February 11, 2014 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Pistons appear more in limbo now after coaching shakeup


Auburn Hills — There’s nothing so hopelessly broken here that it can’t be fixed.

The question now for the Pistons, though, is who’s going to fix it?

Joe won’t go. Not yet, anyway. But someone has to decide who stays and who doesn’t at The Palace. And since it wasn’t team president Joe Dumars’ decision to fire Maurice Cheeks as head coach, then it’s fair to ask who’s calling the shots from here on out as the Pistons — who throttled the San Antonio Spurs, 109-100, in John Loyer’s interim debut Monday night — try to salvage what’s left of this season and beyond.

It’s Dumars that’s making and taking the calls with the Feb. 20 trade deadline looming. That’s one reason why he wasn’t 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 might’ve 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 Monday’s 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, that’s one thing. But if the goal is playoffs or bust — “With the talent we have now, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the playoff talk,” point guard Brandon Jennings agreed Monday — then they’ll 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 year’s well-stocked draft is only protected if it’s among the top eight picks. (Otherwise, it’ll 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 — it’s 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 they’ll press forward, trying to catch Charlotte — they’re now tied for eighth with the Bobcats — and Brooklyn while holding off the New York Knicks, among others.

Frankly, I’d be mildly surprised if the Pistons don’t find their way to the postseason. This is a young team that’s still learning the hard way, but they’re above .500 the last month and finally starting to stagger the Big 3’s minutes in a way that makes more sense. The fourth-quarter woes aren’t 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 Wednesday’s 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, who’ll be a restricted free agent this summer. But it doesn’t sound as if they’re actively shopping him, and they’ve made it clear to other teams they’re not trading him for expiring contracts or picks.

Then again, there’s a decent chance Monroe’s 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 there’s a blockbuster deal to be made that could bring back, say, Arron Afflalo from Orlando?

A long shot, I realize, but who’s making that call, and at what cost? And who’s 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.

“There’s a chance,” Billups said, “for us to write a pretty good story here.”

Maybe so, but who’s 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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