Casey extension validates the promising launch of the Weaver-led Pistons restoration project
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
The Pistons officially announced a contract extension for Dwane Casey this week. Troy Weaver unofficially announced it two months ago.
The first question put to the Pistons general manager during the March All-Star break was a big-picture assessment of the state of the franchise amid his extraordinarily active first year on the job. Not a minute into his answer, Weaver said this: “I can’t say enough about Dwane and his staff. A lot of times when you’re going through this situation, people will say you might want to have a different coach, but I absolutely believe and trust we have the best coach in the world for what we’re going through.”
“Best coach in the world for what we’re going through” didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for debate about whether Casey – who signed on to coach a middle-aged veteran team led by Blake Griffin two years before Weaver’s hiring and nearly that long before Pistons owner Tom Gores endorsed an organizational decision to rebuild – would be the coach to see the process Weaver has dubbed a “restoring” through to its endgame.
But even before Weaver’s emphatic March endorsement, it was apparent that Gores had achieved the synergy between his front office and coaching staff he’d sought since buying the Pistons a decade ago.
Signing Wayne Ellington, a key acquisition in the 2019 playoff drive, in free agency and trading for Delon Wright, who broke into the NBA under Casey in Toronto, clearly were Casey-influenced moves.
And the signs were there before that, too. When Weaver was hired last June and prioritized character and selflessness, defense and competitiveness, it could just as easily have been Casey’s voice. Casey played his way into a role on Kentucky’s 1978 NCAA championship team on exactly those principles and has coached to that blueprint throughout his career – all while among the first to embrace the influence of analytics many old school coaches hold at arm’s length.
The 2020-21 Pistons, short on experience but long on fight, clearly embody the vision of Weaver and the soul of Casey. Casey has said since arriving in Detroit that he espouses the Bill Parcells view of coaching input: “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
It’s not uncommon for first-time general managers to be fiercely protective of their turf as personnel chief, but Weaver went out of his way to credit Casey for the decision to pursue Mason Plumlee in free agency. Casey said early on that it was clear he and Weaver valued the same traits in prospects as they were preparing for the 2020 draft.
“Troy’s very secure in his own skin,” Casey said at mid-season. “He’s been under some great coaches and did a great job of coaching himself in his AAU days. I don’t want final say, but just to say, ‘Hey, Coach, what do you think?’ He’s been great about that. Style of play, the characteristics of the team we want to establish, we’re in lockstep on that.”
Coaches are typically certain victims of the rebuilding process. Weaver has made sure to stand shoulder to shoulder with Casey during a season intended to set up the franchise for an honest shot at a third championship era.
“We all knew this year would be challenging to play with so many new faces,” Casey said weeks ago. “He’s been there with me. We talk every day, We communicate every day. We’re on the same page as we go forward with this challenge. We’ve been collaborative the whole way, from top to bottom. We’re in this together and see things the right way. He’s been great to work with.”
Casey’s contract extension isn’t merely symbolic – it’s tangible evidence of the organizational commitment to the plan embarked upon at the February 2020 trade deadline – but there is symbolism in its execution, as well. It’s a message to the rookies and assorted other young players – 11 of them 24 or less – that what they’ve endured and achieved this season, the standings notwithstanding, is recognized and appreciated.
“Dwane’s ability to adapt and lead us through a challenging but very exciting year of growth and development has further established his place as one of the most highly respected coaches in the NBA,” Gores said in his statement that accompanied the extension announcement. “He is fully committed to the restoration of the Pistons where his competitiveness, teaching ability and developmental acumen can be seen in the growth of our young players. I eagerly anticipate watching the future of this team and the upward trajectory of the franchise under his continued leadership as we strive to compete for championships.”
There are no shortcuts in that pursuit. All those young players Weaver has brought to Detroit since November have learned that lesson. But now they have validation that they’re all in this together, that staying the course will be rewarded. And they know that the man who stands in front of them every day, encouraging but offering no shortcuts even amid adversity, will be the man standing in front of them next season and beyond.