By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – When players received a group text that Detroit Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks had been fired after just 50 games, including back-to-back wins that weekend, the news came as a serious surprise.
The Pistons had won four of their last six games but were still a half-game behind Charlotte for the eighth Eastern Conference playoff spot. Even so, it looked probable that Detroit would miss the postseason for the fifth straight season despite several big off-season moves and owner Tom Gores’ playoffs-or-else mandate this summer. Still, the timing caught many players off guard.
“I was surprised, but was it unexpected?” forward Kyle Singler said after Monday’s shootaround. “I don’t know. Sure, something was expected, maybe before the All-Star break, but to see Coach go like that, it was surprising for me.
“Guys are not mad,” Singler added. “They’re just upset that a change was made, but we’re going to respond to our new coach, Coach [John] Loyer. He’s going to do a great job , and we’re just going to follow his lead.”
Veteran guard Chauncey Billups, an integral part of Detroit’s 2004 championship team who returned to the Pistons this season, offered his insight into the organization’s reasoning in firing Cheeks on Sunday rather than waiting until the end of the season.
“You would hope for it just to change the energy, the spirit to be a little different,” Billups said. “That’s mainly why you make a change at this point in the season. We’re hoping for the best with that.
“I don’t know that there was a lack of that [with Cheeks],” Billups clarified. “I just think that we kind of played ourselves into a hole a little bit, and no one or two or three people involved in the whole thing is to blame. I think it was everybody. It was everybody. Everybody has to take responsibility of not playing on the level that you should. Everybody.”
Greg Monroe agreed that players are also accountable for the current state of the Pistons – including their fourth-quarter failings.
“You can’t put all the blame on him, that’s for sure,” Monroe said. “It’s definitely not all on Mo.
“I’ve never been one to blame anything on coaching,” Monroe continued. “I always believe that any coach is trying to put their team in a great position to win, so I wouldn’t say that, personally. I don’t really believe in that. I think players play, and at the end of the day, no matter what’s being ran or called, we have to make plays.”
Singler and Monroe agreed that Cheeks could have orchestrated a turnaround had he been given more time. Less than eight months passed between Cheeks’ hiring on June 13, 2013, and his firing on Feb. 9, 2014.
“It’s tough to make a difference with just a half a season, but he was given a chance, and a change was made, so it wasn’t his choice,” Singler said. “I thought he did the best job that he could, and it was disappointing that he was let go because I think we’re moving in a direction where positive things can come about.”