Category → Analysis
Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Pistons will have a big two-game set against the Charlotte Bobcats — a team they’re chasing for the East’s final playoff spot. How big are these two games?
Dan Feldman: As big as a mid-February back-to-back can get. Not only will these two games essentially count double as the Pistons try to make up ground in the playoff race, they could determine the Detroit’s direction as a franchise. I expect the Pistons to stay the course regardless before Thursday’s trade deadline, but if they’re pondering a move — buying or selling — these two games could make the difference.
Patrick Hayes: In a normal playoff race, they’d be huge. But this year in the East? I’m not convinced. Of course the Pistons would feel much better about their chances if they come out of this with a sweep, but I’m not fully convinced the Bobcats organization wants to make the playoffs that badly — seeing a team like Cleveland surge past them, meaning they’d get two lottery picks if Detroit doesn’t get bad enough to finish in the top eight wouldn’t be a bad scenario for the team as it gets set to launch its re-brand next season. The Pistons could falter in one or both games and still likely have plenty of opportunities to gain ground in the race for the eighth seed later on.
Jameson Draper: These are big games. Not necessarily because of the actual standings and playoff spot, but it will kind of set the tone for the second half of the season and it will give us a good view of where John Loyer‘s new team is headed for the next couple of months.
2. Aside from two games in the standings, what can the Pistons gain from sweeping the Bobcats?
Dan Feldman: For one, they’d get the tiebreaker over Charlotte. Only a sweep would win it, because the Pistons lost to the Bobcats in December in the first game of the three-game series. More so, they would hopefully get a renewed sense of purpose while putting their opponent in a crisis of confidence. But that depends how the games go. The Pistons would have just a half game lead, and there’s no logical reason for Charlotte to panic no matter what happens. The Pistons have the hardest remaining schedule (based on opponents’ combined winning percentage) in the Eastern Conference, and they have the third-highest percentage of remaining games on the road.
Patrick Hayes: Well, hopefully a two-game sweep of the Bobcats wouldn’t give the Pistons too much confidence, considering it is still the Bobcats after all. But they would gain ground in the playoff race, they would own the tie-breaker and they would start the post-All-Star stretch run with a bit of positive momentum.
Jameson Draper: They can gain experience and confidence. Sweep the Bobcats? You just swept a playoff team. Not only will that give them the confidence needed to go out and beat other better teams, but it will give them experience as to what they’ll need to do to get a win.
3. What kind of impact might it have on the Pistons if they go the other direction and get swept at the hands of the more consistent Bobcats?
Dan Feldman: That would put the Pistons 2.5 games out of playoff position 114 days into the season. While that might not seem like much, it is. In the previous 10 years, nine teams have been between two and three games out that far into the season. Eight of them missed the playoffs. It wouldn’t be impossible for the Pistons to come back, but it would be an uphill battle.
Patrick Hayes: I don’t think it will have any. With Maurice Cheeks‘ firing, the goal is still pretty clearly making the playoffs. Falling 2.5 games out of eighth place would certainly be a setback, but come on … it’s the still the Bobcats, a team that has only made the playoffs once in its franchise’s existence. Charlotte is improved, but as I said above, they have incentive to both make and miss the playoffs. Making them gives the team positive momentum and a proof point that they’re young talent is improving heading into the big Charlotte Hornets relaunch last year. But missing while hoping the Pistons also miss but don’t get too terrible would potentially give them two lottery picks in a great draft to add even more to their improving young core ahead of next season. This is not a traditional playoff race, so I expect the Pistons to have plenty of chances to get back in it even if they falter.
Jameson Draper: I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I’m going to anyway. If they get swept by the Bobcats, the Pistons will not make the playoffs. That will set the tone negatively for the second half of the season and wipe away all confidence they might have gained from their little winning streak last week.
Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. Andre Drummond will make at least five All-Star Games in his career.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Fact. I feel a little uncomfortable picking any player whose never made an All-Star Game to make five, but Drummond is just that promising. And really, he’s on an OK track. Of the 120 five-time All-Stars in NBA history, just fewer than half made an All-Star Game in their first two seasons. Two-thirds, though, made one by their third season, so Drummond better get going.
Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Fact. For Drummond, getting to the first one will be the hardest part. The Pistons can help him achieve that by, you know, not being the least interesting team in the league and not underachieving, hopefully starting next season. Drummond’s game is so productive and so exciting and crowd-pleasing that once he gets a little attention, it’s pretty easy to see he’s going to be a fixture in All-Star games.
Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press: Fact. Let’s face it; Drummond is probably playing at an All-Star level right now. Averages of 13.1 points, 13 rebounds and 1.9 blocked shots definitely look the part. In February, those averages jump to 16.1, 14.7 and 2.3, and he leads the NBA with 5.4 offensive rebounds per game. And since this is for you stat heads, he is grabbing nearly 18% of available offensive rebounds and has a PER of 22.4. Looks like a perennial All-Star to me – as long as he keeps improving and his teams are competitive.
2. Fact or Fiction: Greg Monroe will make an All-Star Game in his career.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Fiction. The crop of quality big men has grown in the last few years, and Monroe has not progressed as greatly as hoped – pushing him down the pecking order just a little bit. Still, he’s in the fringe range, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ultimately became an All-Star. Playing for a better team, especially if he remains in the Eastern Conference, would help his case. And yes, that team could be the Pistons.
Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Fact. Monroe’s already been decently close once, back before the East did away with the center position. He doesn’t have the athletic advantages Drummond has that draw attention to his game, but Monroe is an efficient offensive player, a strong rebounder and it’s not a stretch to envision him putting up All-Star numbers for a season or three on a more balanced roster down the road.
Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press: Fiction. I think there is room for growth here. Those that think Moose has reached his ceiling are goofy. But I am beginning to wonder if Monroe will ever be the main or second option on a good team. If he’s just a very good No. 3, don’t see him making an All-Star team.
3. Fact or Fiction: A current Piston besides Drummond and Monroe will make a future All-Star Game in his career.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Fiction. The only current Piston who has ever been an All-Star is Chauncey Billups, and he’s definitely not making it back. Josh Smith’s best days are behind him, and he never made it in his prime, though I can’t completely rule out a late breakthrough. Brandon Jennings has the talent to work his way onto the periphery of the All-Star discussion and is young enough to do so, but considering he’s not even in the discussion at this point, that seems like a longshot. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, because his age creates high variance for future career arcs, might have the best chance. I just don’t see him reaching that level, though.
Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Fiction. There are only three real candidates, and all have issues. Josh Smith is not getting younger, he has yet to make one and he’s having a poor season. Time is running out for him. Brandon Jennings is certainly dynamic enough to envision as an All-Star if he ever figures out how to play under control, but the East is pretty loaded with young star guards — Derrick Rose when healthy, Kyrie Irving and John Wall are all significantly better than Jennings right now and all are also still young enough that improvement is not out of the question (with a major caveat being the impact of Rose’s injuries as an unknown). My wildcard would be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He hasn’t played very well this season and he’s falling further and further down the rotation, but his defense has shown great potential and if his three-point shooting ever comes around as advertised, he’ll be a legit three and D scoring wing in a conference where the shooting guard position is largely unproven behind the aging Dwyane Wade. KCP is truly a longshot, but there’s still a slim chance he could develop into an Arron Afflalo-type player. Afflalo didn’t make the team this year, but his numbers are certainly All-Star worthy. He represents a nice best-case for KCP.
Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press: Fiction. Too many great point guards for Brandon Jennings too make it. If Josh Smith didn’t make it in earlier seasons with the Hawks, it’s probably not happening in the future. The only other guy with a shot would be rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. I think he will be a good player in the future, but nothing close to an All-Star.
Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. The NBA’s trade deadline is just six days away, and the question is simple: Do you think the Pistons will make a trade this week?
Dan Feldman: No. For one, I’m not convinced what trades Joe Dumars is even authorized to make. He apparently can’t choose who coaches the team the rest of the season. Also, Tom Gores’ last interview suggests he likes this roster, at least for now.
Brady Fredericksen: I do, but I also do not. After the whole coaching-debacle, I’m not sure Gores is even going to give Dumars enough leeway to make a hail mary of a deal at the deadline. At the same time, they almost have to do something. This team’s ability to shoot has gone from being funny joke to sad reality. With big, fat expiring deals from Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva, there has to be some sort of bad-contract-for-bad-contract trade out there.
