This tweet from David Locke has really stuck with me throughout the last week:
Curious to see the trickle down effect of Nick Nurse getting Toronto job. Casey was very gracious in giving his assistant lots of publicity and credit for offense and this is the end result. Not saying Nurse did anything wrong but coaches are naturally paranoid they notice this— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) June 12, 2018
Dwane Casey has been the head coach of the Detroit Pistons for more than a week now, and he’s spent that time visiting Pistons players in California, telling the media he expects this team to contend right away (in the East, in the East, calm down), and kinda sorta apologizing to Stephen A. Smith. What he has not reportedly done, though, is fill out his stable of assistant coaches.
This is a little strange, even if Casey hasn’t been formally introduced. Normally, a head coach has assistants they’ve worked with and bring with them - think of Stan Van Gundy bringing Brendan Malone with him the first few years in Detroit, or Mike Budenholzer bringing Darvin Ham with him to Milwaukee.
Dwane Casey, on the other hand... we know what went down between he and lead Toronto assistant coach Nick Nurse:
Nick Nurse has agreed to a three-year, nearly $10M deal to become head coach of the Toronto Raptors, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 13, 2018
There is reportedly no love lost between the two men, which makes sense because, from Casey’s perspective, it kind of looks like Nick Nurse swiped his job from under him. From the Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk:
Forget their five largely successful years together on the Raptors bench. Forget that it was Casey who gave Nurse his first NBA opportunity, hiring him out of the developmental league back in 2013. Multiple NBA sources will tell you the one-time mentor and his long-time assistant have not been on affable terms in the midst of Toronto’s coaching-staff shakeup.... (Nurse) took an in-season victory lap when U.S.-based writers pointed to Toronto’s newly designed offence — which Nurse got credit for authoring — as the key to an unexpected performance bump that saw the Raptors win the East’s No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history. But if Nurse was calling out the magic adjustments necessary to beat LeBron James — if he had the answers that could have halted that ugly Cleveland sweep — nobody seemed to be listening.
But Nurse wasn’t the only assistant coach Dwane Casey had in Toronto. What about Rex Kalamian, Casey’s ostensible defensive coordinator? A defensive-minded coach surely would bring along his lead defensive assistant, right?
Toronto Raptors assistant Rex Kalamian has agreed to join Doc Rivers' coaching staff with the Los Angeles Clippers, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 14, 2018
So, that’s a no. We don’t have contract details for Rex Kalamian, so we don’t know why he’s in Los Angeles - maybe it’s a better situation for him, maybe it’s a bigger paycheck, maybe it’s a chance to return home. Whatever the case, that’s Casey’s offensive and defensive coordinators who aren’t going to be in Detroit.
What about the player development coach, Jama Mahlalela, the guy who helped turn the likes of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Jakob Poeltl into useful role players for a near-60 win team? Sean Corp told me he could come with Dwane.
The @Raptors announced that Jama Mahlalela has been named head coach of their NBA G League affiliate, @Raptors905 . Mahlalela becomes the third head coach in team history and joins the club following five seasons as an assistant coach at the NBA level. pic.twitter.com/U79e5CeGY2— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) June 19, 2018
Oh, he’s staying in Toronto and taking Jerry Stackhouse’s old job, as the head coach of Raptors 905, the Toronto G-League affiliate. Well, that makes sense, to let the successful player development coach... develop the players in the G-League. Again, not sure about the salary or prestige of a head coaching job in the G-League versus a (presumably) elevated assistant position in Detroit, but to each their own.
What about the man himself then, Jerry Stackhouse? He was an assistant under Casey before he was the head coach of Raptors 905, maybe Casey can reach out to him?
Toronto G League coach Jerry Stackhouse has agreed to a deal to join the Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant under JB Bickerstaff. Story on ESPN: https://t.co/NVk8AtHB0K— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 10, 2018
Well then. Stack was hired as an assistant before Casey was hired by the Pistons, so Stack can’t be blamed for taking what jobs were available - at the time, there’s no guarantee he can follow Casey anywhere.
I am not extremely well versed in NBA coaching politics, but, uh, this don’t look great. Recall that Dwane Casey wanted to pick his own assistants as a condition of his hiring in Detroit:
When Dwane Casey left Cleveland Saturday morning, he was not inclined to take the Pistons’ job. But ownership/management led by Tom Gores put a full-court press on over the weekend to get the deal done—and relented on letting the new coach pick his assistants, per sources.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) June 11, 2018
Well, seeing as the top four usual suspects to follow Casey to Detroit are under contract, it’s difficult to imagine the unusual suspects Casey can round up and bring to Detroit. I hope we glean more about the staff Casey assembles in Detroit during his introductory press conference later today, but I would be lying if I said this was an encouraging start to the Dwane Casey era in Detroit.
The positive spin, I’m sure, is that Casey worked with Masai Ujiri to assemble a coaching staff that grew together before, and he can do it again. And, sure, Casey managed a staff of intelligent, desirable coaches, and empowered them to make decisions and contributions.
However, he then got replaced by the most desirable candidate.
It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where Casey trying to prevent that from happening again results in less coaching talent in Detroit.