Maurice Cheeks is 17-23 in his first season as Pistons coach. (Clarence Tabb Jr / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — Let’s get through all of the excuses for why Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks is struggling as a coach along with his team.
The Pistons are too young. The Pistons have pieces that don’t fit. And finally, the Pistons lack grit and championship pedigree.
I actually agree with much of the spin that comes out of The Palace. But here is the bottom line: Even with all the square pegs and round holes, this should at least be a .500 team in an Eastern Conference that hasn’t been this bad since Wilt Chamberlain was in diapers.
The Pistons enter Monday’s Martin Luther King matinee in the seventh playoff position. That is good news for most young teams. It’s not good news when you are 17-23 and struggle to win home games.
That is coaching. And Cheeks deserves his share of blame. We know there is one thing the man does not like. And that is breaks.
His team comes out unfocused following lengthy breaks in the schedule. (The Charlotte Bobcats must be licking their chops because they play the Pistons out of the All-Star break.) And Cheeks is mediocre as an X’s and O’s guy out of timeout breaks during games.
I watch a number of NCAA and NBA games, and it seems like the team scores more than 50 percent of the time out of a timeout. The Pistons usually turn it over or launch a wacky shot.
The Pistons are a work in progress. And Cheeks is a work in progress. The Pistons don’t know what they are as a team and Cheeks is still figuring that out. He has been candid at times, admitting he does not know why this product is so bad. A coach should know. But Cheeks deserves a semi-pass because this team is so bizarre.
I spoke with a number of NBA people including Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra, who said not to judge this team until February. If Cheeks does not have it figured out by then, he may never get it right this season.
Here are some distressing things about the Pistons at the midway point.
■ They are 7-13 at home. The NBA is a league where home teams win the majority of their games. Seventeen of the 32 teams have winning records. The Pistons are tied for 27th in home records with Orlando and the New York Knicks.
■ The Pistons are a very good first-half team when they push the ball up the floor and are scoring. Once teams clamp down on them defensively they struggle as a half-court team. This is where Cheeks must step in for some harsh and candid coaching with Jennings.
Pass on skills
Jennings is wonderful in transition. He finds open players, breaks down defenses and makes things happen. He becomes frustrated and forces shots when he is forced to play half court or teams are making runs.
The Pistons used to have a player like that. His name was Chauncey Ray Billups, aka Mr. Big Shot. Former point guard Larry Brown came in and changed Billups for the better. Billups did not always like it. He clashed with the coach and wanted to be away from him.
But guess what? Billups became an All-Star guard and won the 2004 NBA Finals MVP. Cheeks is also a former point guard. He must pass along his skills and knowledge to Jennings even if the teaching process hurts.
Isiah Thomas struggled with the balance of scoring and being a quarterback early in his career. He found the right blend and won two titles.
Forget the three-headed monster inside. If Cheeks can reach one person, it needs to be Jennings. It would make all the difference in the world.
Time to change
Here is the other odd thing about the Pistons. Teams love a few days off to rest injuries. The Pistons have lost games by an average of 22 points following breaks of four days or more. What are they doing? Eating pie and cookies?
This is a playoff team that might not make the playoffs. The Pistons are not experienced enough or mature enough to figure it out for themselves. That is Cheeks’ job.
It is time to get things rolling and it starts with the coach.