With Stefanski in place, Pistons priorities could shift to landing a coach first

Ed Stefanski’s hiring gives the Pistons an executive vision and provides flexibility to focus on finding a coach before filling out the front office.
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – A few random thoughts on how the hiring of Ed Stefanski sets a course for the Pistons with the draft three weeks away and the start of free agency and the thick of trading season just a month off:

  • I think Steve Clifford is a terrific coach who got dealt a bad hand with injuries – not to mention his personal health issues – and lost his job with Charlotte. But Orlando’s move to hire him takes one more contender for a head coach out of play without any impact on the Pistons.

    Clifford was a Stan Van Gundy disciple from their days in Orlando and while he might well be an ideal choice for the young Magic, he wasn’t a realistic candidate with the Pistons. They weren’t going to sever ties with Van Gundy only to turn around and hire one of his two closest confidantes, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra the other.

    That leaves the Pistons and Toronto as the only teams in the market for a head coach. Dwane Casey has been reported – logically and prominently – as among those under consideration by the Pistons. Toronto isn’t hiring Casey back after canning him following Cleveland’s second-round sweep of the Raptors.

    It’s possible there will be overlap in the Pistons and Raptors searches and that might matter if, say, Gregg Popovich were suddenly a free agent and weighing which challenge intrigued him more.

    But whatever urgency seemed to exist for the Pistons to move fast and get a coach on board ASAP when Van Gundy was dismissed nearly four weeks after the season ended has pretty much evaporated.

  • That said, there’s another reason the Pistons – and that essentially means Tom Gores’ inner circle and now led by Stefanski, the well-respected veteran of four NBA front offices – might very well name a head coach before a general manager.

    The reason: Stefanski.

    Getting him in place – a guy who not only has spent more than two decades as an NBA executive but led front offices in both New Jersey and Philadelphia – gives the Pistons a lead voice for the critical periods ahead: the draft, free agency and the trade frenzy that comes with it.

    More critically, it puts in place a vision. Stefanski’s three-year contract speaks loudly of the role he’ll serve – regardless of titles - and he’ll undoubtedly be a prominent figure directing both searches and setting the organizational agenda.

  • And one more reason a coach might be the next hire we hear about: The Pistons have 12 players under contract for next season who at one time or another last season had a spot in their rotation.

    That means two things: That there might not be vast roster upheaval this summer and that there are at least a dozen players twiddling their thumbs right now awaiting word on how they’re viewed and what comes next.

    And because the Pistons won’t have cap space – they could use their mid-level exception to sign someone, but using all of it would complicate their ability to avoid luxury tax – they’re going to need internal improvement unless a series of trades present themselves that alter the roster to unexpected degrees.

    The likeliest place to find that internal improvement is from their young players, starting with Luke Kennard, Henry Ellenson and Stanley Johnson – their last three No. 1 picks. Getting a coach in place – and a coaching staff soon after that – will kick start the summer development program.

    The Pistons haven’t really lost any ground on that front yet. Players usually give their bodies a chance to recover before ramping up their off-season workout list. But we’re coming up on the time that kicks into gear.