Maurice Cheeks didn’t work out, just like the coach before him and the coach before him and the coach before him. Nothing much works anymore with the Pistons, who are broken beyond repair.
Joe Dumars has tried everything to recapture what the franchise once had, and he’s just about out of time. When the Pistons fired Cheeks on Sunday morning, it wasn’t even Dumars’ call, and that tells you plenty about his precarious standing. Dumars isn’t leaving today, but at the end of the season, a change seems increasingly inevitable.
It was owner Tom Gores’ move to dismiss Cheeks just 50 games into his first season, with the Pistons muddling along at 21-29, and install interim John Loyer.
It will be Gores’ call after the season when Dumars’ contract runs out, and it’s hard to imagine this mess getting fixed by then.
Barring a sudden turnaround, it finally will be Dumars’ turn to be held accountable. A major overhaul is needed, and I actually think Dumars might agree it’s time to go. He has seen up close the deterioration of a championship franchise, after winning two titles as a player and another as team president. Since that 2004 run, and the 2009 death of owner Bill Davidson, it has fallen apart, and the Pistons have changed coaches eight times under Dumars.
“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Gores said in a statement. “We have not made the kind of progress that we should have over the first half of the season.”
It's not working
Gores had voiced displeasure with the team’s development during a visit last week, and two victories over the weekend couldn’t save Cheeks’ job. This was Gores’ firing, but Cheeks was Dumars’ hiring, and it becomes another blunder.
Cheeks didn’t provide what the Pistons needed — a calm, experienced leader of a young team. He made strange lineup decisions as the Pistons crafted an astonishing tendency to blow fourth-quarter leads. Recently, Cheeks and backup guard Will Bynum got into a verbal spat during a game, and Cheeks struggled to direct a haphazardly constructed roster, not that he got much time.
The Pistons spent a ton on free-agent Josh Smith and gambled a ton picking up mercurial guard Brandon Jennings. Dumars had a mandate from Gores to build a playoff team, so he went for it. Was Gores unrealistic with his timetable? Not really. Even if he was, that doesn’t absolve Dumars of poor choices.
This isn’t all Dumars’ fault, but there’s no one else left to find culpable. He rightly earned latitude as a respected Piston great who built one of the NBA’s unique championship teams a decade ago. There’s no need for acrimony, and I’d guess Dumars and Gores will reach an amicable resolution at some point.
The Pistons have been chasing ghosts for a while, signing high-risk free-agents and low-reward coaches in a desperate series of short-term fixes. It’s a noble goal to be aggressive and try to rebound quickly, but short-term fixes generally don’t stay fixed.
Loyer likely will hold the position until the end of the season, and that also says something. Instead of having Dumars nab an available veteran such as former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, the Pistons are willing to ride it out, then reassess.
Reaching the playoffs is eminently possible in the woeful Eastern Conference, but it doesn’t really mean much. Some fans want the Pistons to tank to ensure a top-eight draft pick; otherwise, they might lose it.
That conundrum is the product of a previous questionable move by Dumars, who sent a contingent first-round pick to Charlotte to facilitate the salary dump of free-agent bust Ben Gordon. The Pistons have made mistakes chasing mistakes. Gores made billions buying fixer-upper companies, so he had to know the Pistons were a classic fixer-upper, although it’s still startling to see all the empty seats at The Palace.
More to come?
Gores isn’t here often but has become increasingly impatient — understandably impatient. The Pistons show flashes, winning games at Miami and at Indiana, but are turnover-prone and gaffe-heavy.
Dumars had a great relationship with Davidson but now reacts with less certainty, seemingly making moves just to make them. There were the horrible signings of Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. There’s the curious case of Smith, a top talent out of position on a frontline with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.
Rather than draft Michigan’s Trey Burke (having a fine rookie season in Utah), Dumars went for the taller Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. It was inexplicable, and the long-term damage could be staggering. The Pistons were fearful they wouldn’t make the playoffs with a rookie point guard, but they might not make it without one, either.
Mistakes compounding mistakes, hirings after firings after hirings. The Pistons flip coaches like Gores flips businesses, and it doesn’t even matter who the next guy will be. More telling, it doesn’t appear Dumars will get to make the choice, as a long run nears its end.