After a whirlwind last few months, Pistons set up for success under Casey
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Pretty good first few months on the job for Ed Stefanski.
Less than that, really. Hired in late May, Stefanski had to hit the ground running. He needed to lead the search for a new head coach, staff a front office and prepare for the draft and free agency.
Some degree of attention had to be paid to each of those endeavors every day and each can be an all-consuming mission.
But Stefanski trudged ahead with the appropriate balance of urgency and deliberation and it’s tough to argue with the results.
As coach, the Pistons wound up with Dwane Casey. Maybe that looked like a no-brainer from a thousand-yards perspective, but plenty of things could have derailed the ultimate marriage of Casey and the Pistons.
Credit Stefanski with laying the groundwork and owner Tom Gores for closing the deal. As Casey made clear in his acceptance speech upon winning the NBA’s official Coach of the Year award – after previously earning that recognition in a vote of Casey’s peers it was Gores’ belief in Casey’s abilities and fit that fueled his enthusiasm for pursuing the opening.
On draft night, Stefanski let it be known he was interested in moving up to fill a critical need but didn’t jump on the initially exorbitant demands to do so. Ultimately, he suspected one of the teams picking ahead of the Pistons with multiple picks would come off their initial proposals and accept something closer to 100 cents on the dollar. Philadelphia gets two future second-rounders for the No. 38 pick that Stefanski turned into Khyri Thomas.
This was regarded as a deep draft where players picked in the mid 40s – fairly barren ground in typical drafts – might record similar success as those picked 20 spots higher. Stefanski was willing to gamble that this Pistons team will win enough games over the next few years so that the second-rounders they send to Philadelphia will come from that barren ground or beyond.
Bruce Brown, taken with the Pistons own pick four spots after Thomas, is already showing in Las Vegas that the commonly held characterization of the depth of this draft is accurate. His fourth Summer League game – 15 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals – underscored the fullness of his game. Both he and Thomas consistently impressed the new coaching staff in practices that began July 2 with their abilities and demeanors.
Thomas and Brown probably won’t look overwhelmed if the Pistons are faced with the need to play them as rookies. But Stefanski attacked free agency in a way that it doesn’t appear likely.
Glenn Robinson III checks off all the boxes coaches want in the modern wing player. He’s got size, athleticism, 3-point range and defensive versatility. It was a thin year for free-agent wings and most of them provided one or two of those things. Robinson not only offers the smorgasbord, but at 24 he’s got obvious room for growth. He was mostly rough edges coming out of Michigan after his sophomore season, but by his second year in the NBA the potential was obvious.
If he didn’t miss a big chunk of last season with an ankle injury, he would have been a more publicized target. But Stefanski understood that the many other teams in the market for wings would see the same things he saw and acted swiftly to land Robinson – and get the invaluable second-year team option, to boot.
This coaching staff has made no secret of its expectations for Stanley Johnson and if they successfully unlock his game and Robinson justifies Stefanski and Casey’s faith in his future, those two substantially change the Pistons – making them deeper and infinitely more versatile.
Johnson and Robinson won’t just be a 1-2 punch at small forward but carry the likelihood of playing in tandem, especially when the Pistons are looking to throw out a defensive unit to smother the perimeter. Brown and Thomas could push their way into the mix on that front, as well.
Casey liked to switch one through four on defense with the Raptors. Put any two or three of those four together with any combination of the mainstays – Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson – and Casey should have all kinds of fun doodling on whiteboards for the rest of his off-season.
Because the first few months of the Pistons off-season have gone about as well as they could have hoped.