This isn't the first coaching change Chauncey Billups has seen in his NBA career, even as a Piston. (Clarence Tabb Jr / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — Surprise seemed to be prevailing emotion felt by the available Pistons players Monday when asked about Maurice Cheeks’ firing, which went down Sunday morning.
A group text was how the team was alerted to Cheeks’ dismissal after only 50 games — and a 21-29 record. John Loyer, an assistant under both Cheeks and Lawrence Frank in Detroit, takes over for the next 32 games.
“It was definitely a surprise to me. Not something I expected,” said Pistons forward Greg Monroe, who’s on his fourth coach since being drafted in 2010. “I wish him the best. You never expect anyone to lose their job.”
The surprise was because the Pistons have won four of their last six games, with one defeat being a competitive game in Miami against the two-time champions.
But ownership felt Cheeks’ shortcomings were something he couldn’t overcome, sins too egregious to give him the rest of the season — which can either be taken as a sign of impatience or one of urgency.
The missive sent to the players by owner Tom Gores, at least through Platinum Equity executive Phil Norment, was clear as he addressed the team in the morning shootaround. The last 32 games are about improvement and qualifying for the postseason, not tanking and placing blame.
“His message really is giving us the best opportunity to be successful,” guard Chauncey Billups said. “They wanted us to know they believe in us and expect a certain degree of excellence from us. They’re gonna make the commitment to try to give us the tools to be successful and we should make the same commitment. I thought it was good.”
Billups has gone through this more times than he’d care to remember, for better or worse. He told members of the fourth-youngest team in the NBA this was how the league goes. Players and coaches are recycled and expendable.
“My message to the young guys is to look at yourself and what it is you can do to help the team,” Billups said. “Not worrying about where they’re placing the blame.”
If there was one player who was frustrated with the state of affairs, particularly given the team’s struggles in the fourth quarters of games they easily gave away, Billups would be it.
“I think at some point, good bad or indifferent, and this is from little to college to pro, the team will always be a reflection of the head coach,” Billups said. “We haven’t been great in the fourth quarters and closing out. I’m not saying that’s because of Mo Cheeks because he tried to coach his behind off and inexperience just showed up.”
Billups said Loyer’s attention to detail is probably what a young team needs, giving specific instructions about what to do when games get tight.
“I don’t know if Mo’s (the) problem, but I do think John is more offensive-minded as far as details and small things,” Billups said. “Maybe it’ll help; I hope so.”
Billups hopes players look within instead of outward between now and the end of the season.
“Coaching is tough. When you win, it’s the players and when you lose it’s on (coaches),” Billups said. “I always tell them it’s about you and what you can bring and contribute. At the end when you go home and look in the mirror, are you looking at someone putting their best foot forward?”