DETROIT – Tom Gores didn’t enlist Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson to pick their next coach. But he did solicit their ideas about the qualities they believed would give their next coach the best chance to succeed.
And that might have been as important as anything else in the process that wound up delivering Dwane Casey to the Pistons.
“I did consult with them, (though) they weren’t making the decision,” Gores said. “I texted Reggie, Andre, Blake. ‘What kind of coach do you want? Let’s check the boxes.’ I did engage with them. I know them pretty well. Meeting Dwane, he really did check all those boxes.”
Today’s coach has to walk a line never trod by the Red Auerbachs and John Woodens of the past. The game enriches today’s players to a magnitude unimaginable just a generation ago, but in return much is expected. Owners and management ask that players buy in completely, using the carrot of an emotional equity stake in the product.
But if players don’t see that come to fruition – if their suggestions or requests are paid only lip service – then the same sort of workplace disenfranchisement common at your local hardware store afflicts NBA franchises, as well.
“He’s a great listener,” Gores said of Casey. “And our players need listeners these days.”
It’s now an unmistakable pattern with Gores: If you interview to be his basketball coach or run the basketball operations side of the Pistons, pack a lunch for the interview. Both Ed Stefanski, hired last month to report directly to Gores as the voice of the front office, and Casey underwent six-hour interview sessions, which is at least double and probably more like triple the norm. Stan Van Gundy, before that, had the same experience.
They don’t appear to be hours frivolously spent, either. Stefanski, who lived in Gores’ world of finance for a few decades as a mortgage banker, expressed utter fascination at his experience. Casey said he came away a true believer in Gores’ vision and intent.
“What drew me here was this guy right next to me,” Casey said as he sat with Gores at Wednesday’s introductory press conference at Little Caesars Arena. “His passion, his energy, his vision for this organization – not only organization but community.”
Casey’s been around the block a time or two with experiences in several franchises. The relationships Gores has established with the players who’ll determine Casey’s success struck him as unique.
“It goes back to Tom Gores. The trust he has with the players, I haven’t seen it with any other owner. I’ve been in the league a long time. The relationship he has with players is real. I’ve talked to every player. The first thing they talked about is how they want to play for the Pistons program and also for Tom.”
Somewhere in those six hours Gores and Casey spent together – talking not contract terms but families and aspirations and shared visions – the process determined its own course. It seems a gift of Gores’ to size up those he meets with precision – probably from the same DNA that enables him to determine which distressed companies are prime for his Platinum Equity to work its miracles.
He knew exactly what he was getting with Van Gundy, too, and took the time on Casey’s day to acknowledge how Van Gundy’s discipline, intellect and character advanced the organization to the point he had a product easy to sell to Casey, voted Coach of the Year by his peers.
But that Coach of the Year distinction didn’t blind Gores. He wasn’t chasing Casey as a trophy or to douse criticism of his tenure as owner. Casey’s reputation got him in the door, but it was those probing six hours that got him the job.
“The big thing that really drew me is he was hungry,” Gores said, and as he said that Casey’s wife, Brenda, seated in the front row facing the dais, nodded her head in assent. “How do you get hungry after being Coach of the Year? I didn’t make this easy on Dwane just because he was Coach of the Year. We went through the process. We really did talk about everything.”
Basketball offers zero in the way of guarantees. As Pistons fans know painfully well, a season can turn as quickly as an ankle. But this union, Dwane Casey and the Pistons, came about for every right reason.
“I heard he was the safe choice,” Gores said. “He is safe, for sure, but a lot of upside. We’re very fortunate in Detroit to get Dwane.”