Tim Thielke: If I had to put a number on it, I’d consider the odds less than 50 percent, but more likely than most seasons.
2. Is there one Pistons player that you feel has the greatest chance of being traded?
Dan Feldman: Stuckey. Because he’s been reasonably productive and has an expiring contract, he could be helpful in a trade whether the Pistons are buying or selling. For the same reasons, he’d appeal to the most teams.
Brady Fredericksen: Stuckey. I don’t think they necessarily want to trade him or Greg Monroe for that matter, but Stuckey is a valuable trade chip for two reasons. In the final year of his contract, he’s been the NBA’s most consistent bench scorer, and he’s got that $7.5 million expiring deal. If a true contender acquires him, they can sit back, benefit from his contract year surge and then watch all that money melt away this summer.
Tim Thielke: Monroe or Josh Smith has to be the most likely because they and Andre Drummond have the most value to another team relative to how much they have to Detroit. And I just can’t see Dumars trading Drummond even if a great offer came along.
3. If the Pistons were to make a trade in hopes of getting over the hump of mediocrity, who is a player they should target?
Dan Feldman: Trevor Ariza. I totally stole this idea from Patrick, but how about Stuckey for Ariza? The Pistons need a wing shooter, and the Wizards need a backup guard capable of playing the point. Both have expiring contracts, so this would totally be about re-configuring rosters to fit better.
Brady Fredericksen: I’ll admit that I play around with ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine way too much. If reports of the Pistons being locked into keeping Monroe are true, the guy I think would make sense for them to target is Eric Gordon. He’s injury prone, yes, and he’s vastly overpaid, but he’s only 25 and he’s the king of shot-creating guard the Pistons need. What if New Orleans took a Smith for Gordon deal? It seems farfetched, but they’d be exchanging bad contracts and getting a player who fits very well on paper with Anthony Davis.
Tim Thielke: Definitely a shooter. But which depends on who they’re planning on giving up. Going after someone on a tanking team makes sense because they don’t mind getting worse. That includes Gordon, OJ Mayo, Arron Afflalo, Jeff Green, Ben McLemore, and Alec Burks among others.
The Pistons fire too many coaches like doctors remove too many tumors.
The extraction isn’t the problem.
Of course, doctors don’t hire tumors, so the analogy is as imperfect as a Maurice Cheeks playing rotation. But the Pistons’ issue isn’t firing coaches too frequently.
It’s too frequently getting to the position where firing a coach makes sense.
Detroit has fired eight coaches since Joe Dumars became general manager in 2000 — more than any other NBA team in that span. It’s easy to point to that number and say the Pistons are too impatient, too unforgiving.
But in the moment of those firings, the Pistons usually have been right.
There are two lessons here, one from the first half of Dumars’ tenure and one from the second half.
As the second half shows, hiring a good coach is imperative. If you don’t have one of those, you’re just biding time until you figure out what you do have.
But as the first half shows, that’s not enough. Even good coaches need front-office support, a general manager who’s committed to helping them reach both the players and owners.
Lately, the Pistons haven’t supported their bad coaches. It’s an awful combination doomed to failure.
The only thing the Pistons have done consistently right with their coaches is fire them.
1. John Loyer‘s debut as interim coach came in a big win over the Spurs. Should we take anything from this?
Dan Feldman: That Loyer is comfortable as head coach. It’s far too early to say whether he has the communication and strategic skills necessary to succeed as a head coach, but he’s no shrinking violet in the head chair. That’s a step in the right direction.
Brady Fredericksen: Not yet. There was going to be a bounce in the Pistons step with a new voice leading them, so I think it’s half Loyer and half just not having to deal with Maurice Cheeks. Beating the Spurs is beating the Spurs though, and while there weren’t any huge, visible differences, it’s still refreshing to see the team rise up against a good (albeit injured) team.
Tim Thielke: Yes, he had a good start in his first game. We should weigh that first game just as heavily as any other one game. That’s to say that it counts, but not for much.
