Casey Q&A Part I: Pistons ‘players care. They want to win’

Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin’s basketball IQ is ‘off the charts,’ Dwane Casey says as he prepares for his first training camp as Pistons coach
Cameron Browne (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

EDITOR’S NOTE: With his first training camp as Pistons coach approaching, reigning NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey sat down with editor Keith Langlois to get his perspective on the Pistons and the 2018-19 season. Here’s Part I of a three-part Q&A.

KEITH LANGLOIS: In taking over a new team, what did you spend more time on this summer: meeting and getting to know your players or watching videotape of last year’s Pistons games?

DWANE CASEY: I do a little bit of both but mostly meeting players, getting to know them personally, what makes them tick, trying to research around them and see what they’re about because what you don’t want to do is have preconceived notions of what happened or what they did last year. What I’ll do after I get to know them and see what kind of people they are, what makes them tick, is then go back and watch games, which I’ve watched probably way too many games from last year. But most important is getting to know the players yourself and judge them by interactions and not something I’ve seen, read, heard or anything else.

KL: I imagine you spent as much time with your three most prominent players – Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson – as anyone. What impressions did you take away from those meetings?

DC: The impressions that I have are most importantly that the players care. They really care. They want to win. They’ve told me what their goals are for themselves individually, for the team and that’s the most important thing. The impression I have also is their basketball IQ is very high. That’s something I was really impressed with. Blake’s basketball IQ is off the charts and Reggie’s basketball IQ is off the charts. Andre has a great feel for things and other players, what they do. That was very impressive. So those things were my first impressions of them that you don’t know from the outside looking in.

KL: Blake Griffin was traded in mid-season, leaving the only franchise he’d ever played for and switching conferences. Stan Van Gundy talked about the difficulty of that last season. Do you expect that an increased comfort level now – having a full off-season and a training camp with the Pistons – will allow him to make a greater impact and be more comfortable as a leader?

DC: No question. Blake is a leader by nature, I think. And also, he’s a leader by example. He had probably the most impressive, organized workout regimen this summer that I’ve seen of any veteran player like him. He hired statisticians to come in and keep stats of his shooting, his stretching regimen. He brought in other workout players to simulate five other players so he had the whole gamut covered. That showed me, too, that he was organized and hopefully other players saw that and he led by example. Like Stan said last year, him coming in mid-season like that is almost impossible to come in and establish himself as a physical leader or leader by example or by your words. He’s done a lot of things as far as this summer organizing workouts in L.A. and doing different things to show his leadership.

KL: Andre Drummond showed up in Las Vegas at Summer League and appeared leaner and talked of committing himself to yoga and an improved diet. What’s your sense of where he’s at physically and your impression of his maturity?

DC: We all grow up and Andre’s – what? 25? – so he’s still a young man. But now is the time for him. I told him the time for him is now – not worry about the word potential. This is the time for him. Don’t worry about how old he is. It’s time for him to be a pro, to be a man, produce, to win, think about winning now, not worry about getting better every year – no. This is the time right now for him to perform and be a mature, NBA player. We don’t want to keep talking about potential. That word is the most dangerous word in professional sports. I see steps of him maturing and growing but, again, he still can continue to do that. But his body fat is down to like 8 percent, somewhere in there, which is unheard of for a man of his size. And he has his weight down, way down, so he’s done the things physically and nutrition wise and exercise wise – yoga, like you said – and he’s approaching it in the right way.

KL: He’s shown video of him taking 3-pointers on social media and said he expects to take some this season. How do you strike a balance between allowing him to push those boundaries yet remain dominant in the areas that have enabled him to make two of the last three All-Star teams?

DC: That’s the carrot. That’s the key. In my experience with other big men like that – went through it with (Jonas) Valanciunas in Toronto – of him not losing his inside presence, his protecting the rim, his guarding the lane, getting back in transition, running the floor, all those things. Before you can think about shooting the three you’ve got to do all of these first. Those are your day job. This one other – again, we want to stretch the floor out, we’re going to be a 3-point shooting team, but you’re going to have the opportunity to do that when those teams step back off of you and disrespect you by sitting down in the lane. So we want to make sure we take advantage of it. Now is he going to become the next Kyle Korver? No. Not at all. We’re not forgetting. Just because he said he’s going to have the ability to do that doesn’t mean he’s going to be a volume 3-point shooter. It’s just in certain situations, we’re going to have an understanding of where those shots are coming from, of when those are good shots and when those are not good shots. He has worked on his game. He’s got a nice touch. I know people equate his free-throw shooting with his 3-point shooting – two totally different animals. We’ve got an understanding of when we want him to look for the 3-point shot, when he can take them, but at the same time he can’t neglect his other responsibilities.

