Gores ran out of patience with Cheeks' underachieving Pistons
FEB 09, 2014 2:28p ET
In an odd way, Maurice Cheeks might have been done in by his final successes.
When Pistons owner Tom Gores spoke to the media last weekend, it was quite clear that he felt the team was underachieving. He never mentioned Cheeks by name, but discussed his disappointment in the way that the team was prepared for games, and said that he didn't feel like they were getting the most out of the players.
He also said that he didn't believe the team needed changes before the trading deadline, stressing over and over that the focus had to be on doing a better job of working with the roster that Joe Dumars had assembled.
Gores confirmed that thinking in a statement released early Sunday afternoon.
“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change”
"Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change," he said. "We have not made the kind of progress that we should have over the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be growing pains, but we can be patient only as long as there is progress."
So, when the Pistons posted impressive home wins over the Nets and Nuggets this weekend, instead of saving Cheeks' job, it proved to someone that there was a great deal of talent being wasted under his coaching. Even in the victories, there had been nagging signs of the problems that haunted Cheeks all season. Brooklyn, with all five starters on the bench, cut a 29-point deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter, and Cheeks benched Will Bynum for both games after an on-court argument earlier in the week in Orlando.
While Chauncey Billups filled in for Bynum against Brooklyn, his bad knee doesn't allow him to play back-to-back games, so he wasn't available for the Denver game. Cheeks still didn't use Bynum, leaving Detroit without a backup point guard in a high-tempo game that was Detroit's fourth in five nights. This had been Cheeks' first clash with Bynum, but he has benched Josh Smith on multiple occasions, and pulled his entire front line out of one game in the first three minutes of the second half.
So, when things came together on Saturday, with Brandon Jennings putting up 35 points and 12 assists -- the first Piston to do that since Isiah Thomas in 1988 -- and Smith adding 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, it was simultaneously a victory for the way Dumars had rebuilt the roster last summer and another reason to question why the Pistons couldn't play like that every night.
Of course, the victories came against a poor Brooklyn team that was missing Kevin Garnett and a Denver team that doesn't play defense and lost its leading scorer, Ty Lawson, to a fractured rib in the first half. When the Pistons play better, healthier teams, they will face the same questions about their offense -- can a team function with so many players that need to get to the basket, especially when they shoot so badly from the outside?
That was an area where Cheeks didn't help himself by making very little effort to get Kentavious Caldwell-Pope into the offense. When Dumars picked the Georgia shooting guard over Trey Burke, one of the reasons he gave was that Detroit needed to find an outside shooter. Instead, Cheeks said on multiple occasions that he wasn't running a single play for Caldwell-Pope, yet he kept him in the starting lineup as a kind of defensive specialist.
That ended recently, with Kyle Singler bringing his streaky 3-pointers to the lineup, but by that point, it is hard to know if Cheeks made that decision by himself or if he was pushed into it from above. He certainly never found a way to use Smith effectively, although it is hard to see how that can be done with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the floor, and he was never able to convince Jennings that he needed to keep playing point guard late in games instead of falling back into his natural role of trying to shoot his team to victory.
Gores made it quite clear that he wanted a playoff team this season, and that he felt Dumars had built a roster capable of doing that. Instead, the team has spent most of the season flirting with the worst possible scenario -- missing out on the postseason and still losing their first-round pick to Charlotte -- a choice they gave up in order to dump Ben Gordon's contract.
According to multiple media reports, the Pistons are going to elevate assistant John Loyer to the head coaching role for the rest of the season. Loyer's last head coaching experience was at Wabash Valley College, and he has been an assistant for almost all of his career, both in college and the NBA. He came to the Pistons from New Jersey with Lawrence Frank, and was kept on by Cheeks.
Loyer will have less than half of a season to get the team headed in the right direction. That won't be easy -- the Pistons don't have a happy locker room right now -- but Dumars' job might rest on his success.