2. What was the biggest difference between Loyer and Cheeks?
Dan Feldman: So far, that Will Bynum re-joined the rotation. The defensive schemes looked the exact same, and the offense was similar enough. But Loyer had only one day to prepare. I wouldn’t be surprised if Loyer makes bigger changes soon.
Brady Fredericksen: LOYER DOESN’T SEEM TO POSSESS AN INSIDE VOICE! It felt like the Pistons’ offensive emphasis was to play through Greg Monroe and not Josh Smith. The offense looked good that way, too. The only other difference was the tempo and subsequent ball movement. This is a group that plays well when they’re on the break, and the amount of running and passing we saw on Monday was probably better than anything they’ve done in the last month or so. They also turned in their best first-half defensive performance — holding the Spurs to 48 points in the first half — since a Jan. 7 loss at New York.
Tim Thielke: The visible difference from that one game was how active he was on the sideline. But most differences in sets, rotations, strategies, philosophies, etc. (you know, things much more important than whether you sit or stand during a game) will have to be revealed over time.
3. What is the one thing that Loyer is going to have to focus on if the Pistons are going to turn a corner and make his impressive debut more than just a one-game flash?
Dan Feldman: Making Monroe a successful defender. Monroe is not a great defender, but his weaknesses are minimized when he’s engaged and the system doesn’t ask too much of him. Monday, he was engaged in a way he hadn’t been under Cheeks since early in the season. The next step is more often putting Monroe in position to succeed. Monroe could be the key piece that swings the Pistons from bad to good defensively.
Brady Fredericksen: Consistency. Wins over the Spurs, Heat and Pacers have shown us that the Pistons are capable of beating anyone on any given night. The problem is losses to the Jazz, Bucks and Magic show they’re also capable of being beaten on any night, too. Loyer needs to find a way to keep up the intensity, and the fact that he’s mentioned effort a ton in his week on the job is good. If the Pistons can find a little consistency, they can make a move starting with five winnable games — the Cavaliers, twice against the Bobcats and one against Atlanta — in the next two weeks.
Tim Thielke: As I’ve been carping on all year, emphasizing each player’s strengths, not weaknesses. There is a lot of talent on the roster, but as we all know, it doesn’t fit together in a traditional manner. To make this set of guys work, Loyer will have to get each of them to do what he is good at instead of what his position typically demands.
1. Maurice Cheeks has been fired, and it only took 50 games for him to join Pistons’ lore as one of the many Joe Dumars‘ casualties. Did Cheeks get a fair shake?
Dan Feldman: Yes, but only because he had eight seasons prior to this one. Cheeks had an established record as an NBA head coach, and it wasn’t pretty. I understand hoping he’d used his years since the 76ers fired him to improve significantly, but 50 games were enough to show he hadn’t. The Pistons were wrong to hire Cheeks in the first place, so he got more than a fair shake (and a few million dollars, too).
Brady Fredericksen: Probably not. This team is flawed, but Cheeks seemed to start figuring them out. The struggles with ill-fitting personnel weren’t his fault, and he’s had the Pistons playing at a .500-level over their last 14 games. That’s not bad, considering the rest of the season’s up-and-down nature. The firing is a low-risk decision, though. Say John Loyer is a dandy coach? Good for the Pistons, they’ve finally found a good coach and will have likely earned a playoff berth. Say Loyer is a terrible coach? Darn, the Pistons went into a tailspin and fell completely apart, keeping their draft pick. I think it’s a win-win (or is it lose-lose? I dunno?) situation.
Tim Thielke: Yes, for most coaches, 50 games would not qualify as a fair shake. Nor would it for Cheeks if he had underachieved with mediocrity. But he did a horrendous job. There is a lot of talent on this roster and he managed to consistently minimize it. Worst of all, he started with mediocrity before falling off. So it’s not like he was just taking some time to figure out how to use this eclectic bunch.
2. What does the timing of Cheeks’ firing tell you about the Pistons?
Dan Feldman: Tom Gores is only so vested in the franchise’s success. However much sense it made to fire Cheeks on Sunday, it made even more sense two days prior, before the Pistons went on a two-game win streak. There’s clearly a lag in the Pistons receiving and implementing Gores’ directions. But I get that. The Pistons are one of his many business interests and not the most substantial investment in the portfolio. He’s not required to monitor this team as rigidly as its hardcore fans.
