Before answering his first question from reporters curious about how the Pistons owner perceived the state of the franchise, Tom Gores essentially answered them all with a simple 16-word statement: “I need to let you know, I really am proud of this team,” he said at half-time in the home final on Friday. “Something is emerging here.”
On whether Dwane Casey would be back next year for his fifth season as head coach: “I want to see Dwane more than next year.”
On General Manager Troy Weaver’s performance in less than two years in office: “Troy had such a vision of every player, the kind of player he wants. That’s one thing that Troy and I have been able to bond with is imagining the kind of players we want. We’re putting together a great team.”
About rookie Cade Cunningham: “He’s something special. He is special. I had Cade in Malibu (at Gore’s home) before he was drafted. He has composure. He has a great resilience – even when things don’t go that way – that he can deal with it. So it’s a real consolation in the season that he can show up.”
Even as the Pistons went 12-45 in the first four months because of a series of injuries to Cunningham, Jerami Grant and Kelly Olynyk, Gores felt the franchise was in a better place than it had been at any point in his 11-year tenure as owner The foundation was laid with the hiring of Casey in 2018 and Weaver in 2020.
“We have great people at the helm, Dwane and Troy,” he said. “Dwane and Troy are just great leaders, both for the team and for our young people. Very proud of this team and the players.”
Since joining the NBA in 2011, Gores has maintained that having the right people in leadership positions was the critical first step in creating a climate conducive to success. So this time feels different, he said.
“Whoever you put on the floor, they just do it. I’m going back to Dwane and Troy,” he said. “The culture is true. You have to have a true culture. We want a winning situation, but there is a real culture here.”
He senses it in his frequent interactions with Weaver and Casey, but he also sees it every time he sees the team they created and shaped compete against each other.
“You see her out there. They fight, scratch. That’s the culture that’s being built. They’ve spoken to the players about it, but their DNA is said to be winning now. That’s their DNA.”
Creating synergy between the front office and the coaching staff can be an elusive endeavor for NBA owners, and Gores has often spoken of his ability to learn so quickly when he first took the reins in 2011. But he is utterly confident in the union of Weaver and Casey for the former’s ability to spot desired personality traits along with players’ talent, and the latter’s deft hand in guiding teams through adversity.
“Dwane has threaded the needle this year because he has a lot to lose – and we’ve lost a lot of games – but the key is can you keep the spirit alive? His ability to keep everyone’s spirits 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 knows how to keep these guys busy while they’re going through a tough time. He has this ability to inspire everyone and players love him. Me too, but the players really love him.”
Gores says he expects the Pistons to take a leap next season. That’s based to some extent on another likely big lottery win ahead, as much or more cap space than any team this summer and a roster of nine players aged 23 or younger returning largely intact. But more than that, it’s based on his confidence in the leadership team he’s put in place.
“You just have to find the right culture, and Troy really helped us get the kind of culture that you want. You can have all these great players and opportunities, but you have to have the right people. And I really believe that we have the right people. They always want to win but it wasn’t hard to lose while we’re building the right culture and that’s what I’ve really enjoyed with this team is that losing makes sense because there’s a real culture being built here. It’s just something we believe in.”