By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – The Detroit Pistons (21-29) fired first-year head coach Maurice Cheeks after just 50 games Sunday, the day after the Pistons had defeated the Denver Nuggets 126-109 for their second straight win and their fourth in the last six games.
“This was a difficult decision for the organization to make but we needed to make a change,” Pistons general manager Joe Dumars stated in a press release. “We have great respect for Maurice and appreciate his hard work.”
Owner Tom Gores also issued a statement about the reasoning for firing Cheeks, the team’s fourth head coach in the last six seasons.
“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Gores said. “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.”
According to Yahoo Sports, Gores had been pushing for a coaching change, and Dumars informed Cheeks of his firing Sunday morning after trying to convince Gores to give Cheeks more time in light of the wins over the weekend.
Detroit had appeared to be heading toward a fifth consecutive year of missing the playoffs, evidently an unacceptable situation after all the preseason playoff talk from players and owner Tom Gores. The Pistons made numerous personnel changes in the offseason, including bringing in big-name expensive players like Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, but the team struggled nonetheless.
Detroit had shown flashes of promise at times in 2013, defeating some of the league’s best teams in the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers, but the Pistons went through a number of losing skids and were fighting to just make the playoffs, much less become relevant there.
Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Pistons have not yet designated an interim coach but do have someone in mind.
Cheeks appeared frustrated one of the last times he spoke with reporters at the team’s practice facility in Auburn Hills on Thursday, when questions were asked of his relationships with players following a heated in-game exchange with guard Will Bynum that made news. At that time, Cheeks and Bynum both said they had not discussed the incident, and Bynum indicated stonily that he did not believe they would. Bynum was apparently upset about being hooked after a three-minute, mistake-filled stint on the floor.
Cheeks did not seem particularly concerned about the matter, saying that starters normally get a longer leash than subs as far as how quickly they will be pulled from a game. Jennings went 5 for 23 from the floor that game, but Cheeks argued against the terming of that performance as Jennings having a “bad night,” arguing that shooting was only one part of a player’s performance.
Jennings, for one, seemed surprised at the coach’s dismissal Sunday.
Rookie Peyton Siva retweeted Jennings’ second tweet, reiterating the message of thanks to Cheeks. Then he posted a message similar to Jennings’ other reaction.
Charlie Villanueva also expressed surprise but then tweeted the team must carry on.
The Pistons next play Monday against the San Antonio Spurs.