Auburn Hills -- This is not acceptable anymore. That's what Pistons owner Tom Gores essentially said, and I assume it's what he meant. But they're just words, and this is a franchise in dire need of action.
Lawrence Frank certainly didn't receive an endorsement from the owner Monday night, and now faces the fate of every Pistons coach. He was given an impossible task and didn't do it well, and Gores would be justified in firing him.
But does it end there? Joe Dumars' job also could be in jeopardy, and his situation is more complicated, the biggest test of Gores' two-year ownership. If judged solely on the current four-year stretch that includes a 111-200 record, multiple coach firings and one infamous player insurrection, Dumars should be dismissed. On the whole of his executive career, including the 2004 NBA championship and six trips to the Eastern Conference Final, he warrants another shot.
But someone has to explain the losing and the fan apathy and the inability of anyone to firmly lead a once-proud franchise. Eventually, Gores will have to do something impactful, as he promised when he bought the team. If Frank was the owner's choice — not Dumars' choice — then Gores needs to admit his mistake and fire him. It's hard to trust Dumars to hire yet another coach, but Gores has to show complete faith, or get rid of both.
"I'd say I expected better results," Gores said before the Pistons closed their home schedule with a 109-101 victory over the 76ers. "I met with Joe and Lawrence (Sunday) and let them know that, so that's very, very clear to me. They're great guys that know their business, but I'm here assessing everything. … I think it's a critical time for the franchise. We're gonna do this very, very quickly, but thoroughly."
Is either of their jobs safe?
"We're assessing that right now," Gores said. "Look, I think both of them, including ownership, has to be accountable for the year. We have a great core of young players, but we have to be accountable. I expected to be in the playoffs, so I'm disappointed by that. When I said that last year, I meant it."
He said he expected to make the playoffs and the Pistons are 29-52. There are some mitigating circumstances, including the injury to rookie Andre Drummond, who looks like an excellent building block. Greg Monroe is a significant piece, too.
Beyond that? Well, the Pistons have an intriguing unknown in Brandon Knight and a lot of average parts that could be gone. Oh, and they have $20 million in cap space, which makes the immediate future so important.
I asked Frank if he was worried about his status.
"I can't decide my fate other than by doing my job every single day," he said. "At the end of the day, that's Tom's decision, and that's why he owns the team."
Gores isn't here often, attending a handful of Pistons games while living primarily in California, so in the absence of visible action, we must hold him to his words. And he's smart enough to recognize patience wanes as the Pistons' profile keeps dropping. This offseason presents an opportunity for bold moves, and Gores has to have the right leadership in place.
He also better be willing to spend.
"Yes, you can tell the world — we're ready to spend," Gores said. "We've got a lot of (cap) room. We've set ourselves up financially, and basketball operations set ourselves up. So I'm very excited about the future, but I'm not content about how we performed this year."
Tough decisions await
I think Gores genuinely likes Frank, who has dealt with his wife's illness all year. But the team hasn't responded to his coaching and doesn't play defense like it matters. There has been a poor atmosphere of player entitlement here that Dumars was slow to address, and his response always is the same — fire the coach.
None of Dumars' five previous coaches — Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown, Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, John Kuester — lasted more than three seasons. On balance, though, Dumars has built up impressive equity as a player and executive, is respected around the league, and his draft picks and trades have been solid since Gores took over.
But the last time the Pistons had major cap space, Dumars miscalculated badly on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. He gave untenable contracts to Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey, although he wisely corrected some errors by trading Hamilton and Prince.
Whether he likes it or not, Gores has run smack into a crossroad. Does he trust Frank to be his coach? I doubt it. Does he trust Dumars to lead the franchise back? His excitement about the future indicates he might, but it falls short of an endorsement.
So how will he decide the fates of his coach and others?
"It'll be a discussion, and I have to be involved because I'm taking care of this franchise," Gores said. "I can tell you Lawrence is a tremendous guy. I've gotten to know him over the last couple of years. But I have to really think about this franchise and what the best thing is for the future."
Something needs to change with the Pistons, and someone has to be strong enough to change it. The owner talks a good game, but we're waiting to see something impactful.