Retooling Pistons will use season’s last 25 games to help plot their future, Casey says

DETROIT – Dwane Casey has been on the job for all of 20 months as Pistons coach. There are three players – three – remaining from the roster he inherited.

Luke Kennard is now the longest-tenured Piston, drafted on June 24, 2017. Langston Galloway signed as a free agent 13 days later. The Blake Griffin trade came a little more than two years ago, Jan. 29, 2018. That’s the entire list of players that pre-date Casey.

The deal sending Andre Drummond to Cleveland as the clock ticked down on the Feb. 6 trade deadline announced the Pistons were engaged in a rebuilding effort, something front-office chief executive Ed Stefanski enunciated the next day. It also made Reggie Jackson the player who’d worn a Pistons uniform longest. Tuesday’s negotiated buyout of Jackson’s contract – one day shy of the five-year anniversary of the trade that brought him to Detroit – accelerates the process.

“It’s the NBA,” Casey said after the Pistons got back to work coming out of the All-Star break on Wednesday. “To have that many (changes) is unusual, but to have as many injuries as we had to set us back as far as it did is very unusual. It’s surprising, but it’s a challenge for us. We’ve got to look forward to it, embrace and go forward with it because that’s where we are as a program right now.”

The truth is the Pistons have been rebuilding since the day Stefanski arrived a month ahead of Casey. Except then they were rebuilding around a Griffin-Drummond-Jackson core with an eye toward competing for a playoff spot and ramping up from there.

That’s what happened. The Pistons made the playoffs in 2018-19 and then augmented their roster by signing Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris and trading for Tony Snell. They were inarguably coming back an improved team from last season … until training camp launched a cascade of foreboding news on the health front.

Now it’s a little more complicated. Griffin has two years left and how he progresses coming off of January knee surgery will influence what comes next.

But this much is clear: The Pistons are going to look significantly different when they open the 2020-21 season. And Casey intends to use the final 25 games of this season to learn as much about the players currently under contract for next season with an eye toward determining how they project for the franchise’s future.

“The right way to play, to establish a semi-identity of what we’re going to be in the future,” Casey said of the mission for the season’s final eight weeks. “We still want to shoot the three, but establishing and maintaining and being consistent with our identity on both sides of the ball.”

A critical piece of that puzzle is to solidify their point guard picture. Rose has had a remarkable season and he’ll be a piece of that puzzle in 2020-21, but beyond that it’s cloudy. Casey said Jordan Bone, on a two-way contract, will have to earn his minutes and, in any case, he’s at least two-thirds of his way to the 45-day cap on his time spent with the parent NBA Pistons.

The Jackson buyout creates an open roster spot, so Bone could eventually be converted to a standard contract. But there’s little reason for the Pistons to do so before Bone’s 45 days have been burned and Casey implied a different outcome is likely before that happens.

“Svi (Mykhailiuk) can play there some. Tony Snell is quietly playing a lot of pick and roll for us,” Casey said. “We have Jordan Bone coming up from the G League and I’m sure we’ll have some 10-day looks at some point.”

A player can sign two consecutive 10-day contracts and the Pistons could cycle through a number of players under those terms to get exposure to players they’ve identified as potential roster fits. Casey said the starter at point guard will remain fluid, citing Rose and Brandon Knight, who came from Cleveland along with John Henson in return for Drummond.

Casey would like to cut back on Bruce Brown’s time at point guard, he said.

“Bruce going forward is probably not going to be a point guard for us,” he said. “That’s (for) free agency, draft and all of that. But the experience he’s getting there is going to help him to tread water and be a secondary ballhandler. Hopefully, we get Bruce more time at his natural spot as a 2-1 instead of a 1-2.”