In the spirit of a championship past, the Weaver-Casey Pistons vow to be all about defense & hard work
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Not a single player wearing a Pistons uniform at the time Troy Weaver was introduced as general manager 15 months ago remains today, but the seeds he planted that day sprouted in little dots of green on a summery late September afternoon Monday.
Weaver, you might recall, came in guns a blazin’, talking about the greatness in the walls in Detroit and making it his mission to follow the blueprint put forth by the Bad Boys, assembled by Jack McCloskey and coached by Chuck Daly to the first two NBA titles in franchise history, and revived by the Goin’ to Work Pistons, newly minted Hall of Famer Ben Wallace their symbolic testament to the virtues cherished most by fans of Pistons history: defense, toughness, selflessness.
Weaver and Dwane Casey have evangelized about those traits ever since with Weaver using them as his guideposts in exercising every draft pick, executing every trade and pursuing every free agent he’s diligently added over his tenure to date.
The takeaway for how the Pistons want to play this season – with a lineup that will again be dominated by youth and bristles with energy and potential – was in full evidence once you sift through the remarks and observations of Weaver, Casey and the roster from A to Z during their media day interviews.
Asked where he expects the Pistons to make the biggest strides this season, Weaver led with this: “One is defense. We have to hang our hat on defense. The strength of our team will be our effort, our energy and our depth. Defense has to be the way we really step it up.”
Defense is in Casey’s bones. It was his province as a bulldog guard when he suited up for his home-state Kentucky Wildcats under Joe B. Hall in the ’70s and it was his area of expertise as an assistant under Rick Carlisle when Dallas won its lone NBA championship in 2011. He became a true believer in analytics while coaching Toronto to heights that franchise had never known by remaking its offense, but underneath all of that the Raptors were envied and respected by his peers for their toughness and physicality.
That’s his aspiration for the Pistons now, to be a team opponents dread.
“For us, everything is going to start with defense,” Isaiah Stewart said. “We’re going to be a defensive-minded team. When we’re out there, just make everything hard on our opponents. Every team that comes in, we want them to come into the game knowing it’s going to be a hard night.”
Stewart as a 19-year-old rookie inflamed the collective imagination of Pistons fans for what he can become: a worthy successor to the Rodman-Wallace lineage of lunch-bucket heroes in a blue-collar city. He’s one of the cornerstones of Weaver’s restoration and the embodiment of all those qualities he’s vowed to seek in the players he sees fit to wear the uniform.
Casey said he’s seen a different Killian Hayes since Summer League ended, a more assertive player. Asked about that, Hayes – whose most identifiable skill is his vision and passing instincts – immediately steered the conversation to the other end of the floor.
“Just my mindset, the way I wanted to come to be seen on the court with more intensity. I know I can be a great defensive player.”
The NBA is a different league than when the Bad Boys could physically cower opponents and it’s different than when the Goin’ to Work Pistons routinely won playoff games by scoring in the 80s or 90s. The equilibrium between offense and defense has tilted toward scoring, fueled by the explosion of 3-point shooting, but check the history books. With rare exception, title teams still field top-10 defensive units.
Weaver values certain physical traits in concert with the character DNA he prioritizes. He likes players with plus size for their position, he likes players at the far end of the athleticism bell curve and he likes long-limbed players for the problems they can create for modern, high-flying offenses.
It’s why he advocated for the drafting of Hamidou Diallo in Oklahoma City and why he traded for Diallo last spring.
“In this game of basketball, you’ve got to play both sides of the game,” Diallo said. “Coach emphasizes defense and Troy emphasizes defense. I feel like that’s something we could be really good at it.”
The Pistons are going to lean heavily on youth this season. Hayes, Stewart and Cade Cunningham will all still be 20 when the regular season ends in April and they’ll be among the team leaders in minutes. Diallo, Josh Jackson, Frank Jackson and Saddiq Bey are all ticketed for rotation minutes, all 24 or younger. Growing pains are inevitable. Mistakes will come in bunches some nights. They’ll be tolerated. What won’t be is any deviation from a dedication to defense and hard work.
“We definitely want to come in and restore what’s been here,” Weaver said. “We want to put a team on the floor that resonates with the city and the state and the fan base – hard-working guys, great competitive spirit and some young talent people can really get behind. That’s the goal, absolutely. To create an identity and a team that the fan base can get behind.”