Brady Fredericksen: Dumars isn’t the guy calling the shots. This has impatient-owner-trying-to-be-proactive written all over it. I’ve said it before, but I have no idea if Goes knows anything about basketball. He’s been more in to being an NBA owner than I expected, and he seems like he wants this team to work. That’s nice, but the fact that Loyer is apparently getting a tryout the rest of the season tells me that Gores doesn’t want Dumars hiring another coach. Does that mean Dumars’ goose is cooked? No, but it sure does feel like that.
Tim Thielke: That I don’t understand the decision making processes going on there. Firing Cheeks would have made just as much sense a dozen games ago. Why did they wait until now and not until after the season? I I had to guess a narrative for it, they finally concluded within the past month that Cheeks was an awful head coach but that they were too far in the hole to make anything but tanking a good strategy. A couple recent wins made them think this season could be turned around after all, so they got rid of him.
3. We’ve yet to see what John Loyer has to offer, but does getting rid of Cheeks in the middle of the season improve the Pistons’ playoff chances?
Dan Feldman: Yes. Firing a coach midseason usually leads to improvement. Obviously, there’s something going wrong when a coach is fired, and there’s a chance any change in those situations could be productive. Plus, a coaching change under these circumstances is likely to energize everyone – especially the players, who must have known they were consistently getting sent into each game without a coach capable of adequately preparing them. There’s a chance Loyer is even less cut out for the job than Cheeks, but even if they’re exactly equally capable, that likely means the Pistons will fare better under Loyer.
Brady Fredericksen: Sure? Loyer might be a really great find, and having a new voice may be what the Pistons need. He is apparently well-liked by the players, and while it sounds minor, that’s actually a huge deal. The Pistons players haven’t liked a coach since, what, Larry Brown?
Tim Thielke: I don’t know much about how good Loyer is or how the players felt about Cheeks. If they deemed him incompetent, I’d have to assume there’d be a a short term bump in their performance just from having a new guy call the shots. Coaching changes often have that effect. So I’ll guess yes although I’m not assuming Loyer is an upgrade until I see supporting evidence.
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:
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.
Detroit Pistons’ President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars relieved Larry Brown of his coaching duties, it was announced today.
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.
Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that Flip Saunders will not return next season as the team’s head coach.
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.
Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that Michael Curry will not return next season as the team’s head coach.
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.
Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that John Kuester will not return next season as the team’s head coach.
Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars announced today that Lawrence Frank will not return as the team’s head coach.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1. We’ll never know the answer, but let’s speculate. The Pistons’ losses are adding up, and they’re in an awkward spot of being too good to tank and too bad to be a legitimate playoff team. Assume the the goal is to tank, what does that tell you about the state of the organization?
Dan Feldman: To answer, it would depend when the Pistons decided to tank. Was this a decision before the season? That would say a lot about Tom Gores‘ influence, considering Joe Dumars has previously seemed so anti-tanking. That would also likely mean Dumars would keep his job beyond this season. If tanking has always been the priority, that means there’s no way to judge Dumars on this season, so if Gores were going to fire him, it would have been last summer. Or was this a decision made in-season? That would mean the Pistons tried first to win and couldn’t. Considering making the playoffs was the plan and that plan failed, an in-season move to tank would likely mean Dumars is running out the clock on the final year of his contract.
Brady Fredericksen: That Dumars isn’t really that close to being fired. The assumption has always been that missing the playoffs means the end of the Dumars’ era in Detroit. This summer, it seemed reasonable considering the Pistons had increased their talent. Now, I don’t know. Sadly, I don’t think they’re tanking, but I think they’re just trying to decide whether they should just let their current dumpster fire flame out or if they should try to contain it by making a mediocre trade. I’m sure Dumars knows this team is like mixing cherry vodka and chocolate milk, but as far as Gores goes, does he really know that much about what’s going on? If the Pistons stand pat at the deadline, it’s either the cruelest way to send Dumars out or a sign that Gores still trusts him to build this team if/when the team gets a lottery selection.
