On Mason Plumlee and what his addition says about the Troy Weaver-Dwane Casey Pistons leadership team

In the weeks since NBA gurus stopped pulling their hair out because the Pistons gave Mason Plumlee a three-year, $25 million contract, a few things have become apparent:

  1. Mason Plumlee is a durable, productive, versatile basketball player. The triple-double might be something of an artificial measuring stick, but Plumlee collecting two of them over the past month speaks to the all-around game he possesses that appealed to the Pistons.
  2. Troy Weaver is, as advertised, really good at seeing as obvious the talent in players that hides in plain sight for vast swaths of observers. He saw it in Jerami Grant, he saw it in Josh Jackson, he saw it in Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee and we should probably expect that we’ll be saying he saw it in Killian Hayes once the rookie gets back from his hip injury and has a chance to settle in.

  3. Weaver and Dwane Casey are as compatible as they appeared to be last summer when Weaver was hired and immediately spoke of the qualities he would seek in prospective Pistons – the same qualities that Casey has embodied since his playing days at Kentucky.

Weaver took the heat for the Plumlee signing back when it was fashionable to be critical of it – on top of also signing Jahlil Okafor as a free agent and using a first-round pick on Isaiah Stewart. “I love bigs,” Weaver said, defying the conventional wisdom that centers are an endangered species in today’s NBA.

Now, with Plumlee proving every day the merits of targeting him as soon as free agency dawned in November, Weaver is deflecting credit to Casey.

“Mason’s been tremendous. Coach Casey, this was his No. 1 guy he really wanted for our ballclub,” Weaver said Tuesday with the Pistons amid the All-Star break that ends when they play at Charlotte tonight. “Because of the different skills he brings, the experience, the locker-room presence, Coach was dead on.”

Weaver’s eye for talent is critical to the Pistons, especially with the roster likely to be turned over at a more rapid rate during this phase of their growth cycle. But spotting talent is just the first step. Utilizing it properly and integrating it into the mix is another matter. And that piece requires the coach and general manager to be of like minds.

That was the teamwork Pistons owner Tom Gores spoke of striving to find early in his tenure. In Weaver and Casey, they’ve groomed a leadership team unified in intent and unfettered by ego.

“I don’t want final say, but just to say, ‘Hey, Coach, what do you think?’ He’s been great about that,” Casey said. “The style of play and the characteristics of the team we want to establish, we’re in lockstep on that. We talk every day. We communicate every day. We’re on the same page as we go forward with this challenge.”

Casey has never advocated for getting outside of his lane as a coach, but he’s a proponent of the Bill Parcells philosophy: “If you cook the food, you should have a say in how the groceries are picked.”

We now know Plumlee was pursued with Casey’s full support. Casey advocated for Wayne Ellington’s return and it’s fair to assume the trade for Delon Wright – who spent his first three seasons under Casey in Toronto – also had his full endorsement. So Weaver isn’t building his ideal team in a vacuum or protecting his turf – an all-too-common downfall of many general managers, first-timers in particular – at the expense of moving the organization forward.

“We’ve been collaborative all the way, top to bottom,” Casey said. “It’s been great. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with asking him for what I need or what we need. We’re in this together. We talk about everything from our team to our family to off the court. He tells me what he sees on the floor. We’re open about it. There’s nothing off the table we can’t talk about.”

Institutional knowledge is an often overlooked trait and Casey’s nearly three decades in the NBA and Weaver’s nearly two decades serve the Pistons well. One reason Casey wanted Plumlee is he’s known coaches who’ve had him and players who’d been his teammates. Weaver, ditto. That gave Casey a well-founded idea, beyond what he saw with his own eyes in games coached against Plumlee, how he’d fit on the floor and in the locker room.

“We had a lot of good talks about Mason before we signed him,” Weaver said. “I’m happy for Mason’s success and Coach’s vision for him. More times than not, players succeed or fail when there’s no vision for him and Coach had a vision for him.”

So there’s plenty of credit to go around, to Casey and to Weaver, but also don’t forget about Plumlee in this equation. He’s not only making the team that brought him here look smart with his productivity, he’s been an ideal teammate and mentor to the fleet of young players Weaver added.

“This guy’s been tremendous for us,” Weaver said. “He’s really helped the young guys. He’s really stepped his game up.”

Plumlee pretty quickly put to bed the notion that the Pistons erred in giving him three years at something less than the most-used arrow in every team’s quiver come free agency, the mid-level exception. He’s also a shining example of what happens when a general manager and coach come together on a shared vision for a franchise’s future.