Nothin' but Net: One person shoulders blame in Detroit
By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Maurice Cheeks joined a very select list when the Detroit Pistons canned him less than 50 games into his first season as head coach of the team.
Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank and now Cheeks have all been fired by the Pistons in the last seven seasons. Your local Burger King doesn't go through that kind of turnaround.
Reports have surfaced that Cheeks' dismissal, as the team floundered to a 21-29 record, was orchestrated by owner Tom Gores, not president of basketball operations Joe Dumars.
Reports also suggested that interim coach John Loyer would keep the post until the offseason when a thorough search of names can occur.
One way of looking at that last part is that maybe Gores won't have Dumars involved in the process this offseason because he will join Cheeks on the unemployment line. Dumars is in the final year of his contract.
Or, perhaps you could read that situation by saying Gores favors Dumars because he could've easily shown Joe the door on Sunday when Cheeks was packing up his office.
Whatever anyone cares to read into the Pistons problems, one thing is definitely clear - Dumars' tenure needs to end.
Dumars has been in charge of the Pistons since 2000. Under his stewardship, Detroit won a title in 2004 and did it without a true superstar, something that wasn't done years before and hasn't happened since.
That's a remarkable feat in today's NBA. It's also 10 years ago and the next decade has been marred by horrendous free-agent signings, decent draft picks, mortifying coaching hirings and subsequent firings, and lottery appearances.
Let's give Dumars some credit for some of his drafts. Of course, before we get into the post-championship selections, it's worth noting that he passed on Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony in favor of Darko Milic. That's an all-timer in terms of draft whiffs.
But Dumars selected Greg Monroe seventh in 2010, Brandon Knight eighth in 2011, Andre Drummond ninth in 2012 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the eighth choice this past June.
That's a pretty solid track record, considering where the Pistons have been slotted. Sure, there have been players taken after those men donned Detroit caps who have become better players, but at least all of these decisions weren't disasters.
We have now completed the Dumars praise portion of the program.
The free-agent signings since the '04 title have been unmitigated catastrophes and set the franchise back. After trading Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess for a past-his-expiration date Allen Iverson in what amounted to a salary dump, the Pistons headed into the 2009-10 offseason with more cash than a Trump.
Dumars used it on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
Once again, and let it really sink in, Dumars spent his surplus on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
Those two contracts still linger, although at least Gordon isn't Dumars' problem any longer. He gave the Charlotte Bobcats a first-round pick to take Gordon off his hands, so while Gordon racks up DNP-CDs, at least Charlotte won't have him on the books next season and got a protected first-rounder out of it.
Villanueva is a DNP-CD still in Detroit.
Remember in "The Usual Suspects" when Verbal is telling the FBI about Keyser Soze. He says it's a story crooks tell their kids, "Rat on your pop, and Keyser Soze will get you."
The Gordon and Villanueva signings are the equivalent scary story in NBA circles. "Spend all your money on dumb moves, and Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva will get you."
Fast-forward to this offseason and you'll see desperate moves by a desperate man that have translated into another fired coach and another trip to a locked room to oversee ping-pong balls getting sucked into a vacuum.
The Cheeks decision was a bad one and the reason is simple. Despite being a wonderful human with a resume that screams great head coach material, he is not one.
Cheeks' career record is 305-315. His best times were with a loaded Portland Trail Blazers team early in the century. He's never finished better than third in a division.
This current Pistons incarnation has some talent and is definitely underachieving. Cheeks is not a great tactician, nor a great communicator.
Cheeks was a great assistant coach in Oklahoma City, but he's not a great head coach. Much like Vice President Joe Biden, or Robin, Cheeks is a good second guy, not a good No. 1.
The Caldwell-Pope choice was OK, although he's not paying tremendous dividends at the moment. What made this decision all the more puzzling was that Michigan's Trey Burke was sitting there.
Hard to imagine the Pistons would need a point guard. They had Knight in the fold, but to pass on a local product in favor of lesser-talented guard, albeit a shooting one, not a point, was balling, considering the Pistons rank 27th in attendance.
But, Dumars elected to change the point guard spot anyway, working a sign-and- trade for Brandon Jennings and shipping Knight to the Milwaukee Bucks. Jennings is a supremely talented guard, but not a stable force on a team that could use one, not just off the court, but on it.
Part of the need for stability came from the latest and greatest Dumars debacle, the Josh Smith signing.
At four years, $54 million, Smith is talented enough to warrant such a deal, but he brings with him more headaches than an empty bottle of tequila.
As if Smith's presence alone isn't confounding enough (Cheeks benched him several times before he was fired), his contract provides very little wiggle room. With three years left, Smith's existence might not allow the Pistons to re-sign Monroe to a long-term deal.
Reports have stated Detroit intends to match any offer to the restricted free agent, but if he was such a huge part of the future, why not lock him up before the October deadline?
Smith's arrival also has disrupted the Pistons' on-court product, although that's not entirely his doing. Detroit signed him to play small forward, but he's probably more naturally an undersized, multi-talented power forward.
The Pistons have employed this huge frontline strategy of Smith/Monroe/Drummond and it just hasn't worked. The NBA is about athletic wing players and penetrators. None of those three men represents that and this shift in philosophy this offseason has been a massive failure.
And it cost the wrong man his job.
Cheeks is not Red Auerbach, but the blame for Detroit's failure rests squarely on the shoulders of Dumars. He's spent money more poorly than the federal government and his organization has turned into a punch line.
The saddest part of it all is that the Pistons could easily make the postseason in the pathetic Eastern Conference. Heading into Wednesday night, the Pistons are a half-game behind the Charlotte Bobcats for eighth.
Even if Detroit slides into the playoffs, it shouldn't mask what has been a decade of despair. True change won't occur in Detroit until Dumars is replaced.
02/12 13:54:59 ET