Patrick Hayes: It doesn’t tell me anything — it raises more questions. If they’re tanking, does that mean Gores approves and the ‘playoffs or bust’ talk was all fan appeasing bluster? And if he approves, does that mean that Joe Dumars’ job is safe? I mean, how could Dumars agree to tank if his job was truly in trouble? Is there a big conspiracy at work? Was Maurice Cheeks hired because they needed the worst coach possible (and make no mistake … Cheeks is the worst coach in the league right now, by a landslide) to manage to pull off adding more overall talent to the roster while staying pretty bad? I dunno … if they are purposefully tanking, it makes a lot of conceptions fans had about what the results of this season meant for Dumars more complicated — ‘the playoffs or you’re fired’ assumption doesn’t seem as much of a foregone conclusion if the front office has endorsed tanking.
2. If tanking actually is a realistic option for this team, what are the most logical steps to assure that they avoid The Danger Zone, as Dan’s coined it?
Dan Feldman: Make Cheeks the head coach. Design an offense that features Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings over Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Start Smith, Monroe and Drummond together. Start Kyle Singler at shooting guard. Don’t call timeout to advance the ball to midcourt down one with seconds remaining. Bench the team’s best player 11 seconds into a second half. Seriously, what else can they do? This team has too much talent to make tanking easy.
Brady Fredericksen: Do what you’re doing, and trade Rodney Stuckey. I’m not sure that trading Smith or Monroe would make the Pistons worse. I think that could end up being addition by subtraction like what happened in Toronto with Rudy Gay. If they find a way to get a late-first rounder for Stuckey (wishful thinking, I know) or a young, inexperienced shooter, that’s going to really hurt the Pistons. They’re 2-6 without him this season, and his production off the bench has been the only efficient perimeter scoring. An already bad offense would look supremely worse without him.
Patrick Hayes: Well, they wouldn’t have to change much from what they’re currently doing. Continue to play their unworkable big lineup (which became even bigger and more unworkable with Singler added as starting shooting guard). Flip a couple of their useful bench contributors — Stuckey, Will Bynum, maybe Jonas Jerebko (not that he qualifies as useful anymore) — for future picks or something and give minutes Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell to see if either shows any potential to be rotation players next season. Maybe ship Stuckey to the Knicks in the hope that they get better than the Pistons. Root hard for Trey Burke to make a late push for Rookie of the Year and get Utah’s record better than Detroit’s. Maybe toy with bringing in a few D-League prospects for looks on 10-day contracts after you’ve traded a couple of players for picks. Continue to let Cheeks find innovative new ways to handle late-game situations. With so many teams seemingly trying to lose, it won’t be easy to out-do those efforts, but the Pistons certainly have options.
3. As a fan, how the heck do you come to terms with the idea that your team is positioning itself for failure now with an eye on success in the future?
Dan Feldman: Four years ago, the Pistons’ best player was a 35-year-old Ben Wallace. Even though I love watching Wallace play, the team’s results weren’t pretty. That was rock bottom, but the Pistons — until this season — had been working with a talent deficit since. Imagine a team with Drummond, Monroe, Smith, Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Singler and a top-eight pick in the best draft in a decade. That’s a massive talent upgrade. Say what you will about how the pieces fit and how that talent translates to production, but talent is a starting point. Through coaching and trades, teams can make any talent work. They can’t, as the 2009-10 Pistons showed, make a team full of bad players into anything. That hypothetical team is worth one more season of misery. Suddenly, the Pistons would have one of the NBA’s stronger talent bases.
Brady Fredericksen: I really don’t know. I think it’d be hard watching a team aim to lose games, even if the eventual goal is success next season. But, as we all know, it’s hard watching a team try to win and still lose a lot. That’s been the Pistons over the past five years — consistently trying, rarely succeeding. Outside of John Wall and Kyrie Irving, tanking never would have gained the Pistons a better prospect in past years. This year, though? The difference is get a very, very, very good prospect or getting no prospect whatsoever. Just give me a catchy hashtag like #SorryForJabari, #RigginForWiggins, #ShartingForSmart or #DumpingForDante and I guess we’ll hope Adam Silver and his ping-pong balls take pity on the Pistons once the NBA Draft Lottery rolls around.
