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By firing Maurice Cheeks, Tom Gores asserts control and marks Joe Dumars as next to fall

The Detroit Pistons have been down this road before. Too many times, in fact.

But this trip is different, the backseat driver now behind the wheel and all pretenses of status quo dropped.

Look back at the official press releases for the hiring and firing of the Pistons’ last half dozen coaches:

Hiring Larry Brown:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that the team has named Larry Brown as head coach, signing him to a multi-year contract.

Firing Larry Brown:

Detroit Pistons’ President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars relieved Larry Brown of his coaching duties, it was announced today.

Hiring Flip Saunders:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that the team has named Flip Saunders as head coach, signing him to a multi-year contract.

Firing Flip Saunders:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that Flip Saunders will not return next season as the team’s head coach.

Hiring Michael Curry:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that the team has named Michael Curry as head coach, signing him to a multi-year contract.

Firing Michael Curry:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that Michael Curry will not return next season as the team’s head coach.

Hiring John Kuester:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that the team has named John Kuester as head coach, signing him to a multi-year contract.

Firing John Kuester*:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that John Kuester will not return next season as the team’s head coach.

Firing Lawrence Frank:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that Lawrence Frank will not return as the team’s head coach.

Hiring Maurice Cheeks:

Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that the club has named Maurice Cheeks as head coach, signing him to a multi-year contract.

Firing Maurice Cheeks:

The Detroit Pistons announced today that Maurice Cheeks has been relieved of his head coaching duties.

Notice the pattern? In every posted press release – it seems the one announcing Frank’s hiring, which occurred during the lockout, has been lost to history – “Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars” is the subject.

Until now.

Conspicuously, “The Detroit Pistons,” not “Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars,” fired Maurice Cheeks. Whether the change to the boilerplate language was deliberate or not, the alteration speaks to what is becoming increasingly true in Auburn Hills:

The Pistons aren’t Dumars, and Dumars isn’t the Pistons. Not anymore.

If you want to understand the crux of the situation, these two sentences from the initial report on the firing will cover you. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Owner Tom Gores had become increasingly impatient with Cheeks, and sources with knowledge of his plans say that he had been pushing for a change in the coaching staff.

Eight different coaches have been replaced under Dumars’ run as GM, but league sources told Yahoo Sports he had been an advocate of giving Cheeks more time as coach – especially in light of back-to-back victories over the weekend.

Gores wanted to fire Cheeks, and Dumars wanted to give the coach more time.

The scenario’s end was both uncomplicated and predictable.

Gores owns the Pistons, and that gives him absolute power to control the franchise’s personnel. Some of that responsibility falls on Dumars, but only to the extent Gores defers it.

Now, it seems the only thing Gores is deferring is removing Dumars as the Pistons’ general manager – and that delay might not last long.

Maurice Cheeks’ firing justified

The Pistons put a bad coach in position to fail, and he failed.

The sad reality is the Pistons would have been better off firing Cheeks at literally any point after hiring him. Two minutes, two months and even after his two-game win streak. Getting too caught up in the timing or the roster issues only misses the matter at hand.

Cheeks is a bad NBA head coach. Any hope that he’d improved enough since the Trail Blazers and 76ers had long gone out the window. It had became so painfully obvious Cheeks couldn’t handle the job, the Pistons fired him after just 50 games – giving him the shortest tenure in franchise history aside from a couple interim coaches.

In fact, it’s been eight years since any non-interim NBA coach has had such a short run with his team.

In the last 20 years, just five coaches had been fired during their first season with a team: Terry Porter (28-23 with the 2008-09 Phoenix Suns), Bob Weiss (13-17 with the 2005-06 Seattle SuperSonics), Randy Ayers (21-31 with the 2003-04 Philadelphia 76ers), Gar Heard (14-30 with the 1999-00 Washington Wizards), Don Nelson (34-25 with the 1995-96 New York Knicks).

Honestly, I was surprised the list was so long. But four of the five coaches had something in common: Their team had a winning season the year prior to their arrival.

Cheeks – who took over a team that went 29-53 last season – certainly didn’t share the pressure of preserving a winner. Maybe the Pistons were too impatient, but more likely, Cheeks performed just that terribly.

Interestingly, the other exception might soon soon share a common thread with Cheeks.

Heard was fired just 10 days after Michael Jordan became the Wizards’ president of basketball operations. New executives typically want to hire their own coach.

In Washington, the front-office domino fell first. In Detroit, the head coach changed first. I suspect the result will be the same either way: A total overhaul.

Joe Dumars, Tom Gores never clicked together

Right now, how much does Gores regret retaining Dumars in the first place?

