February 11, 2014 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Pistons appear more in limbo now after coaching shakeup


Auburn Hills Theres nothing so hopelessly broken here that it cant be fixed.

The question now for the Pistons, though, is whos going to fix it?

Joe wont go. Not yet, anyway. But someone has to decide who stays and who doesnt at The Palace. And since it wasnt team president Joe Dumars decision to fire Maurice Cheeks as head coach, then its fair to ask whos calling the shots from here on out as the Pistons who throttled the San Antonio Spurs, 109-100, in John Loyers interim debut Monday night try to salvage whats left of this season and beyond.

Its Dumars thats making and taking the calls with the Feb. 20 trade deadline looming. Thats one reason why he wasnt let go along with Cheeks this weekend, as owner Tom Gores playoff mandate claimed its first victim. But is it Dumars call what direction they go next?

Gores was in town for a visit a week ago, and though he debriefed the players individually, he never spoke with Cheeks, which spoke volumes in hindsight. Why it took until Sunday to pull the trigger after back-to-back wins the previous two nights, no less remains a bit of a mystery, though Dumars lobbying for more time mightve had something to do with it.

Neither Gores nor Dumars spoke publicly Monday. And it was one of Gores lieutenants, Platinum Equity partner Phil Norment, who addressed the team Monday morning, according to veteran guard Chauncey Billups.

Their message was they want to give us the best opportunity to be successful, Billups said.

But defining success from this point forward is the biggest issue, really.

The Pistons entered Mondays play a half-game out of the playoffs in one direction and four games out of a lottery pick they can actually keep in the other direction. That put them squarely in limbo, which is an uncomfortable position for any NBA team, but particularly this one.

If the hope is simply to find a spark with Loyer, thats one thing. But if the goal is playoffs or bust With the talent we have now, theres no reason we shouldnt be in the playoff talk, point guard Brandon Jennings agreed Monday then theyll be under pressure to make a move in the next 10 days.

The alternative is to stand pat and hope for the best. Or hope for the worst, some would argue, since their first-round selection in this years well-stocked draft is only protected if its among the top eight picks. (Otherwise, itll belong to Charlotte as part of that doubly-depressing Ben Gordon trade two summers ago.)

Forward seems to be way

Problem is, if this team was too talented to be 21-29 after 50 games Gores was right about that, at least its probably too talented to completely tank and save that pick. See, even losing requires an organizational plan in this league, and too many other teams appear to have the Pistons beaten there.

So instead theyll press forward, trying to catch Charlotte theyre now tied for eighth with the Bobcats and Brooklyn while holding off the New York Knicks, among others.

Frankly, Id be mildly surprised if the Pistons dont find their way to the postseason. This is a young team thats still learning the hard way, but theyre above .500 the last month and finally starting to stagger the Big 3s minutes in a way that makes more sense. The fourth-quarter woes arent going to disappear Monday certainly had its moments as the Spurs cut a 20-point deficit to single digits but Loyer figures to be more proactive than Cheeks, at the very least.

Now, will management follow suit? The next week could be telling in that regard buy or sell? with Wednesdays game against Cleveland at The Palace followed by a home-and-home with Charlotte after the All-Star break.

Is a deal coming?

The Pistons will continue to listen to offers for Greg Monroe, or at least offers of offers for Monroe, wholl be a restricted free agent this summer. But it doesnt sound as if theyre actively shopping him, and theyve made it clear to other teams theyre not trading him for expiring contracts or picks.

Then again, theres a decent chance Monroes agent, David Falk, will find another team willing to force their hand with an offer sheet for a max-level contract in July. So what if theres a blockbuster deal to be made that could bring back, say, Arron Afflalo from Orlando?

A long shot, I realize, but whos making that call, and at what cost? And whos deciding what to do with those expiring contracts Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva? Whose agenda is it now, as the Pistons try to end this season on a different note, for a change.

Theres a chance, Billups said, for us to write a pretty good story here.

Maybe so, but whos writing it?


Pistons center Andre Drummond shoots over Spurs forward Danny Green in the second quarter Monday at The Palace of Auburn Hills. / Clarence Tabb Jr / Detroit News
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