Stefanski: Priority to hire Pistons coach ‘to put arms around our players’

AUBURN HILLS – Ed Stefanski had a hectic first full week on the job, but the fact the draft and free agency are looming isn’t rushing his process of leading the search for a new Pistons coach and general manager.

But the narrow priority for him is to get a head coach in place.

“The priority right now is going for a head coach,” he said. “You would almost say simultaneously trying to find the front office, but a head coach is important so we can get that person to put arms around our players and make sure they’re doing their off-season program and developing. The summer is when these players really develop and that’s huge for the franchise.”

The Pistons have an unusually high number of players under contract for next season – 12 of them who had a spot in the rotation at one point or another last season – and that also tilts the scales toward finding a coach first.

It means more players to meet and oversee development programs – and also fewer roster spots for a front office to fill via the draft or free agency.

And Stefanski is intrigued by the possibilities of a roster topped by Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

“I think the core is good here,” he said. “This league changes all the time and I think the personnel is there. That’s why, in interviewing head coaches, we talk about personnel in detail and what we can do to get it even better. That’s our goal.”

The Pistons won’t have cap space when free agency opens, so they’ll be spectators for the frenzied early hours when teams with space pursue the top tier of free agents.

“We do not have a ton of money, so we’re not a player early on in free agency,” Stefanski said. “But in any free agency period, you’ll be surprised after the A guys go off the board and money gets tight, I believe some good players are out there and hopefully we can get them with the amount of money we have left.”

Stefanski brings his knowledge of draft preparation with him from Memphis and has the database of information produced by the current Pistons scouting staff at his disposal for the June 21 draft. He met with holdover front-office staffers last week, between a series of interviews to fill the coaching and front-office vacancies.

“They have a very good handle on the draft,” he said. “You better be way down the line by June 1 and they are. That’s going in the right direction.”

Stefanski, who left a prominent role in the Memphis front office to sign a three-year contract to report directly to owner Tom Gores as senior adviser, said the quality of candidates who’ve expressed interest in coming on board has been superb.

“I’m very happy with the candidates and also with the cross-section of candidates we’ve talked with,” he said. “I’m very pleased with that.”

Stefanski doesn’t have a hard timetable in mind, he said, but he and a small group of advisers plan to present a list of finalists to Gores in the relatively near future.

“You have to be patient because there’s so much going on that you’re doing and making adjustments,” he said. “It’s going to take time. It’s not going to happen overnight.”