How the Detroit Pistons transitioned from Stan Van Gundy era to Dwane Casey’s new reign

Detroit Pistons Dwane Casey. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons Dwane Casey. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

Stan Van Gundy improved the Detroit Pistons roster, coming out of dark times, and left Dwane Casey with plenty to work with as he continues to build.

This is no place for slander on former Detroit Pistons boss Stan Van Gundy, or as some people call him, Jeff Van Gundy’s brother.

To be fair, he was given not only a head coaching position but also the president of basketball operations job when he was hired in 2014, a position only head coaches Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, and Mike Budenholzer held at the time. Now only Popovich retains both duties as the league pushes away from that trend.

Stan studied under Pat Riley for 12 years until he took his talent from South Beach the long trek over to the middle of Florida, in Orlando. Stan then began to get much more production from a Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson-led team, and dragged them to a 59-win, 2008-09 season where they beat the Cavs in six, only to lose to the Lakers in the Finals. Impressive nonetheless, like I said, we don’t slander SVG.

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His Pistons’ career started by ending the Josh Smith era while a supercharged Brandon Jennings fired away every shot before his achilles plagued the team. The team had a lengthy winning streak that season, but finished very poorly due to a 5-23 start to the season.

Next year, Stan acquired the likes of Aron Baynes, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marcus Morris. He even drafted Stanley Johnson out of Arizona at eighth overall and resigned Reggie Jackson to a big, lengthy deal.

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What could go wrong?

The roster looked so much better. Ultimately, it did look better and the SVG project surged the Pistons to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

But, things got sour as the final season in The Palace was torture to the fans. The record was not above .500, and the books and roster didn’t have anyone clamoring in favor. He gave a four-year,  $42 million to Jon Leuer and moved  Spencer Dinwiddie for Cameron Bairstow.

Altogether it seemed like the moves were going in the wrong direction and Jackson could not stay healthy. These moves and free agent contracts really were the downfall of Stan trying to create something by overpaying subpar players. But, SVG left the Pistons faithful a dear present before being fired at the end of the 2018 season: Blake Griffin.

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Rewind now to 2011: The Raptors moved on to Dwane Casey. He spent two years in Toronto before gracing them with a playoff appearance, but also added a record best for Toronto in most wins in a season. After that, Casey signed a three-year deal to stay put and work on the project he started.

The project started with a 23-43 record (cut short due to the 2011 lockout), but blossomed into six straight winning record seasons and four straight seasons of 50-plus wins. Casey saw the Raptors through the cold, Canadian losing times to turn the tide into a franchise of winning. He maximized the talent of guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, while using big man Jonas Valanciunas as a focal point down low.

After winning Coach of the Year, Casey was fired from the Raptors and quickly moved on to the Pistons.

The difference between the coaching stages really stems with the leadership and decision making at the Pistons. Owner Tom Gores is willing to pay and create a team that will compete.

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This mentality differs highly from Van Gundy, who seemed to think he could and would create a contender out of subpar players on enormous contracts in an NBA that boasts highly stacked, star-studded rosters.

Casey has coached a contending team that has dealt with star players for years, but he was never able to take them to the promised land. In those early years with Lowry, who had struggled and clashed with coaches elsewhere and never reached his potential, Casey was able to reach and bring the best out of him (ironically, Chauncey Billups was also a mentor to a now All-Star, Lowry).

Casey seems to know the layout of the current NBA and is trying to move in a more progressive direction with his star, Griffin, spreading the floor more than he ever has. He has allowed bigger roles from young guys like Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard.

Van Gundy and Casey are both great developers of talent and have both proven to get the best potential out of players. In hindsight, the SVG project wasn’t conducive to the direction of the NBA now. Van Gundy had struggled to get his draft picks involved and most of his guys have moved on.

On the flip side, Casey had spent his last few years with Toronto dominating the East, just never being able to hurdle the LeBron James-led Cavaliers, who he had eclipsed in win totals most of his years.

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The Pistons should feel safe and happy to have this former Coach of the Year as they go into his second year leading the team.