In Gores’ first season, the Pistons rushed to re-sign players already acquired by Dumars with presumption a new coach, Lawrence Frank, would fix everything. The Pistons flopped to a 25-41 record.

Before next year, Gores demanded a playoff appearance and stressed his impatience. Again, the Pistons struggled, but their eye was clearly toward 2013-14.

Well, 2013-14 is here, and the Pistons are only marginally better.

The assumption all along was that Dumars must make the playoffs to keep his job. Now, I’m not sure even that will be enough. Gores so publicly undercutting Dumars clearly bodes poorly for No. 4.

But if Gores wanted to fire Dumars now too, he could have. The owner, for whatever reason, granted a stay of execution. Though it’s possible Gores wants to give Dumars the dignity of completing his contract or just can’t hire his desired replacement until the offseason, I choose to believe that means Dumars has a chance – not matter how slim – to keep his job beyond this year.

When the Pistons hired Cheeks, I wrote the move would likely end Dumars’ stint as general manager. Cheeks had already proven himself beneath the caliber of a good NBA head coach, and apparently needing a playoff berth to get a new contract, Dumars seemed to have tied his fate to the wrong coach.

Now, Dumars’ best chance is that hindsight makes Cheeks look like the worst coach of all time.

If interim coach John Loyer can somehow blend the Pistons’ mismatching talents and boost the Pistons soundly into the playoffs, that would give credit to the roster Dumars assembled. Dumars might still fall considerably short in hiring coaches, but if Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Chauncey Billups are actually the caliber of players Dumars hoped them to be when acquiring them, that would at least complicate Gores’ pending decision. Is a general manager who can form a strong team of players but can’t hire a good coach to lead them worth keeping? With a plan to fix the coaching-search process, maybe. General managers who can form a strong team of players – regardless of any other shortcomings – are a valuable commodity.

That is an extreme longshot, though. Smith, Jennings and Billups could be used better, but raising their contributions into job-saving territory won’t be easy.

I can’t imagine Gores, after the disappointments of the last three years, is searching for reasons to keep Dumars – though I doubt he’d find any, anyway.

Joe Dumars’ day of reckoning will come

The Pistons have bigger problems than Cheeks, but Cheeks was the problem they fixed now.

Cheeks’ firing should put to rest any suggestions of tanking. Gores did not want to tank and does not want to tank. Period. If he did, he would have kept the overmatched Cheeks.

This is about re-configuring on the fly and making another run at a playoff berth that is, somehow, still very attainable. In the 2013-14 Eastern Conference, it was neither too early nor too late to fire Cheeks.

And if tanking was never organizational goal, as much as the Pistons’ in-season decisions comically suggested otherwise, Dumars will not be let off the hook. Dumars built this failed roster that hastened, but didn’t cause, Cheeks’ demise. Dumars, unlike previously, led last summer’s coaching search and signed off on Cheeks. Even if Dumars preferred a different coach – and circumstantial evidence suggests he would have hired Nate McMillan – every general manager must work under his boss’s direction, and Dumars made Cheeks the Gores-approved hire when there certainly would have been better coaches who appeased the owner.

Not that appeasing the owner is easy for Dumars, who thrived under the ever-present but rarely interfering Bill Davidson. Gores is certainly not Bill Davidson.

Gores bought the Pistons for $420 million. Last month, his company, Platinum Equity, purchased a majority share of a company valued at $583 million. The month prior, Platinum Equity bought a company for $1.1 billion.

That’s why he’s not around The Palace more often. Still in the prime of his career, Gores has other professional priorities with even more money on the line.

But from time to time, he swoops in, making changes as he sees fit. His last visit meant the coach changed. His next visit might mean the general manager changes.

Gores has earned the right to be impulsive, and maybe Cheeks’ firing came on whim. However, a thorough analysis would have led to the same result.

Dumars too could be cast out for either reason. It’s up to Gores.

It’s all up to Gores.

37 Comments

  • Feb 10, 20141:58 pm
    by Smitty

    Reply

    Maybe Gores is giving the trade deadline as Dumars last stand per say.

  • Feb 10, 20142:03 pm
    by Ryank

    Reply

    Just like a lot of the posts on this site, you have 10% of the information and you fill in the other 90% with speculation…then present it all as fact.  

    • Feb 10, 20142:10 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      That makes them 10% more informative than any comment you’ve ever made.

      • Feb 10, 20143:10 pm
        by Ryank

        Reply

        Another great opinion, from an non-emotional blogger.

        • Feb 10, 20143:16 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          Who said I was non-emotional? Sounds like you’re the one who has issues interpreting facts.

