Basketball / Sports

Pistons fire head coach Maurice Cheeks after only 50 games at the helm

DETROIT -- Two straight blowout victories weren't enough to save Maurice Cheeks.

The Detroit Pistons coaching carousel reached new lows this morning when the organization decided to fire Cheeks just 50 games into his Pistons tenure.

Assistant John Loyer is the interim coach and will be the ninth head coach of Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars' tenure that began prior to the 2000-01 season.

But this move was pushed by Tom Gores, who is in the middle of his third season.

"Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change," Gores said in a release. "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. The responsibility does not fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is a necessary step toward turning this thing around.

"I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up. I respect and appreciate Maurice Cheeks and thank him for his efforts; we just require a different approach."

The decision was made last weekend when Gores was in town from his Beverly Hills, Calif.-based private equity firm, Platinum Equity.

Gores and his ownership team were troubled by Cheeks' game management as evidenced by troublesome fourth-quarter collapses featuring stagnant offense.

The Pistons have one of the youngest rosters in the league, and there was a feeling Cheeks wasn't inspiring players nor improving skills.

For a coach who was known for player relations, he had several run-ins with Josh Smith. There was the night in Dallas when there was obviously something between him and franchise cornerstone Andre Drummond. Then there was the bench blow-up with backup point guard Will Bynum in Wednesday night's blowout loss at Orlando.

It probably was a troubling sign early in the season that players said Chauncey Billups was better at explaining concepts than Cheeks.

And from ownership's perspective, a 21-29 record and sitting just outside the playoff picture wasn't cutting it -- especially when considering the off-season roster overhaul featuring eight new faces.

Gores gave a window into his thoughts to reporters following the Pistons' 113-96 victory over the 76ers on Feb.1.

"I'm not satisfied ... our job is to make sure that the players are working at their maximum," he said. "So I'm not satisfied with the job I'm doing, I'm not satisfied with the job anybody's doing right now, including myself.

"We have to get better and these young men work really, really hard. I feel like our job is to make sure that they are at their maximum, and I don't think they're at their maximum."

Cheeks was delivered the news in a meeting this morning -- hours after the Pistons' 17-point victory at the Palace over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

The players took to Twitter and expressed surprise.

Point guard Brandon Jennings wrote, "Wait what."

Charlie Villanueva added, "Is is true?"

Later Jennings wrote, "I will like to thank Mo Cheeks for everything, thank you for helping me become a better person & player. I'm still learning."

Despite speculation that former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins will be an option, Loyer will run the team for the rest of the season. Hollins was talked to about an assistant coach job with the Pistons last summer.

It's doubtful the Pistons would look to hire a coach right now with Dumars in the final year of his contract. Dumars wanted to wait until the All-Star break to make a coaching change, but Gores' decision was final.

"This was a difficult decision for the organization to make, but we needed to make a change," Dumars said in the release. "We have great respect for Maurice and appreciate his hard work."

Cheeks, 57, was hired after spending four seasons as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He had previous head coaching experience with Portland and Philadelphia, where he starred as a point guard during his playing days for the 76ers.

He was credited with helping the development of Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook -- a major factor in his hiring.

Cheeks came cheap. He was hired to a three-year deal with the third year a team option, meaning the Pistons only owe Cheeks for the rest of this season and next.

In Cheeks' defense, this is tough job.

Smith is a mercurial talent that clashed with coaches on his previous team in Atlanta. Jennings is trying to become more of a facilitator after being acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks as a shoot-first point guard.

The frontline of Smith, Greg Monroe and Drummond isn't traditional with Smith, a natural power forward, out of position at small forward. Monroe, a natural center, is at power forward.

It's a lineup that required creativity -- a talent Cheeks didn't display in 50 games.

(c)2014 Detroit Free Press

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