2020-21 Rewind: A mutually beneficial reunion for Cory Joseph and Dwane Casey with the Pistons
David Dow (NBAE/Getty)
Cory Joseph had already left Canada to finish off his prep career and launch his college and NBA journeys by the time Dwane Casey was named Toronto Raptors coach in 2011. But the Joseph imprint on Canadian basketball didn’t require Cory Joseph’s presence in Ontario to be felt. If there’s a first family of Canadian basketball, it’s the Josephs.
Both his parents are deeply involved in the sport, meeting as players in college and both continuing in the sport long after their playing careers. Joseph’s brother Devoe played at Minnesota and Oregon and his cousins Kris (Syracuse) and Maurice (Michigan State, Vermont) played in college with Maurice continuing as a coach currently on staff at Richmond.
Casey became even more familiar with the resonance of the Joseph family with Canadian basketball fans when he coached Cory Joseph with the Raptors for two seasons. So there was a wealth of familiarity between coach and player when the Pistons traded for Joseph in late March to finish out the season. Here’s a look at Joseph’s 2020-21 season with the Pistons:
PROFILE: 6-foot-3 point guard, 29 years old, 10 NBA seasons
2020-21 STATS: 8.2 points, 3.4 assists in 21 minutes per game
STATUS: Joseph has one partially guaranteed season remaining on the free-agent contract he signed with Sacramento in July 2019
A LOOK BACK: The greater Toronto area has emerged as a basketball hotbed within the past generation and Cory Joseph was among the first wave of recruits to put it on the map. He was a five-star prospect who left Ontario to finish his high school career at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas and signed with Texas, where he spent a single season along with another one-and-done Canadian recruit, Tristan Thompson, and started at point guard for a 28-8 Longhorns team that earned a No. 4 seed in the 2011 NCAA tournament and lost in the third round to Arizona 70-69. There was speculation Joseph left after one season because the Longhorns had another five-star Canadian point guard coming in behind him, Myck Kabongo. But Joseph was drafted in the first round by the NBA team 80 miles down the road, San Antonio, and spent his first four seasons with Spurs teams that averaged 56 wins, got to two NBA Finals and won it all in 2013-14, Joseph’s third season when he backed up Tony Parker for 14 minutes a game. Joseph signed with his hometown team, Toronto, as a free agent in 2015 and spent two years with the Raptors, coached by Dwane Casey, backing up Kyle Lowry on teams that averaged 53½ wins and were ousted both years by Cleveland, once in the conference finals and once in the second round. Traded to Indiana with the emergence of Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright in Toronto, Joseph played two years for Pacers teams that won 48 games each season. He signed with Sacramento in 2019 and spent 1½ seasons with the Kings before being traded to the Pistons for Wright, his ex-Toronto teammate, at the March trade deadline.
THE SEASON THAT WAS: Playing behind emerging star De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento, Joseph averaged 6.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 44 games, two as the starter, before he was traded to the Pistons on March 25 while rookie Killian Hayes neared his return from the Jan. 4 hip injury that cost him three months and 41 games. Joseph’s numbers with the Pistons were significantly better than those he produced in Sacramento: 12.0 points and 5.5 assists per game in 19 games, 11 as the starter, on higher shooting percentages. Joseph’s best game came in his return to Sacramento when he scored 24 points on 10 of 14 shooting with seven assists to lead a 12-point Pistons win. When Hayes sat out due to illness in an early May game with Memphis, Joseph put up 18 points and 11 assists to lead a Pistons win over a Grizzlies team fighting for a playoff berth, one of two double-doubles Joseph managed with the Pistons.
A LOOK AHEAD: One of the biggest decisions facing the Pistons front office this season is the call on whether to pick up the full $12.6 million on Joseph’s contract for 2021-22 or to pay only the reported $2.4 million guaranteed portion and waive him. When the trade for Wright, whose 2021-22 contract is for $8.5 million, it was widely assumed the Pistons – who also got a second-round pick from the Kings in the deal – were motivated by the cap-saving aspects of the deal. While the extra $10 million in cap space would give the Pistons flexibility in executing trades that could yield not only useful players but draft capital, Joseph’s value as a stabilizing influence – both as the quarterback of the offense and as a universally beloved and respected veteran leader – will be weighed against those possibilities by a franchise vigilantly determined to shape a winning culture. Joseph’s toughness and ebullient personality resonated with the young Pistons and his clear admiration for and trust in Casey from their Toronto days makes him an invaluable emissary for Casey in carrying out his vision for how the Pistons should play and carry themselves. Even with young point guards Killian Hayes and Saben Lee in the pipeline, the Pistons are going to want to have a veteran at the position on the 2021-22 roster, one capable of playing virtual starter’s minutes but also one who would willingly accommodate whatever role is deemed best to push the interests of the organization forward. Those types don’t grow on trees.
MONEY QUOTE: “He’s one of the finest gentlemen you’ll meet in the NBA. He’s a fierce competitor – plays hard, plays the right way. He does everything you want your team to be about. He does everything for the team. He plays with a pure heart. He’s a coach’s dream and when you’re rebuilding, him being around young players – Killian, all those guys – you need guys like that who are selfless and put the team first. He spends a lot of time talking to them and mentoring them, which is very, very important.” – Dwane Casey on Cory Joseph in late April