The Detroit Pistons started the Dwane Casey era on the right note, at one point sitting in 4th in the Eastern Conference after defeating the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
But since then, they’ve dropped 11 of their past 14, including a blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers, losing at home to an Atlanta Hawks team that had won only eight games, and a buzzer beater heartbreaker on Sunday to the Orlando Magic.
Pistons senior advisor Ed Stefanski recently interviewed with The Detroit Free Press to talk about whether or not the team would be looking to make a deal at the trade deadline, which falls on February 7.
DFP: How would you assess the season?
Stefanski: “Good basketball has come in spurts. We’ve been good and then the schedule got harder, no question about it. We took advantage of the schedule when it was in our favor and now it’s gotten harder. We had a huge win against Golden State and huge win against Boston. … (There) were couple of games where we didn’t play to the level I’d hoped.”
DFP: Luke Kennard — because of injuries — hasn’t been available for a great amount of time since you joined the organization. Assess his season.
Stefanski: “That’s what people don’t realize. All summer long he was hurt and then he gets back healthy for three or four games and then he goes out. What Kennard can do is make plays for other people. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s used now that he’s got his legs back. When he makes shots it helps us, but his playmaking skills (are solid). It’ll be interesting to see how the coach uses him going forward. We can’t have enough shooters and you need playmaking. I think Kennard provides both to the table.”
DFP: With the injuries (Kennard, Reggie Bullock, Ish Smith and Glenn Robinson III), does it make it tougher to evaluate the roster during trade season?
Stefanski: “Obviously it wasn’t in Detroit, (but I was with the Memphis Grizzlies) so I followed everybody. … I haven’t seen any huge surprises. Coming into the season we talked about shooting as an issue and it has been. As I said, hopefully with Luke, Bullock and Galloway, hopefully that helps us, but when you have a new coach, a new system, it takes time for everybody. We have time to get better. I don’t think we’ve reached how good we can get so I think that’s a positive.”
DFP: Has Griffin exceeded expectations?
Stefanski: “I didn’t know what to expect from Blake. In talking to him this summer, he mentioned this is the first summer in a while he’d been totally healthy and I think it’s shown. He’s very difficult (to defend), he’s a force out there, he’s playing at an All-Star level. I enjoy watching how the other teams want to come out and play him. A lot of teams get physical with him, … teams bring double teams, teams bring triple teams and he’s been real good at finding the open man. … Most of this year he’s found the open man and we run a lot of our offense through him.”
DFP: Reggie Jackson has struggled with Jose Calderon finishing some games at point guard.
Stefanski: “Of all the players, he has had to sacrifice the most. There’s no doubt, over the years, he’s had the ball in his hands. In this type of offense, (there’s) more stuff for Blake, spotting up for open shots. He still runs the pick-and-roll well. But he’s another guy — forget about being hurt — he was off his feet for months where he didn’t play any kind of basketball or even working out. I see glimpses of the old Reggie and he’s playing hard so I think Reggie will play better and better as time goes on.”
DFP: The patience level is still there with Jackson?
Stefanski: “Our medical people said he would not be physically there until the end of the year, that he would still need time because when you’re off your feet that long and not playing basketball, it doesn’t just pop back on. This will get better and better. I think we will see Reggie at 100 percent.”
DFP: Going into trade season, what are you trying to get accomplished?
Stefanski: “We as a front office, we talk to the league on a regular basis, finding out from teams what their philosophy may be right now, but the thing is, it always changes. A lot of teams — trying to make the playoffs — will wait to see where they are at the trade deadline in February to discern whether they are buyers or sellers. The majority of teams are waiting. Teams that are struggling mightily may be sellers right now and if there’s a deal out there, they’ll pull the trigger, but like every year, more trades are going to occur closer to the deadline.”
DFP: Besides the obvious issue of creating a future problem to solve a current one, can you further explain the reluctance to create a better cap situation at all costs?
Stefanski: “We’re in cap restrictions right now. We were this past free agency and we will be again the next free agency. If we had to get off assets for cap relief, with our cap situation it really wouldn’t improve more than what we already have — the midlevel exception — for next year. We wouldn’t improve substantially so to use assets to get off some of the contracts you may want to get off — I’m not saying we want to — but to do something like that? It still wouldn’t create a lot of room.”