After finishing the season with a 17-65 record – narrowly avoiding tying the worst record in franchise history of 16-66 set in the 1979-80 season – the Detroit Pistons had to make a change.
Following the Pistons’ season finale – a 103-81 routing courtesy of the Chicago Bulls – Dwane Casey announced he would no longer serve as head coach of the Pistons and will move into a front office role with the organization. The announcement didn’t come as a surprise and it seemed as though Casey himself was at peace with the forthcoming transition.
The decision to move on from Casey was necessary. The Pistons finished with the worst record in the NBA this year and have not surpassed 23 wins since the 2018-19 season – Casey’s first season with the team and the last time the Pistons made the playoffs. In over five years with the organization, the Pistons owned a 121-263 record under the highly regarded coach.
To say that there were expectations for Casey to make the playoffs in any of the previous four seasons would be a lie – he wasn’t given a roster to compete for a postseason berth – but the lack of development over the last two seasons was uninspiring and damaging to the team’s future.
This current iteration of the Detroit Pistons has no true identity. They owned the 28th-worst offensive rating in the league both this season and last. The team regressed from 24th in defensive rating last year to 27th this season. They’ve ranked out as one of the worst shooting teams in the league each of the past three seasons as well.
While rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren flashed exciting potential over the course of the season, the rest of the roster – including other young pieces like Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey – failed to develop under the tutelage of Casey and his staff. Heading into his fourth season in the league, Hayes is a borderline NBA player, and Bey regressed so severely from his rookie season that the team traded him away at the deadline for another severely flawed youngster in James Wiseman.
With a roster in major flux, a team with no identity, and a season that felt over before it began, it was clear very early on in the season that the Pistons needed to make a change in leadership.
That being said, who the Pistons choose to replace Casey is just as important of a decision as it was for the team to move on from him. There will be competition in the coaching market. The Houston Rockets have already fired Stephen Silas. There’s been plenty of speculation that the Toronto Raptors and Nick Nurse will be separating once Toronto has been eliminated from postseason play. Other teams who struggled this season, such as the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls could consider making coaching changes as well.
The former head coach of the Boston Celtics should be at the top of the list for Detroit as Tom Gores and Troy Weaver begin their search for the franchise’s next head coach. Udoka was let go by the Celtics after a “violation of team policies” in February but has been linked to virtually every head coaching availability since his termination from Boston. The Brooklyn Nets nearly hired Udoka earlier this year, but ended up passing on him.
With Udoka expected to draw interest from various teams this offseason, franchises across the NBA seem ready to bring him back into the league, and the Pistons should be vying for his services. The Celtics finished with a 51-31 record and advanced to the NBA Finals in one season under Udoka in the 2021-2022 season. One important tidbit to note: Udoka was a finalist for the job with Detroit before they hired Dwane Casey in 2018.
It’s a no-brainer that Stackhouse will be a popular name discussed locally as a candidate for the vacancy. He’s served as the head coach at Vanderbilt for the past four years and led the Commodores to a 22-15 record this past NCAA season – the best mark in Stackhouse’s tenure. Before moving to the college coaching circuit, Stackhouse served as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies and won the NBA D-League Championship as the head coach of the Raptors 905.
I don’t have Stackhouse ranked as one of my preferred candidates – his lack of success at Vanderbilt is a bit offputting and there are more accomplished candidates for Detroit to pursue.
Lee has become a favorite to land an NBA head coaching gig sooner rather than later, rising up the ranks as one of the top assistant coaches in the league. Serving under Mike Budenholzer with the Milwaukee Bucks, Lee has created a reputation for being a strong player development coach – a trait that is going to be vital for whoever takes over as the head coach of one of the youngest teams in the NBA.
Lee was most recently considered a “serious candidate” for the Atlanta Hawks opening in the middle of the season, but Atlanta ultimately decided to hire Quinn Syder over him.
There will surely be other candidates given consideration by Gores, Weaver, and the rest of Detroit’s hire committee. Internally, assistants such as Jerome Allen and Rex Kalamian could receive interviews. If Nurse does leave Toronto – could the Pistons tab another Raptors coach to lead its team into a new era? Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN has already reported that Detroit’s potential head coaching candidates include Adrian Griffin, Chris Quinn, Josh Longstaff, Brian Keefe, Lee, and Udoka.
This is a vital offseason for Detroit. The organization needs to take a significant leap next season with the return of future star Cade Cunningham, a top-five pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, and over $30 million in cap space to operate with throughout the offseason. But while all of these things are significant for Detroit’s future, the hiring choice of the team’s next head coach is just as important – if not more.