DETROIT — Pistons coach Dwane Casey rarely waits after his team's shootaround has concluded to see players or coaches from opposing teams at their shootaround to follow.
That approach changed on Wednesday at Little Caesars Arena. Casey stayed to hug and catch up with DeMar DeRozan, with whom he spent seven seasons in Toronto, advancing to the 2016 Eastern Conference finals.
"He's one of the nicest young men I've been associated with. Like a son," Casey said pregame Wednesday. "I remember his father's last words to me were, 'Kick him in the butt.' His Dad, a good man, passed away [in 2021]. So just took him under my wings as a young kid there in Toronto and watched him grow. Now, he's a father and a great basketball player. Couldn't be prouder. That's why we're in the business."
Yes, the history between DeRozan and Casey runs deep.
"I wouldn't be the player I am today. I wouldn't be sitting here. I wouldn't have the success I've had in my career if it wasn't for Casey," DeRozan said. "Casey for me is something bigger than a head coach I played for. He was sort of a father figure for me. He kind of allowed me to be myself on the basketball court and allowed me to grow into the player I am today.
"And with that, I'm forever in debt with Casey. He means the world to me. His family always treated me like family. His kids grew up with my kids. So it's something bigger than basketball for me with Casey."
DeRozan preceded Casey's arrival in Toronto, averaging 8.6 points during his rookie in 2009-10 as a 20-year-old under coach Jay Triano. Casey not only had DeRozan's father's blessing to push him, but also a willing worker in DeRozan himself, whom Casey said changed from a scrawny young kid to a physical force.
"He's such a dynamic player," Casey said.
Indeed, DeRozan grew from those modest beginnings to become a four-time All-Star who has posted eight straight seasons averaging 20 points or more. In his last season with the San Antonio Spurs, he also averaged a career-high 6.9 assists.
His addition during a bold Bulls offseason heightened expectations.
"When I first got there, he couldn't handle a double-team. Ask him about it. He was throwing that ball 15 rows up into the stands," Casey said. "But now to see him pick people apart with his passing, the game has really, really slowed down for him. One year, we experimented with getting him some 3s and he did a good job with it. But that's not who he is. He's one of the best midrange shooters in the history of the game."