It’s an aspirational goal of every NBA owner to hire a general manager and a coach of one mind – to have a clear, unified vision of the type of team they want to build. But doing that and also finding the most qualified people is another matter – and that’s before personality clashes and egos get in the way.
In Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey, Pistons owner Tom Gores has found a pairing in lockstep. If that seemed likely over the course of the summer as Weaver enunciated his vision for a Pistons future, it became undeniable after draft night and reaffirmed on Wednesday when the two spoke while introducing the four players Weaver’s wheeling and dealing netted the Pistons in last week’s draft.
“Going into the draft, Coach and I, we wanted to get a certain mindset and mentality and these four young men embody everything we want for the Pistons going forward,” Weaver said. “Selfless, competitive nature, team guys. Talented, but more importantly, great humans. There’s a certain DNA that we wanted to bring in the building and these four young men bring it.”
Casey has jumped in with both feet in his embrace of analytics and adapting his offense to yield the most efficient shots – free throws, layups, 3-pointers – and eschewing the least desirable, mid-range jump shots most notably. But don’t assume the embrace of 21st century basketball is incompatible with prioritizing the throwback characteristics that Casey has never wavered from demanding.
He put his Toronto team on the doorstep of the 2019 championship it would win at least as much for his focus on developing young players and insisting on their dedication to fundamentals and competitiveness as for his implementation of an offense that hunted open 3-point shots.
“He and I, when (Weaver) first got here, we sat down and talked about the type of team we wanted to build,” Casey said. “I can say this: These guys fit Detroit basketball. They’re hard-playing, hard-charging, good-character guys – but they’ll knock you on your butt when it comes time to.”
Somewhere, Bill Laimbeer just cracked a smile – well, a smirk – and Rick Mahorn is nodding his head and, probably, saying something that involves four-letter words.
Rookies aren’t generally tone setters for franchises, so Weaver and Casey aren’t laying the responsibility for resetting Pistons culture at the feet of Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee – the four players drafted last week. But Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose are two of the four players from last year’s roster still around – yeah, that’s all that remain, a testament to the aggressiveness Weaver promised on all fronts – and their ability to command respect is grounded in their work ethic as much as in their vast achievement.
Casey knows the vibe they’ll throw off to young players will be resoundingly positive – and is over the moon that the four draft picks are of the type that will cherish the chance to take lessons from players of their stature instead of walking in the door with a sense of entitlement, not an uncommon occurrence for players who’ve just had a life’s dream realized.
“Any time you have basketball IQ and the competitive mindset they have – and the character they have – you can work and mold them into the type of team you want to build,” he said. “I commend Troy and his staff for gathering these guys together. I do see a correlation between the young guys I had in the past – their character, their work ethic and their compete level, the way they attack the game. When you have that, the learning curve and the growth period is short.”
It all goes back to what Weaver said in his first remarks upon being named Pistons general manager, about fielding a team Pistons fans and the players with jerseys hanging in the rafters at Little Caesars Arena will recognize and embrace. Weaver wanted to make the Pistons more athletic and longer and he accomplished that in a dizzying first week of being able to make moves.
Mostly what he’s accomplished – empowered by ownership to move aggressively, with both Weaver and Casey citing Gores’ support as critical to their transformative week – is stockpiling players who embody the traits that have defined the best of Pistons basketball: toughness, competitiveness, teamwork. The checkbook was open, but more than that was an encouragement to follow their convictions for the team they envisioned as embarking on a third championship era of Pistons basketball.
“We put a plan in place, presented it to Tom and his group and we all got on the same page,” Weaver said. “Tom was tremendous with this process. He had a lot of input and had us thinking about different things. It was a collaborative effort, but his support at the end means everything to us.”
“He questioned us and made sure we were able to see what our vision was and made sure we were on the same path,” Casey said. “This is his vision. This is what he sees by getting these four hard-playing guys and developing an identity. Tom was behind us every step of the way and was a part of everything we did.”
Weaver, a baseball and football fan, referenced the Yankees dynasty of the recent past and how the “core four” – Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada – grew up together and led the franchise to four World Series titles.
“Now we’ve got these four guys,” he said. “Hopefully, we can look back in time and call this our core four. … We’re excited. Excited about the Pistons family and looking for great things to come.”