Congratulations, Dwane Casey, you’re no longer the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. You had an amazing five-year run where you did everything this rebuilding franchise asked of you. Now it is time for you to enjoy a healthy pay check, better hours, and more time with your family and friends as a member of the Pistons’ front office. You’ve earned it.
I’m not sure this is how the conversation will go when Casey speaks with Pistons owner Tom Gores after the season, but the end result might be the same. Casey already had one conversation with Gores after the team’s 123-108 home finale loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. The chat delayed Casey’s arrival to his post-game media session by a full hour.
When he arrived, he answered questions about his future directly.
“We talked about how we’re going to look at everything and meet again after we’re all done and see which way we all want to go as far as the organization,” Casey said, per the Detroit Free Press. “There’s nothing that’s been decided as far as that’s concerned.”
Casey has one final year on his contract, and coach’s dread the scenario of trying to lead a team as a lame-duck head coach. As Casey enters what would be his lame-duck year, his future seems like it will be decided even sooner.
It’s time for a coaching change in Detroit. There is no simpler way to put it. Casey has simultaneously done an amazing job keeping a cohesive locker room among a lot of losing and with superior veteran players buying into taking a back seat for the sake of developing young guys.
But, man, there’s been a lot of losing. Dwane Casey is wrapping up his fifth year as head coach of the Pistons and is the sixth longest-tenured coach in the NBA. He’s also never had a winning record in Detroit. In fact, his .344 winning percentage represents the second-lowest in franchise history for any coach who saw more than one season. Only Don Chaney’s run from 1993-95 was more futile.
When Casey was hired this was not what anyone expected — least of all Casey. He was hired after winning coach of the year for perennial playoff team Toronto Raptors. He was hired to take Detroit to the next level behind Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. He led the Pistons to a 41-41 record and a first-round sweep in his first year.
The team was then gutted as Drummond was sent packing for a second-round pick and an injury depleted Griffin, who practically played on one leg to will Detroit to that one playoff berth, was bought out after nobody wanted to touch his monster contract.
From then on Casey’s mission changed. He was here to develop young men and make sure they stayed together and focused on the right things. He succeeded in keeping the locker room together despite so many reasons it should have splintered. That counts for a lot, and I’m sure if you ask Troy Weaver nothing was more important.
Myself, as a fan who has watched four consecutive seasons of extremely bad basketball, I wanted to see more. I wanted to see more creative offensive sets. I wanted to see players more locked into the little things and executing better down the stretch. Most importantly, I wanted to see more development from a coach vaunted for his ability to build young players.
That’s not just on Casey, of course. It takes an entire player development program. But I don’t think you can look at the young players Detroit has invested in — Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, Saben Lee, Isaiah Livers — and say they’ve taken transformational steps forward in their games.
The best you can say about Casey’s tenure in Detroit is that they’ve seemed to live by the Hippogratic Oath — first do no harm.
None of these young players are finished products. They still have room to grow. And Casey and his staff haven’t done anything to hamper their development, and all these young players still seem bought in and committed.
Credit goes to Casey. Now it’s time for something more. Casey can continue doing what he does best as a culture setter and mentor to a still-young team. He can just do that from the executive suites instead of on the sidelines.
Instead, the Pistons need to look for new voice with a new plan for success on the floor. For the Pistons to graduate what asset accumulation, they need to either bring on an established coach with a known record of development and X’s and O’s prowess — a Kenny Atkinson, for example. Or they need to invest serious time and energy into identifying the next young coach who can turn this franchise around. They need to find their next Rick Carlisle or their version of the next Will Hardy in Utah.
With a potential top-4 pick coming and significant cap room to swing a trade or sign a player, it is clear this team is ready to take a step forward. The coach leading that charge is not Casey. Can you imagine a world where the Pistons are lucky enough to bring on Victor Wembanyama and Casey is drawing up plays to maximize the effectiveness of a floor featuring Wemby, Cade, Duren, Ivey and Bojan?
I imagine the playbook would look awfully similar to what we’ve seen for the past five seasons, and the Pistons need more. Case has done as much as he can in this ground-up rebuild. He should be rewarded with an NBA gig that matches his talents and also allows Detroit to move forward.
It’s time for a new voice on the sidelines. I’d love to have Casey back in an executive role where he can take everything he’s learned in the game and his ability to connect with players and continue contributing to the NBA. If he decides he is more interested in continuing to coach then it will be time to walk away. Best of luck. But I hope to see Casey next year with a Pistons zip-up talking about how excited he is about everything this young team has done in the offseason to set themselves up for success.