    • Feb 10, 20142:54 pm
      by pablum

      Reply

      @Ryank. Good God man, I’m all for happy cynics and even happier skeptics, but this is just journalistic ignorance. Lemme’ see, so Dan only provides 23 footnotes (!) to his provocative analysis here and you are dissing it as “90% speculation”? And a huge thanks to Dan for some info on whether Cheeks was a Gores or Joe D. hire — at least now we know there’s a legit question here, rather than the definitive Wojo quote that Cheeks was strictly a Dumars hire.
      And that seemingly little change in wording on the press release ‘aint chopped liver. No way something like that goes out without Joe seeing it and deciding (unless Gores makes the decision for him) that his name goes on it, or not.
       

      • Feb 10, 20143:09 pm
        by Ryank

        Reply

        Sometimes I wish I was as naive as others…it seems to make life easier.  Those people are happier because they just buy into something, anything, and accept it as sound factual information.  
         
        Lets take a closer look at what Dan put out there and then prove that one scrap of it has any factual basis.  It’s all an interpretation and a weak one at that.  This Columbo/Axel Foley routine a spin on limited information…and a bias one at that.  
         
        In the end even if Dumars is the “next to fall,” the facts surrounding that “fall” will have nothing to do with the Dan’s attempt to break the cipher that doesn’t exist.  

    • Feb 10, 20144:51 pm
      by JYD for Life

      Reply

      “Notice the pattern? In every posted press release – it seems the one announcing Frank’s hiring, which occurred during the lockout, has been lost to history – “Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars” is the subject.”
       
      I would say that there aren’t holes in Dan’s piece, but perhaps misleading information.  There is no question that the latest release being different is probably a cause for concern from Joe.  
       
      However, what he doesn’t include is that while the releases from the Carlisle, Brown, etc. eras include Dumars in the subject line, that doesn’t necessarily mean Joe pulled the trigger on those transactions.  That’s fine because he’s writing this to spark a discussion, not to present factual information this time.    
       
      It is not a secret that Carlisle was a less than ideal fit with the culture around the organization.  He screamed at Mrs. Davidson at one point for interrupting a practice and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  
      Larry Brown also upset Mr. Davidson (and probably Dumars and lost the team) by shopping his services and letting it be known he wanted out during the 2005 season (see reports by Terry Foster about a conversation with LB’s friend in 2005 and if you happened to listen to 97.1 today, he brought it up again).  

      • Feb 10, 20145:07 pm
        by Dan Feldman

        Reply

        Isn’t that the point, though? No matter who actually made the decisions, the Pistons always wanted to present Dumars in charge. Now, nobody cares to make Dumars appear in charge — because it probably doesn’t matter, anyway.

        • Feb 10, 20145:30 pm
          by JYD for Life

          Reply

          Yes, but I couldn’t tell if you were indicting at him for 8 coaches or pointing out that he’s openly not empowered at this point (which is different from the first two coaches because he was allowed to hire the next guy both times).  
           
          Either way, I was agreeing with you that it looks like he’s done.  Just interpreted it differently.  

  • Feb 10, 20142:16 pm
    by sebastian

    Reply

    “John’s a good guy,” Rodney Stuckey said. “He knows basketball. He’s really good.”
    I wish some commentators would stop bad mouthing my boy, Rodney Stuckey.

    • Feb 10, 20142:17 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I am a big fan of contract year Rodney Stuckey.

      Not such a huge fan of every other year Rodney Stuckey.

      • Feb 10, 20143:17 pm
        by Gordbrown

        Reply

        Stuckey’s best season in the NBA was the year after he signed his contract. By your logic the best Stuckey should be next year’s Stuckey.

        • Feb 10, 20143:28 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          Oh, you mean the season where he got benched twice for clowning the coach and lost the starting job at two positions?

          • Feb 10, 20144:37 pm
            by Gordbrown

            Coaches who were clowns to start with. Also the season when he put the team on his back and carried it single handedly to winning records by himself. That season.

          • Feb 10, 20144:42 pm
            by Patrick Hayes

            Carried them single-handedly to winning records? Give me a break. So you’re cherry picking a few stretches of competent play from an otherwise shitty, losing season and giving Stuckey credit for “carrying” them to winning records? That’s the ultimate going out of your way to praise a guy who doesn’t really deserve your adoration.

            Stuckey is an average to slightly above average NBA guard. Not bad to have on your team, but also prone to moodiness, questionable effort and severely limited in value because he never developed into a starting caliber PG, never developed a jumper and never developed into the type of defensive player they thought he would be. Arguing that he’s anything else other than that is just silly.

