Los Angeles — Tom Gores made his boldest move as Pistons owner a month ago in firing his first-year head coach.
On Saturday Gores was at Staples Center to watch his struggling team lose yet another game — but he stood behind the switch he made in February.
“It was the right thing to do. I feel good about it,” Gores said at halftime of the Pistons-Clippers game, the Pistons’ 15th loss in 19 games since Maurice Cheeks was replaced by John Loyer.
“It was a very young team. Very young. So we have to put them in a position to grow as much as possible and I felt they weren’t in a position.”
Gores will be front and center next week at The Palace during the Bad Boys reunion, and he’ll face public reaction for the first time since the coaching change. While he’s excited about the events leading up to Friday’s reunion, he knows he’ll have to address the media again, and he used Saturday’s game to set the table.
The last time Gores spoke publicly, it was one week before he fired Cheeks and his disappointment with the underachieving product on the floor was quite obvious. In his third year as Pistons owner, his expectations of making the playoffs was clear in the wake of the trade of Ben Gordon and free agency moves. Gores’ firing of Cheeks underlined that expectation.
But it was still seen by some as a premature move and perhaps a referendum on Pistons President Joe Dumars — or at least an indication Gores didn’t have full confidence in one of the few execs who has built a championship team.
“The team is better than their record,” Gores said, echoing his sentiments from Feb. 1. “They just are. I wouldn’t say they didn’t respond. They’re just doing their best right now. I believe in this team.”
With Dumars in the final year of his contract, and John Loyer coaching with an interim label, Gores said their status will be addressed sooner rather than later.
The Pistons face the prospect of perhaps having hunt for a general manager and head coach within weeks of the draft.
“Oh yeah after the season, we’ll address it right away,” Gores said. “We have to let the season play out. We won’t wait around. I had one goal for us, to be competitive. Detroit needs for us to be a champion.”
The Pistons are a long way from being champions. They’re currently tumbling further from the playoff race and most discussion centers on the prospect of their keeping their top-eight protected lottery pick, which won’t be decided until late May.
Gores, and his partners at Platinum Equity, shot down the idea of tanking the rest of the season to preserve the draft pick, although the Pistons have won just three games, suggesting they needn’t try to tank to lose games.
“Well first of all I’m not giving up. No way. It’s not possible,” Gores said. “We have to keep building. We have great building blocks in our young guys. Look, we have a lot to do. There’s no way that anything great happens without tough times. That’s the way it goes. So I’m comfortable.”
Gores apologized to the fans in Detroit, stating a need to help steer the franchise back to glory.
The rumor mill has been about the direction of the team, and Gores’ official silence has been conspicuous.
Pistons great Isiah Thomas sat courtside Saturday, several seats down from Gores, and the two chatted at halftime while players from both sides came to say hello.
The two have been in contact because of the Bad Boys reunion, and Thomas declined to comment on any future matters after the game.
"I’m not in a position to critique the team and look at it that way. I’m only a fan," Thomas said. "Every night I watch them I want them to win and play well."
Gores did his best to remain upbeat.
“We have to finish this season. We’re gonna get it done,” Gores said. “Then we’re gonna regroup and reflect. I’m not giving up on Detroit and our guys. We had a huddle tonight, all our guys. All the guys who play the game, we don’t give up on those guys. It’s up to me to make sure they realize they have the backing.”
Whether the players had something to do with Cheeks’ firing is just conjecture at this point, but Gores made certain that if they had concerns, he’s listening.
“I think they appreciate me being involved. I think they appreciate the fact that we care,” Gores said. “These guys, everybody wants to put it (blame) on the players, we have to create an environment. John Loyer’s doing a great job.”