Edit by Dalan Overstreet
This won’t be like my other pieces. In my other posts I have a conversational and casual tone, but still give it some structure. This, however, will effectively be a Twitter rant that was given a proofread before posting. I Just wanna get some thoughts out there.
My favorite NBA team, The Detroit Pistons, hired Dwane Casey to be their Head Coach this week. First impression: It is a good hire. Dwane Casey is a quality coach and was recognized as such when he was given Coach of the Year. I also thought firing him in the first place was nonsense. It was almost as if it was an indictment for not being able to beat Lebron. Doesn’t quite seem fair.
After some thought, though, I have some concerns. Again, I think he is a good coach. The concern is less about his coaching abilities and more about how our front office has handled team building.
Detroit had an incredible run from 2003-08, going to six straight Eastern Conference Finals, two straight NBA Finals and winning it all in 2004. I became a fan at the dawn of this stretch, taking my fan-hood of Kentucky Basketball and applying it to the Pistons when they drafted Tayshaun Prince in 2002.
During that time, the Pistons were not short on compliments.
“This is the return of the Bad Boys”
“The Pistons are proof you don’t need a superstar” (BTW, The Pistons were beaten in ’06 & ’07 by lesser teams because those teams each had a superstar)
“They are the Eastern Conference’s version of the Spurs”
In this, the Pistons squad crafted an identity….and the front office crafted an idea of how teams should be built.
You see, the San Antonio Spurs were, and still seem to be, the pillar of consistency. However, they have never been the model to building a team. Maybe they should be. It would be nice, but it’s not how things usually work. The great majority of franchises, usually all but one or two in their given games, have hills and valleys.
The Spurs have Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest coaches in the history of American sports. They had Tim Duncan, arguably the player of his generation. They also had consistent All-Stars and future Hall of Famers Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. That core was there the entire time…and 3/4 of it still remain there today, hosting a wave of pieces ranging from quality to elite along the way.
The Pistons, though, haven’t mirrored that success because they didn’t mirror that consistency. They couldn’t mirror that consistency because no one’s singular vision was even close to comparable to Pop’s.
The Pistons held previous L’s in the ECF, but it wasn’t until they played the Celtics in 2008 that they met a team in the conference that was actually better than them. The feeling of needing a change in order to compete led to the Billups/Iverson trade, which didn’t work out for anyone.
In this moment, the Pistons may have been better served scraping the team and starting over, but they didn’t. Since then, It has been a series of signing good players that didn’t fit (Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith), were past their primes (Ben Gordon, Tracy McGrady) and drafting solid guys over great ones (Monroe over Paul George/Gordon Hayward in ’10, Stanley Johnson over Devin Booker in ’15, Luke Kennard over Donovan Mitchell in ’17).
It is all symptomatic of the Pistons’ team building strategy: tweak, retool or address specific needs, but never rebuild. It is somewhat admirable to always try to put yourself in a position to compete, but it has proven misguided and ineffective. Detroit seems to win just enough games to keep them out of the top 5 of the NBA Draft every season and sign just enough guys to keep our salary cap tied down.
Although past squads had some great players, the Pistons’ most iconic cores were, “The sum is greater than its parts” personified. The teams never depended on a single piece of focus, but a collaborative effort of many. The Pistons front office seems to have adopted that identity as a strategy and haven’t been able to emulate past success. Detroit has remained oblivious to how most teams are built: Sign a star or tank.
Sadly, my Pistons are not in either position right now. Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin still have multiple years on each of their deals. We also happened to trade our draft pick this year in a package for Griffin. My hesitancy to support the Casey signing was about concerns of repeating the same pattern, but it seems signing one of the best coaches available and settling in is the only play we have for now.