the Pistons fan base. But he is not the only candidate who has been reportedly targeted by the Detroit Pistons.
Here is a rundown of everyone connected to the Pistons head coaching job.
Update: Add John Beilein to the list.
Casey, formerly the coach of the No.-1 seeded Raptors, has a relationship with Ed Stefanski when they both worked in Toronto. He is a nine-year veteran with head coaching stints in Minnesota and Toronto. He has a 373-307 record. He was also a longtime assistant coach in Seattle and spent a few years in Dallas (including their title-winning season). Casey was called the “front-runner” for the Pistons job after the hiring of Stefanski, but Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press reports that “interest is lukewarm at the moment.”
We covered Smith’s candidacy (and lack of credentials) previously. He has no coaching experience at any professional level, but has been trying to make inroads to an NBA head coaching job for a few years now, including previously interviewing for openings in Houston and New York. I just don’t think Detroit can take a chance on someone with absolutely no experience. One thing I didn’t touch on yesterday is that he does have a deep connection to Stanley Johnson.
A former standout with the Michigan Wolverines and has been an assistant coach with the Miami Heat since retiring as a player in 2013. I have incredible respect for Erik Spoelstra as a head coach and the Heat franchise as far as player development and system implementation. As far as grabbing someone from a “coaching tree” plucking someone who has worked under Spoelstra is up there with grabbing a Popovich disciple.
Speaking of the Popovich coaching tree there is Ime Udoka. Udoka spent years as a gritty bench cog in the NBA and has been an assistant coach with the Spurs since 2012. He’s coached the Spurs summer league teams and helped build out Kawhi Leonard’s game. Asked by ESPN the most important thing he learned from Popovich, Udoka said:
”Probably the most important would be the relationships with the players,” Udoka says.
”Anybody can do Xs and Os and game plan for a team and scheme. Pops got all the bases covered, he’s great in all areas but he’s the best at relating to the players. Building a relationship with those players.
”Obviously, showing he cares for them is a big part of it. That’s the thing I’ll probably take away the most, the overall relationship with players. Once they know you care about them you can coach them a certain way and they allow you to coach them, but if it was that easy anybody that has a job would be able to coach guys and that’s not always the case,” he adds.
Another candidate out of Toronto is Nick Nurse who many credit with revamping the offense in Toronto and making it more effective. Casey’s Raptors have always had potent offenses, but it had never performed as well as this past season when the team was able to maximize its effectiveness at the two best spots on the floor — at the rim and at the 3-point line. He also previously served as the head coach of the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.
Another name mentioned by Ellis (who has been the best source of info on Detroit’s interest in various candidates) is Larranaga. He obviously gets bonus points for choosing the correct college and coming out of Bowling Green State University (where he played for his father). He’s got coaching in his blood, spending time coaching the Ukraine National Team under Mike Fratello, head coach of the Irish National team, and an assistant at Cornell. He also spent two seasons as the head coach of the Erie Bayhawks and just finished his sixth season as an assistant in Boston, with the previous five coming under Brad Stevens.