KL: I know this is too simplistic, but in Toronto you had an offense based on two All-Stars who were perimeter players. Here, the two players who’ve been All-Stars are both power players, yet you’ve talked of wanting an open offense with a premium on spacing and an emphasis on 3-point shooting. Is this offense going to look similar to what we’ve seen in Toronto or will it be markedly different?

DC: Similar. Very similar. Some different areas, of course, because of who Blake is but similar in other ways. One way I like to look at it is we had Serge Ibaka, who was coming from being an inside player strictly and moving outside and being a perimeter player and a 3-point shooter. I envision Blake Griffin being like that. Blake has more ballhandling skills, more passing skills than Serge had – no disrespect to Serge – but Blake is more equipped to play out on the floor than Serge was. That’s where I make the comparison more so than DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle (Lowry). They’re naturally the guards but where Valanciunas was out on the floor more – people thought I was crazy in Toronto when I said he’s going to shoot the three. The transformation can be there now. Is it going to happen just because we talk about it or snap our fingers? No. It’s going to take work. It’ll take us a few games of exhibitions, first part of the season, before it clicks. But that’s what I envision. That’s the goal of our playing identity is utilizing the 3-point line and most importantly is spacing. Spacing the floor, make sure we maintain our spacing, be disciplined with our spacing. We drive in there, we’ve got to relocate just as hard, just as fast, getting back out to our proper spots.

KL: Usually when a coach leaves one job for another without any breaks it’s customary he’ll take most of his staff with him. Steve Clifford wound up taking most of his Charlotte staff with him to Orlando. How much did it complicate you filling out your staff when Toronto hired from within and how pleased were you with the staff you put together?

DC: Very pleased. People who are respected around the league. Micah Nori worked with me before so he knows the system that we were putting in four or five years ago in Toronto and it’s the same system. Sid Lowe is someone I respect in the league. Knows the game, knows how to teach, great teacher. Sean Sweeney is a defensive guy that did a great job with Milwaukee. So you see guys around. The only hard part is the communication, the verbiage you use. Maybe it’s the same action but maybe a different call or vocabulary. That’s the biggest difference you may have. The two young men that came with me from Toronto that did a great job of developing their young players are J.D. DuBois and D.J. Bakker, two guys that worked religiously in the developmental program we established and we’re establishing the same development program here that pays dividends. It’s not just young guys. Our older guys will work as well in our developmental program whether it’s the early group or the night group. We’re going to make sure we utilize the gym quite a bit. Those two guys did a great job at developing the (Fred) Van Vleets, the Pascal Siakams, the Jakob Poeltls. We spent so much time with those guys and it’s paying off great dividends – unfortunately, it’s for Toronto.

KL: When you accepted the Coach of the Year award, you talked about how much it meant that Tom Gores expressed such faith in you. How has your relationship evolved over the off-season and how often are you in touch with him?

DC: Quite a bit. It’s deepened. We text a lot. In today’s world it’s the best way to communicate. We talk on the phone. I’ve been out to his place a couple of times. It’s deepened. And the fact that I understand Tom wants to do one thing – he wants to win. That’s the bottom line. He has a passion for winning. He’s putting an unlimited amount of resources in to winning. Whatever the medical people need to make sure we have the proper equipment, he’s giving it to them. Whatever our scouts and that department needs, he’s giving it to them. Our developmental group – we have an unprecedented amount of developmental coaches to develop our young players – he’s given it to us. He’s working with getting our G League team up to the speed, the analytical department. He’s putting the resources in, which is a commitment to winning. It’s not all the time about just paying players; it’s making sure we do a good job of developing those players, give them the right information and leading them in the right way. Tom is one of the best owners I’ve been around and he’s putting his commitment to great use. The thing that people don’t realize, Tom is from here. It’s not like, OK, he’s some outsider living somewhere else. He’s from here, his heart is in Michigan, he’s from Flint. He cares about what happens here. We talk about that a lot. He talks about helping in the inner city a lot. So all those things are very important to him and we have the same vision as far as that’s concerned.


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