By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – New Detroit Pistons interim coach John Loyer looked a bit pained at first, answering questions about how he will do a job that until Sunday had belonged to longtime friend and colleague Maurice Cheeks.
Loyer’s said his first reaction to the news of Cheeks’ firing after 50 games was simply disappointment.
“I worked for Coach Cheeks, this is my third stop with him now,” Loyer said. “We’re very close. He’s a good man and very good basketball coach, so I was disappointed in it. I talked to him yesterday as soon as it happened.
“That’s what you do with friends,” Loyer added. “You talk to them.”
The Pistons (21-29) just hired Cheeks in June, but with the team appearing to be on track to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season, Detroit is moving on. Loyer is in charge of the transition.
Team owner Tom Gores issued a statement explaining the firing of Cheeks, saying the team’s record did not reflect its talent and that the Pistons needed a different approach. Loyer seemed fully in tune to the team’s shortcomings.
“I told our guys today, we should be a dominant rebounding team,” Loyer said. “We’re playing guys with size, we have very good athleticism, we need to dominate the boards. You look at our wins, we’re pretty dominant. You look at games when it’s either even or we’re not ahead, we struggle, and so we’ve got to dominate the glass. I think we have very good length, so we should be a much better shot-blocking team, should be a very good team at protecting the rim, I think something we can improve on.
“We have not shot the ball well,” he continued. “When you’re 30th in 3-point shooting and 30th in free throw percentage, there’s two stats you’ve got to improve on, and that’ll be a challenge for us every day.”
As far as how players will respond to Loyer and how his relationships with them will change as he assumes more authority as the head coach, Loyer is not concerned.
“Players figure things out,” Loyer said. “They know, whether you’re a head coach or assistant coach, one, whether you know your stuff; two, whether you’re in it for the right things; three, can you make them better; and four, are you a good leader. As a head coach or assistant coach, guys figure that out.
“I’ll take my chances with what they’ve figured out over the last few years,” Loyer concluded.
Veteran guard Chauncey Billups is not concerned about Loyer stepping into the head coach role either. He said he’s happy Loyer is getting the opportunity. Previous to this, he spent 12 years as a college coach before making the jump to the NBA in 2000, where he broke in as Portland’s video coordinator. He spent five years in that organization before a four-year stint in Philadelphia, after which he went to New Jersey. Loyer came to Detroit as a part of the staff of former Pistons coach Lawrence Frank.
Players seemed confident Monday Loyer would do a solid job, and Billups cited Loyer’s preparation as a constant plus.
“He’ll be very good,” Billups said. “He’s just going to be who he is. Everybody loves him. He won’t change because his title’s changed. He’s going to be a coach.
“He’s always very energetic,” Billups said. Then the veteran guard chuckled. “I don’t know what we’re going to do in second halves because he won’t have a voice. He always loses his voice in the first half, so I don’t know. We’re going to have to help him coach a little bit in them second halves. Interested to see his press conferences after the games, too.”
Rodney Stuckey also seemed on board with the new coach.
“John’s a good guy,” Stuckey said. “He knows basketball, X’s and O’s, he’s really good. Offensively we’re going to be doing a little bit more movement, a lot more sets, and just simplify things, keep things simple, and we’re excited to have him.”