Pistons Mailbag - June 13, 2018

by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

The Pistons took a big step toward remaking their image this week with the hiring of Dwane Casey as head coach and that – surprise, surprise – is the hot topic in the latest edition of Pistons Mailbag.

Ben (@brgulker): I’d be curious about any insight you may have about Dwane Casey’s track record of developing young talent. DeMar DeRozan seems like an obvious example. Do you have any other thoughts on the topic?

Langlois: I got into that aspect of the Casey hiring in this piece, Ben. You cite DeRozan and you’re right – he’s a strong and obvious example. Kyle Lowry went from journeyman to All-Star, perhaps an even more remarkable example. But how about the way Toronto’s bench came together? Aside from C.J. Miles, signed as a free agent last summer, that bench consisted of all home-grown and developed talent with only Jakob Poeltl among them acquired via a premium asset as a lottery pick. Delon Wright was a late first rounder, Fred Van Vleet an undrafted free agent, Norman Powell a second rounder, Pascal Siakam the 27th pick, Lucas Nogueira picked outside the lottery – all of them developed relatively early in their careers. And, beyond developed, they were trusted by Casey with critical roles. That’s perhaps the even more critical – and more rare – half of the equation. Giving a player enough rope to allow his confidence to blossom so that the full impact of his abilities can be realized is a process that vexes many coaches. I don’t think it’s coincidence that so many players who arrived in Toronto with modest expectations managed to meet the high end of or exceed them. How about rookie O.J. Anunoby, coming off ACL surgery, being entrusted with a starter’s role this season? You have to assume the head coach, the culture he establishes and the development system he implements, was at the heart of that result.

Brandon (@SFHCommish_1): Biggest roster problem that Casey is going to face with the Pistons as they are built right now before the draft?

Langlois: Even though the Pistons have an unusually secure roster – 12 players under contract who at one point or another were in the rotation last season – it would be an upset if there wasn’t a move or two over the off-season. The only rotation pieces that ended the season and are headed to free agency are Anthony Tolliver and James Ennis. The only apparent hole on the roster is at small forward. Stanley Johnson made progress last season and if he can avoid the nagging core-muscle injuries that plagued him last season can be an effective starter at that spot. But the Pistons need to add a player capable at minimum of providing quality minutes behind him, perhaps even someone who’ll challenge Johnson for the starting role. Casey’s biggest challenge will be devising a system that maximizes the abilities of Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson and puts enough shooting in place around them to allow them to flourish.

Mike (@Mike_Kailing): How much will the Casey hire affect the search for a general manager as they typically like to bring in their own guy?

Langlois: I don’t know that it will have a significant impact other than the fact that with Casey on board owner Tom Gores and his team leading the search, including recently hired senior adviser Ed Stefanski, will have an even clearer idea of organizational direction. They won’t hire someone who espouses philosophies that run counter to the core beliefs they hold – or, presumably, counter to what they know of Casey’s vision for how to proceed. If the Pistons hadn’t hired Stefanski to orchestrate the parallel searches for a coach and general manager, then the point you raised would register as a valid concern. It would be potentially problematic to hire a coach before having someone in place to enunciate the organizational blueprint. But that, essentially, is Stefanski’s role as Gores’ voice in the front office. The general manager the Pistons hire will do the daily grind of other GMs – the never-ending process of communication with other front offices and overseeing the personnel departments that scout amateur and professional prospects domestically and abroad. Stefanski, it appears by the job description that has him reporting directly to the owner, will be the guiding hand with decision-making powers. In that respect, think of Stefanski as filling Stan Van Gundy’s shoes as president of basketball operations and the new general manager filling the role of Jeff Bower as GM. It will be Stefanski communicating with Gores and getting daily briefings from the GM on options available, I suspect.

Parker (@WiremanParker): Who are the leading candidates for the GM job?

Langlois: Among the candidates who have been reported to be under consideration – either for the GM job or a prominent role in the front office – are Brooklyn assistant GM Trajan Langdon, Hawks executive Malik Rose and TV analyst Brent Barry, all former NBA players. Current Pistons associate GM Pat Garrity has also been mentioned as someone the Pistons would be interested in retaining, though the list very likely doesn’t stop with Garrity. Also worth watching is Tayshaun Prince, ex-Piston star and member of the 2004 championship team who worked with Ed Stefanski in Memphis and was always seen as a cerebral player. There could well be others who’ve interviewed and are under consideration. I suspect it won’t be long before that search, like the coaching search that ended with Monday’s hiring of Dwane Casey, also reaches a conclusion.

