Amid a rebuild, the Pistons kept Derrick Rose – and gave Dwane Casey a shining example to point at
PHOENIX – The Pistons publicly acknowledged a rebuilding effort after tacitly announcing it with the trade of Andre Drummond earlier this month. They followed up by buying out veterans Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris.
If you’re wondering why they chose to hang on to Derrick Rose, keep reading. There are loud clues ahead.
Because the Pistons have turned over the roster so radically – four new players this month alone – and because they are now so young with 12 players under 25, Dwane Casey is practicing more often and for longer periods than customary for this point of the season.
“We’re almost like in training camp mode,” Casey said after a practice that ran just short of two hours on Thursday. “Just because we have so many young guys, so many new guys doing different things.”
Players know the rhythms of an NBA season. They know what their peers on 29 other teams are doing. Casey says practices at this time of the season would typically be about 40 meaningful minutes. Only a powerful culture – and strong leadership – prevents the grousing and subsequent splintering that comes with venturing outside of typical boundaries.
Now listen to Casey talk about how Rose has responded to longer, more frequent practices.
“He’s right there in the middle of it, going through it, same as a two-way player,” Casey said. “Trying to help the two-way players. I have nothing but respect for what he’s helping our young guys do right now. If you’re a former MVP, having to go through a two-hour practice, hour-and-a-half practice, I’d tell you to go jump off a building or something. But he’s right there with us. And that’s why he’s still here.”
Casey is embracing the rebuilding to a degree that many coaches of his status would not. Players see that, too. But he’s also aware there’s a future beyond the final 21 games of this season and he’s vigilant about not cutting any corners now in the pursuit of wins simply because winning in the larger sense has been pushed down the road.
Getting a former MVP to fall into line – one who could have easily requested being moved to a title contender, some of which let the Pistons know of their desire to add Rose – is as important as anything else Casey could hope to have at his back in supporting that mission.
“Nothing but total respect for Derrick Rose. What he’s been through – all of his injuries and playing through it – he’s probably one of the most humble MVPs, I would say, in the history of the game,” Casey said. “You would never know it. He’s a leader by example. He plays the game the right way. And for all of these long practices, he hasn’t said a peep.”
Casey’s pride wouldn’t allow him to do anything less than send out a team prepared to its fullest to win, no matter his roster construction. But this is also Casey safeguarding the locker room from an invasion of complacency. He wants to put a coherent team on the floor for 82 games and right now – with a roster of newbies and kids – he needs more time for instruction. He also has a host of young players in need of skills development, which also is enabled by increased practice opportunities.
Mindful of the physical pounding the changing nature of the game, with its greater emphasis on pace and a need to cover more space as offenses stretch defenses to 30-plus feet from the rim, Casey devotes most of the expanded practice time to instruction over full contact scrimmaging.
“We’re not killing them, but we are doing a lot of fundamentals, things that you wouldn’t be doing with a veteran team or a team you’ve had together the entire year,” he said. “We’re in a different situation, so we have to adjust accordingly. There’s a lot of teaching going on. That’s the reason for the length of practice.”
Repetitions for the few veterans remaining are kept to a rate similar to what they’d be asked to perform in a more typical late-season practice, Casey said. Rose, Tony Snell, Langston Galloway, Brandon Knight and John Henson are the players with more than four NBA seasons under their belts.
“The young guys take those reps,” Casey said. “You make to make sure we’re smart with those, but all the young guys get as many reps as they can stand. The older guys, they’ve jumped in and participated. Their spirit has been great. Guys have been together. There’s nobody hanging their head. I see some upset-ness with losing, too – some attitude – which I like.”
Knight, the fourth-oldest remaining Piston at 28, is another well-traveled veteran who lives Casey’s creed.
“The coaching staff has done a great job of being consistent, staying on us, trying to hold us accountable,” Knight said. “It’s for the older guys to continue to step up and lead the younger guys and relay the right message, which is playing hard for the rest of the season. Every game counts. Are you going to mail it in or are you going to be a pro?”
Casey credits that attitude with making lengthier practice sessions palatable to the group and nobody exudes it more thoroughly than Rose. When a former MVP and the team’s leading scorer doesn’t exhibit any intolerance for a more rigorous schedule, everyone else tends to fall in step.
“They better. They have no choice,” Casey grins. “It does help the culture we’re trying to create, the toughness we’re trying to create. Having a guy like Derrick, my hat is off to him.”