The Detroit Pistons, built to make the 2014 playoffs, have lost 15 of 18. They’ve lost 15 of 18 in the wake of interim head coach John Loyer’s successful debut win over the San Antonio Spurs, they’ve tumbled six and a half games out of what is a rather embarrassing Eastern Conference playoff bracket, and the worst aspect of all of this is the way Detroit is going about its losing ways. It’s true that the team has played worse since former head coach Maurice Cheeks was fired just past the halfway point of his first season in Detroit, but the squad doesn’t look a whole hell of a lot different as it spirals to a miserable end.
That end will probably result in the release of Loyer as head coach when 2013-14 ends, and an attempt to dignify Joe Dumars’ removal as Pistons general manager. Dumars is a Detroit legend that won two titles with the team as a player, joined its front office in 2000 and took over for good as personnel boss in 2001 while putting together the eventual 2004 NBA champions, but he’s also gone through nine coaches since 2001, and the team hasn’t made the playoffs since a sub-.500 first round showing in 2009.
Since then, the Pistons have been purchased by Tom Gores, who has watched as Dumars signed Josh Smith to a large free agent deal, while trading for a freshly-signed Brandon Jennings. With his team now acting as the lamest of all the king’s ducks, Gores spoke to Detroit media during halftime of a Pistons/Los Angeles Clippers contest on Saturday.
Q: Why the sudden termination of Cheeks?
Gores: “It was the right thing to do. I feel good about it. It’s a very young team so we have to put them in a position to do well as much as possible. I felt they were not in a position to grow as much as possible so I feel good about it.”
Q: Has the team responded the way you hoped it would to the move? (The Pistons are 4-15 since the firing).
Gores: “The team is better than their record. They just are. They’re better than their record so I wouldn’t say they didn’t respond. They’re doing their best right now. I believe in these guys. I believe in this team.”
Perhaps pointing out that you “feel good about” someone losing their job isn’t the best choice of words, but Cheeks has flamed out as a head coach in two different spots, and his team was making terrible decisions on both ends of the court with him in charge. This hasn’t changed much under Loyer, so it’s hard to understand why Gores thinks his team is “better than their record,” outside of just trying to say nice things about the roster he’s paying nearly $62 million for this year.
When asked if he would be reviewing Loyer and more importantly Dumars’ status once the season ends, Gores didn’t hold back. From the Detroit News:
“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.”
Gores went on to repeat that the Pistons “have to” take a look at wholesale personnel changes twice, that they “gotta get it done,” and that they’re “gonna get it done.” Just in case you were left wondering about such things.
Joe Dumars is a good man, and he did well to accurately pounce on undervalued players while putting the 2004 Piston champions together. In many ways, that championship team was undercut by Larry Brown’s need for attention (talking with both Cavaliers and Knicks representatives for a GM and/or coaching gig while still working with Detroit in 2005) and the fact that Rasheed Wallace (now a Pistons assistant) couldn’t be bothered to sustain his role as a leader under any coach outside of Brown. And it is true that Dumars was left in basketball purgatory while waiting out an ownership change from the late Bill Davidson to Tom Gores.
Dumars is also the guy that traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, then needlessly extending Richard Hamilton’s contract with Detroit (losing cap space and paying Hamilton through his declining years) days later. Iverson walked out on the Pistons just before their last playoff year, and the cap space that his expiring deal netted only brought Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to town. The Pistons had to pay the Charlotte Bobcats a first round pick just to rid themselves of the last year of Gordon’s deal.
The cap space gleaned from that move brought in Smith and Jennings, two sickly shooting square pegs, and the pick they gave up could go to the Bobcats this year if Detroit ends up selecting out of the top eight. The team currently has the eighth-worst record in the NBA – they’re lucky to have Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings around for that.
If Dumars is replaced, the new GM will have a devil of a time trying to come up with a rotation that plays well off of each other. The Pistons will have cap space this summer with Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey’s large deals coming off the ledger, but the team will be faced with Greg Monroe’s restricted free agency, and the scoring big man will receive large offers in a 2014 market that should shift in the players’ favor. A tenth coach in 13 years will have to be hired, and the team will have to desperately try to enhance both Smith and Jennings’ trade value in a league that has more or less made up its minds on both players. And the team’s 2015 draft pick is almost certainly slated to head to Charlotte.
That’s a tough gig, and for all the cap potential and three-banner championship history, one that doesn’t seem all that enviable. It will also be Gores’ first big basketball decision, one presumably made without the help of Dumars or Phil Jackson, who reportedly advised the Pistons to go away from Cheeks as a head coach last summer.
For now, the team is left to lose away with 13 games left to play, securing the high end draft pick and making the decision to end the Joe Dumars era all that easier. Sadly, the Pistons have the personnel on hand to follow through on this game plan.
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