Before Tom Gores took his first question from reporters curious how the Pistons owner perceived the state of the franchise, he essentially answered all of them with a simple 16-word statement: “I’ve got to let you know, I’m really proud of this team, ”he said at halftime of Friday’s home finale. “Something’s being created here.”
On whether Dwane Casey would be back for his fifth season as head coach next year: “I want to see Dwane more than next year.”
On general manager Troy Weaver’s performance in less than two years on the job: “Troy has had such a vision on every player, the kind of player he wants. That’s one thing that Troy and I have been able to connect on is the idea of the kind of players we want. We’re fielding a great team. ”
On rookie Cade Cunningham: “He’s special. He’s special. I had Cade in Malibu (at Gores’ home) before he was drafted. He’s got poise. He’s got great resilience – even when it doesn’t go right – that he’s able to handle it. So there’s a real comfort in game time that he can show up. ”
Even as the Pistons went 12-45 over the first four months around a series of injuries to Cunningham, Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk, Gores felt the franchise was in a better place than at any point in his 11-year tenure as owner based on the foundation laid with the hirings of Casey in 2018 and Weaver in 2020.
“We have great people in charge, Dwane and Troy,” he said. “Dwane and Troy are just tremendous leaders, both for the team and our young people. Very proud of this team and the players. ”
Gores has maintained since coming to the NBA in 2011 that the right people in leadership roles was the critical first step in establishing a climate conducive to success. That’s why this time feels different, he said.
“Whoever you put on the floor, they just do it. I go back to Dwane and Troy, ”he said. “The culture is true. You’ve got to have a true culture. We want a winning situation, but there’s a true culture here. ”
He feels it in his frequent interactions with Weaver and Casey, but he also sees it every time he watches the team they’ve created and molded compete.
“You see them out there. They’re fighting, clawing. This is the culture that’s being built. You’ve talked to the players about it, but their DNA is now to win. That’s their DNA. ”
Creating a synergy between the front office and the coaching staff can be an elusive quest for NBA owners and Gores talked often in the past about learning that quickly when he first assumed the reins in 2011. But he’s completely sold on the union of Weaver and Casey for the former’s ability to identify desired personality traits along with talent in players and the latter’s deft touch at guiding teams through adversity.
“Dwane has threaded the needle this year because to lose a lot – and we lost a lot of games – but the key is, can you keep the spirit alive? His ability to keep everybody’s spirit alive is such a talent. He’s a great man. We love each other, Dwane and I, but that’s not enough to win basketball games. But he really understands how to keep these guys engaged while they’re going through a hard time. He has this ability to keep everybody inspired and the players love him. And I do, too, but the players really love him. ”
Gores says he anticipates the Pistons taking a leap next season. That’s based to a degree on having another likely high lottery pick coming, as much or more cap space than any team this summer and a roster with nine players 23 or younger returning largely intact. But, more than that, it’s based on his faith in the leadership team he’s put in place.
“You’ve just got to get to the right culture and, really, Troy has helped us get the kind of culture you want. You can have all these great players and possibilities, but you have to have the right people. And I really believe we have the right people. You always want to win, but it hasn’t been tough losing while we’re building the right culture and that’s really what I’ve enjoyed with this team is that losing makes sense because there’s real culture here being built. It’s just something we believe in. ”