Robbo (@KinglouieKatz): Do we have all the right pieces now?

Langlois: Does anyone have all the right pieces? Golden State probably comes closest than any team in recent NBA history, but the Warriors, I’m sure, are looking to add some depth on the wings and to cull their stable of big men that mostly collected dust at the end of the bench this season. The Pistons certainly have a greater number of pieces than an NBA team typically has before the draft or free agency with only Anthony Tolliver and James Ennis from the end-of-season rotation not under contract for next season. The Pistons have depth and quality in the frontcourt with Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Jon Leuer, Henry Ellenson and Eric Moreland all capable of giving them minutes at center and all but Drummond and Moreland even more experienced at power forward. They’ve got Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith and Dwight Buycks at point guard and Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock at shooting guard with Langston Galloway capable of minutes at either spot. It would be an upset if the new front office didn’t look to shuffle the roster somewhat in trade and it will surely kick the tires in free agency, likely to address the one shortfall on the roster: small forward other than Stanley Johnson.

Martin (@DETPRIDE25): Potential roster moves and free-agent signings?

Langlois: One thing about having so many players under contract for next season and no cap space: trade possibilities are innumerable. The Pistons can match contracts with 29 other teams – all but a handful of them in the same boat as the Pistons as far as not having cap space or free-agent tools other than cap exceptions – looking to fill roster gaps. So the greatest potential for roster moves for the Pistons this summer: trades, by far. As for whom they might target in free agency, Ed Stefanski has signaled that the Pistons likely will sit out the first wave, let the market cool and look for the inevitable bargains. There could be quite a few of them this summer because of the reality that so few teams have space. If the Pistons find a way to move a modest salary or two to create enough space under the tax line to enable the use of their full mid-level exception without vaulting over the threshold, there could be some very good players to be had with the MLE.

Jub.Cul (@jpcveinti2): Is general manager the next step or is that not an issue with Ed Stefanski running the show? How important is the bench as far as coaches go that Casey brings with him?

Langlois: Addressed your first question in earlier questions. As for the value of Casey’s coaching staff, I think the primary value of the average assistant coach is in player development. Casey, as I made the case in my response to Ben from above, has a strong track record of player development so it stands to reason he has a firm grasp on how to attract and train assistants gifted in player development. Casey is known to be a very strong defensive coach, so it also stands to reason he’ll want – and perhaps as his first chair – someone with a strong grasp of offensive game planning at his side. Nick Nurse filled that role for him in Toronto and on Tuesday was elevated to Raptors head coach. I’d expect Casey to prioritize finding someone who can fill a similar role on his staff with the Pistons.

TheDetroitLion (@RthaTruth): Any idea who Casey will be seeking as his assistants? We know Nick Nurse won’t be coming after being promoted to head coach in Toronto.

Langlois: The fact the Raptors promoted internally to fill their vacancy probably complicates Casey’s task in filling out a staff. It figures that Nurse will be eager to retain a good number of not only the assistant coaching staff but also the support staff, including the video staff. The video staff is perhaps just as integral to the head coach being able to do his job well and efficiently. Assistant coaches are very important in working with players and while they assist the head coach in game planning, it’s the video team that is especially helpful in assisting him with game preparation. It’s almost expected now that a video team will follow a new head coach to his next job. With Nurse taking over in Toronto, Casey will have a harder sell for a staff that, all else being equal, probably isn’t eager to uproot if they have the opportunity to remain in familiar surroundings.

Charles (Redford Twp., Mich.): What are your thoughts on Michael Beasley? Could he be signed for the mid-level exception? Is he worth it?

Langlois: Beasley is an extremely gifted one-on-one player and that has immense value in today’s NBA. He also has a well-documented history of off-the-court issues and a mixed record of productivity. You’d need to have a strong belief in your organizational infrastructure to make a major commitment to Beasley. Not sure how the new front office would feel about taking that gamble as its first big move and even less sure if they see him as a roster fit. He’s best suited to power forward now – the deepest position on the roster. Even if Blake Griffin winds up playing backup center minutes – a possibility I would not dismiss – he’s still going to be the power forward for more than 20 minutes a game next season. And then the Pistons have Jon Leuer and Henry Ellenson to fill the other minutes. Even if you think Beasley represents an upgrade, the Pistons probably view their wing positions as a more pressing need.

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