Patrick Hayes: I understand why teams tank — the league has incentivized it (get on that, Mr. Silver). I still hate it, and wouldn’t necessarily want to follow a tanking team. But if the Pistons actually do have some elaborate tanking plan in place and are carrying it out, I would respect the artistry they are doing it with. It’s truly breathtaking. And at least that’s a plan. The alternative is that what we’ve seen — adding ill-fitting players in the offseason, possibly reaching in the draft for need over talent and hiring a woefully unqualified coach — is an actual strategy that the front office thought would work to make the team to get better. Woof. I’d take a year of tanking over that.
1. It appeared that the Pistons’ focus during their rebuild was to craft a team around their talented duo of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Do you think that’s still the plan today?
Dan Feldman: I don’t think that has ever been the plan, at least not to the extent it should have been and should be. It took the Pistons way too long last season to play Drummond enough and somehow even longer to give him reasonable minutes with Monroe also on the floor. Then, the Pistons signed Josh Smith, who has unsurprisingly clogged the floor for Drummond and Monroe on offense and surprisingly given them a tougher time on defense, too. Drummond and Monroe have played just 119 minutes together this season without Smith. It’s almost as if the Pistons are going out of there way not to build around those two.
Brady Fredericksen: Judging by the Pistons consistent denial that they’re shopping Monroe, yes. We’ve blamed Lawrence Frank, Jason Maxiell, Joe Dumars and Maurice Cheeks for the lack of Drummond-Monroe action, and alas, they’re still not a go-to duo. Both are talented, but both are flawed. The only way to see if they can play together is to, well, play them together. They’re two of your best players, and you’re trying to win, so playing them together feels like it should be an obvious decision.
Tim Thielke: All the coverage coming out seems to suggest that that is still the plan. But I personally believe they should be more flexible. The Pistons have three good big men who don’t fit well. If they can get full value in trade for any of them, they should do it.
2. Even with the ill-fitting roster, Drummond has solidified himself as one of, if not the, best players on the Pistons this season. Monroe, on the other hand, has struggled. How can Drummond’s play help get Monroe back on track?
Dan Feldman: The biggest advantages come on defense. When Drummond is focused on protecting the rim like he has lately — nine blocks in his last three games in just 79 minutes — Monroe can risk going for steals. Monroe has never been the best positional defender, but his quick hands have terrorized opposing big men at times. Unfortunately, Monroe has gone for fewer and fewer steals as his career has progressed.
Brady Fredericksen: Monroe is a big man who needs room to operate. He’s not athletic enough to go over defenders, so he has to be crafty in that open space he has on the block. With Drummond, Smith and a lot of non-shooters surrounding him, he’s literally suffocated in the paint. That’s an issue that Drummond can’t help with, but where he can assist Monroe is on the defensive side of the ball. Monroe’s struggles with athletic forwards is well documented, but the faster Drummond can improve as a help defender, the better Monroe — and the rest of the Pistons — defense will look.
Tim Thielke: Monroe has to keep on doing what he does well and avoid the things he does poorly. He isn’t a plus defender, but he is big body that is hard to move out of the middle, while either Drummond or Smith makes an excellent weak-side shot blocker. When playing with Drummond, Monroe just has to keep on going down low and putting up shots near the rim. That is his best skill. And even when he misses, that creates a lot of put-back opportunities. When playing with Smith, he should be plying in the high post to leave driving lanes open, use his passing ability, and be crashing the offensive glass.
3. Do you think we’re any closer to knowing whether or not Drummond and Monroe are a viable “twin towers” that the Pistons can build around?
Dan Feldman: Barely and not nearly as close as we should be. But I know enough to believe Detroit should build around those two. For one, they’re both extremely valuable, and if it doesn’t work, the Pistons should have no trouble getting value for either or both if the duo must be broken up. Regardless, I think it would work. Drummond and Monroe haven’t played together enough to fortify their production together, but there are at least signs they can lift each other on both ends of the floor. Last year, the Pistons were equal offensively and better defensively when those two played together. This year, the Pistons are way better offensively, fairly worse defense and significantly better overall when those two play together without Smith. There has been a lot of noise regarding Drummond’s and Monroe’s fit the last two years, and sometimes it can be helpful to look back on the reason for pairing them in the first place. Here’s what I wrote the Pistons drafted Drummond: “Drummond, stylistically, fits the exact profile of an ideal Greg Monroe complement. Drummond has the size and athleticism to protect the rim, defend post-ups and sky for dunks in ways that Monroe simply can’t.”
