A wish list for Detroit Pistons includes finding creators in equal measure to defensive stoppers

Dwane Casey
Dwane Casey acknowledges that while he’s focused on restoring an aura of toughness, the Pistons also need shooters and scorers to keep up in today’s NBA.
David Dow (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Whenever a Pistons transaction occurs over the off-season – the draft now a little more than a month away and free agency and the bulk of trade season soon to follow – expect that the additions will fall into one of three categories:

  • Players who exhibit a potential for offensive genius;
  • Players who take the expression of offensive genius from their opponent as a personal affront; or...
  • Players who bring with them contracts that will enable the acquisition of those from column A and column B in the future.

That’s the thread you pick up on if you’ve listened to Troy Weaver in the times he’s spoken publicly since being hired and from Dwane Casey in his more frequent utterances over the off-season and most recently in conjunction with the team camp the Pistons held.

Here’s what Weaver said in June when he was introduced as Pistons general manager: “My number one goal is for people to come to the arena and feel great about the product and when we’re on the road, old Pistons like Dave Bing and Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars and Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, those type of guys, turn on the TV and it just resonates. It looks and feels like a Pistons team.”

Pretty tough to misinterpret that. Ask anybody even vaguely familiar with the history of the NBA what vintage Pistons basketball looks like and they’ll know. It’s equal parts the flash and flair of offensive geniuses like Bing and Thomas and Chauncey Billups and the blood and guts of franchise icons like Wallace and Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. It’s Dumars making dagger jumpers at one end and refusing to cede an inch or an angle to Michael Jordan on the other.

When Casey got to Toronto, he took over a Raptors team that had a “soft” label and turned them into a team no one relished playing. Stan Van Gundy called Casey’s Raptors the most physical team in the league when he was coaching the Pistons. Physical in today’s game doesn’t mean what it meant in the Bad Boys era – their games would require four hours now between foul calls and replays for “hostile acts” – but it is no less required to win.

It’s standing your ground to take a charge and it’s seeking contact when a shot goes up to fend off opposition rebounders and it’s tagging cutters as they pass through the paint to cause defenses to rotate.

Here’s Casey from early this month after Pistons team camp wound down:

“We’re putting a high premium on conditioning and weight training,” he said. “Last year we took a step back in physical toughness and that’s one area we’ve got to get back to this year. If you look at the teams we’ve got to beat, they’re physical, tough-minded teams. To be able to do that, we’ve got to get back to the old Bad Boys days and tough days here in Detroit if we’re serious about contending and getting back to where we want to be.”

Miami for years has been known as an organization that holds its players to a high standard in terms of physical conditioning. It falls loosely under the old Lombardi bromide that “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” You can’t be tough if you can’t compel your legs to carry you to the fight. As Casey watched Orlando bubble basketball and saw Miami’s blue-collar formula – complemented by the offensive flair of Jimmy Butler, who brings the best of both worlds, and teammates like Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic and rookie Tyler Herro – his resolve was only reinforced.

“Playing that style is the most important thing,” he said. “That style of toughness, physicality, taking charges. We worked on taking charges probably for the first time in my coaching career in a long time (at team camp). We did it early in my time in Toronto – getting used to contact, enjoying contact, the flesh-to-flesh contact you’ve got to have to win in today’s game. That’s Miami, that’s Boston.”

The most valuable players have a foot in each universe, displaying physical toughness and a defensive disposition while also possessed of the ability to create offense and knock down 3-pointers. Good luck finding one of them available. In the real world, you hope to land players who can rise to above average in one category or the other. And that’s what the Pistons will be looking to find in the weeks ahead as Weaver begins to remake the roster.

Casey, who’s said he finds himself seeing players in the same light as Weaver, will be as focused on finding those who make the scoreboard move in the Pistons favor as he will be on adding those who prevent it from moving against them.

“We also like shooters. You’ve got to have a good mixture of hard-hat guys and shooters – guys who can put the ball in the hole,” he said. “The game is leaning that way. We all have to evolve from that standpoint.”

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