          • Feb 10, 20144:42 pm
            by Tim Thielke

            “the season when he put the team on his back and carried it single handedly to winning records by himself”

            That season never happened. I thought you were talking about 2011-12, when the Pistons went 25-41. That was the first year of Stuckey’s new contract.

          • Feb 10, 20145:00 pm
            by Gordbrown

            Feb 3-Mar 14 2012. My only point is nothing he did the year before in his contract year equalled that run. Overall, statsrcally he was better in that season than the season before. I have provided evidence, you have provided invective. I rest my case.

      • Feb 10, 20145:31 pm
        by JYD for Life

        Reply

        None of us should be fans of Stuckey at any point.  Should have been traded long before he impregnated an underage Automotion dancer… Zing! 
         

        • Feb 10, 20145:35 pm
          by Tim Thielke

          Reply

          Are underage girls allowed to be Automation dancers? That would seem kinda sketchy to begin with.

        • Feb 10, 20145:39 pm
          by Tim Thielke

          Reply

          Upon a little fact checking, it appears she would have been 19 or 20 at the time, well past the legal age of 16.

          • Feb 10, 20145:54 pm
            by JYD for Life

            I’m not sure how old she was…I was entirely messing around.  
             
            Either way, I’m not a Stuck fan and never have been. 

  • Feb 10, 20142:27 pm
    by I HATE LOSING (Predicting A Strong Finish)

    Reply

    It would make Dumars and Gore look bad if John actually coaches this team well…I mean if all of the players respect and like him so much….and he is full of basketball knowledge…how did he get overlooked for Cheeks?

    • Feb 10, 20143:53 pm
      by Ryank

      Reply

      I expect they will play more consistently under the new interim coach.  The players we know had an issue with Cheeks will be motivated to prove he was the problem…they don’t want to be painted as coach killers.  
       
      There has been inconsistent effort all season long.  There will be a push for a while…we’ll see how long it lasts.  The push will not necessarily mean a string of wins, but we should see them compete instead of being blown out.

      • Feb 10, 20143:58 pm
        by Ryank

        Reply

        We know Smith, Dre, and Bynum had issues with him.  It was reported somewhere that Monroe gave a pissed/irritated off expression when asked if the pistons had a go-to offensive weapon…  I don’t want to pull a Dan and fill in the 90% of information with speculation, but I think it’s fair to assume other players than these three were unhappy.

  • Feb 10, 20142:50 pm
    by bonerici

    Reply

    Gores don’t know the difference from a basketball and a watermelon he never played the game in school I’m not sure he understands that the long line is for three point attempts.
     
    This firing is something the Big Boss does.  Things aren’t going right?  YOUR FIRED.  Why?  I don’t need to know why pack your stuff.
     
    You are giving way too much credit for gores thinking about this decision at all.  He is not a tenth of the man Bill Davidson was.
     
    What’s next?  How the hell should tom Gores know?  it is true he is the boss but like most business managers he thinks in order to run a business you do not need to know the business you are running because you are a businessman.
     
    he is not going to learn anything about basketball it doesn’t interest him.  He will form a search committee to replace dumars and do whatever the committee tells him.
     
    If anything Gores has both absolutely control over this team and no control.  He is like godzilla wandering into tokyo and smashing open an apartment so he can play the latest Sony Playstation game but all he does is bring down the building, how does it all work, Gores has no clue and no interest in learning.

  • Feb 10, 20143:07 pm
    by Windy

    Reply

    Gores is smart enough I believe to ask for help when he doesn’t know…he will not be crunching the numbers or scouting the players/coaches, he will form a group of way more basketball minded people to present him his best options and from there him and his associates will pick whichever option they like…the guy is a billionaire and I’m sure he made that money by not acting like a know-it-all but rather he knows his short comings but is able to find those that know what to do…I’m sure he trusts Joe’s opinion on basketball, how much so well who knows but AGAIN Joe hasn’t been chopped…that tells me Gores likes something about Joe…I don’t bug that he is letting Joe gracefully walk away etc…he is a dollar and cents guy and he chopped Mo Cheeks who is a prideful and well respected HOFer so what does he care about cutting Joe? I think Joe will stay hahaha because Gores easily could have cleaned sweeped them both right out…why does he need Joe until the trade deadline, if he wants him out do you think he is going to let Joe swing a few moves right before he gets the boot? 

    • Feb 10, 20143:12 pm
      by bonerici

      Reply

      i dont care how many billions of dollarls you have.
       
      If you dont know any basketball you arent gonna be a good owner.  
       
      Of course the converse is true too.  Michael Jordon proved that.
       