Brady Fredericksen: I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think so, but the current construction of this team doesn’t really play to either of the big guy’s strengths. They need space, they need shooters — Jonas Jerebko for Jared Dudley, anyone? — and they need to have role players that fit around them. Good teams aren’t just a collection of players, they’re a collection that accentuates the strengths of their teammates. Monroe and Drummond can do that for other guys, they just need the right pieces are around them.
Tim Thielke: We are no closer. We have seen precious few minutes of Monroe and Drummond playing without Smith. That trio is awful, but just Monroe and Drummond could go either way. On paper, they have some complimentary skills and some redundant ones. And Cheeks refuses to give us any evidence to work with.
Should the Pistons tank?
But whether or not they’ve actually discussed it, tanking has remained on the table. Though the Pistons have already immensely upgraded their talent in the last year, another top eight pick – whether they use it or trade it – would be a tremendous asset.
Unfortunately, it’s top-eight pick or bust. Due to the Gordon trade, Detroit owes the Bobcats a first-round pick that’s top-eight protected this year, so only full-fledged tanking will do.
As long as the Pistons avoid The Disaster Zone, they can’t go too wrong – at least not relatively. A postseason appearance would be nice, as would a top-eight pick.
Which should they shoot for?
Because the East is so awful – the Bobcats are on pace to make the playoffs with 36 wins – the Pistons have gotten more time than expected to make that choice. Somehow, the 19-28 Pistons are right in the thick of the playoff race, just 1.5 games behind Charlotte for the No. 8 seed (and half a game up on the Knicks in what’s becoming a three-team race).
But making the playoffs still seems unlikely. ESPN’s formula gives Detroit a 30.5 percent chance, and though that seems low because the system doesn’t account for the odds the Pistons make greater-than-average internal improvements throughout the year, it’s hard to spitball that above 50 percent.
Here’s the bad news for the pro-tanking crowd, though. The bottom of the NBA standings are even more difficult to break into than playoff position:
- Pistons: 19-28
- Knicks: 19-29
- Cavaliers: 16-32
- Lakers: 16-32
- Jazz: 16-32
- Kings: 16-32
- Celtics: 16-33
- 76ers: 15-34
- Magic: 13-37
- Bucks: 9-39
The league’s seventh-worst record would offer a 98.1 percent chance of the Pistons keeping their pick in the lottery. Eighth-worst would mean 82.4 percent – still likely, but enough to cause a few sweaty palms on lottery night.
Ninth-worst, though? The odds plummet to 6.1 percent.
Simply, the Pistons must finish with one of the NBA’s eight worst records to justify tanking.
How the heck can they do that?
If they put their minds to it, the Pistons could definitely finish worse than the Knicks, who’ve already traded their first rounder, and with it, incentive to lose.
But look at those other teams on the list.
The Cavaliers are in disarray. The Lakers’ top players are all hurt, and they seem to realize their slim playoff hopes have vanished, making tanking increasingly appealing. The Jazz have been better with Trey Burke, but they’re still getting knocked around by the West. The Kings made their big splash acquiring Rudy Gay and remain dismal. The Celtics have gone just 1-6 with Rajon Rondo, and though he needs more time to find his groove, it’s getting too late for them to make a run. The 76ers and Magic were expected to tank and are. The Pistons might have already won more games than the Bucks will all season.
That’s a tough bottom eight to crack.
It’s not impossible. The Pistons have lost to the Bucks, Magic, Jazz and Lakers (twice). They’ll have another chance against a bottom-dweller tonight, when they play the Magic. The Pistons, at times, can definitely look like a bottom-eight team. But relative to the actual bottom eight, they also look like a playoff team far more often.
I see the merits in tanking. You don’t need to convince me how valuable a top-eight pick in this draft would be, how this young team could surge forward next season and send Charlotte a worse pick in a worse draft (even though entering next year owing the Bobcats a top-one protected pick is risky).
But tanking would be really, really, really hard. It’s probably one of the few things these Pistons are too good for.