      You need both.  Business smarts & basketball smarts.

  • Feb 10, 20143:20 pm
    by Gordbrown

    Reply

    Not high on Gores today. Frank was his man and he was terrible, yet he basically wound up having to fire himself. There is no upside here except maybe to get some publicity. Having allowed the players to fire another coach for trying to exert some discipline is a terrible message for the players. All you people who have complained for all thse yars about the inmates running the asylum, where are you now?

    • Feb 10, 20143:25 pm
      by bonerici

      Reply

      the players liked coach mo, they did not fire him

    • Feb 10, 20143:34 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Um … what discipline, exactly, was Cheeks trying to exert? This team ran no plays! Literally everyone on the roster, save for their best player who just needed a bigger role and a player playing for his next contract, have shown any improvement. Cheeks, even before taking over in Detroit, has been known for being notoriously unprepared. 

      Other than the Bynum altercation, there has not been a single incident or complaint from players about Cheeks this season. And as far as I’m concerned, if you mess with Will Bynum, you deserve what ever misfortune happens to you.

      • Feb 10, 20144:48 pm
        by Gordbrown

        Reply

        The very previous post on this blog suggests that pulling Drummond from the game because he f’ed up was partly behind the firing. Also he has benched Smith a couple of times (three precisely) with generally positive results. He has also sat Monroe in the fourth quarter on some occasions when Monroe hasn`t played well. And then Bynum. Last year Knight was stinking out the joint and yet he got to start game in and game out`regardless. I would happily argue that doing so hurt Knight’s development and that Cheeks was determined not to do the same thing to KCP (although now we will never know if Cheeks was helping or hurting KCP). If another coach was coming in to make changes, I might be more sanguine. But this move has more potential to blow shit up than improve the team.

  • Feb 10, 20143:41 pm
    by Kevin W

    Reply

    Lawrence Frank was a Gore higher. That makes him a Gores fire as well NOT Dumars. Next he brings in Phil Jackson to “help” in the search.  Didn’t Jackson have input on the coach as well? Gores says no to Mike Woodson and Nate Mcmillian. Why didn’t they hire Shaw Jackson’s protege? Now Dumars is the fall guy! Mark my words Gores is going to F this team up. Just like Mark Cuban did until he learned to put basketball people around him. Since he and Gores are clueles

    • Feb 10, 20143:48 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I mean, this team was already pretty “F’ed” up before Gores bought the Pistons, unless you think that Hamilton/Prince/Gordon/Villanueva core just needed another season or two to fully mesh?

  • Feb 10, 20144:15 pm
    by Pimp Zombie

    Reply

    Dumars may have indeed jumped the shark, but i sense more than a little Mikhail Drago (or whatever the Nets’ owner name is) in Tom Gores. He just gives off a vibe…that “I own this team for status purposes” vibe….I just……I can smell it.

    Mark my words: Never trust a man who habitually wears his suits with the collar shirt unbuttoned. He will try to move this team within 10 years.

  • Feb 10, 20147:17 pm
    by AYC

    Reply

    I think we are starting to see how much competent ownership matters.  Would all of this have happened under Davidson?  I wonder how Dumars would have done in full rebuilding under Davidson.  I mean Dumars had a fairly solid track record (The Darko decision was the correct one to make without the benefit of hindsight, but other picks were bigger disasters- Rodney White, Mateen Cleeves) there in building the team, getting the championship, and then keeping them in the mix.  While Dumars did err in the decision to trade Chauncey away, rather than Rip, it wasn’t an unsound decision at the time.  Hamilton was younger and looked to have the kind of game and athletic style to continue playing at a high level into his mid 30s, whereas Chauncey seemed much more vulnerable to decline. It was only in 2009 after Davidson’s death that he really started to bomb at hiring coaches and signing free agents.  Was this just coincidence or causation?  I don’t know, but prior to Davidson’ death Dumars had a pretty solid record.  Afterwards, outside of the draft, its been a disaster.
    I just wonder how all this would have gone and Davidson been in charge still or if Mike Ilitch had bought the team.  Somehow I don’t see Mr. I trying to do all this flash and sizzle, but would rather focus on building a solid organizational base the way he has done with the Wings and the way he learned he had to do with the Tigers, who should spend most of this decade being at least playoff contenders. 

  • Feb 10, 20148:21 pm
    by grizz3741

    Reply

    Solid writing and analysis .. and the author was right about Cheeks .. I kind of liked the hire at the time .. but certainly have hated every hire after Larry Brown .. Cheeks just doesnt have much street fighter or voice in him ..which the Pistons need badly ..  but M. Cheeks is a classy good guy..

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