There was definitely “Panic In Detroit” on Sunday, or more accurately Auburn Hills, Michigan as the “Detroit Free Press” reported that the Detroit Pistons fired bench boss Maurice Cheeks on Sunday, just 50-games into a multi-year contract. The move came after the club had a strong victory over the Denver Nuggets Saturday night, winning the contest by a 126-109 margin.
The former All-Star point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, dismissed with a lackluster record of 21-29, however in a campaign in which the Eastern Conference could be mistaken for a Division Two college conference, they were just a half game out of the eighth and final Playoff seed, currently occupied by the Charlotte Bobcats. Which begs one to question whether the man who runs the franchise Joe Dumars, made the move due to fear of his own future with the team?
During the first decade of the new millennium Detroit Pistons President Of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars, was one of the bright, young, talented executives in the Association. They won the NBA Finals in 2004 and were among the elite teams through the 2007-2008 campaign.
The Pistons fall from grace emanated from one of the worst trades in the recent history of the Association, as Detroit sent Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson. Billups immediately became a spark plug and team leader for Denver, while Iverson became a clubhouse cancer and major distraction for the Pistons. The club barely made the Post Season that spring and were swept by their former chief rival the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. That was the last time Detroit was even close to qualifying for the Playoffs.
The Pistons made no attempt to re-sign Iverson, who became an unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the season. Although that move was a no-brainer for Dumars, he then proceeded to blow the team’s salary cap space on two Free Agents that had the same skill-sets as players already on the roster. They signed former Bulls shooting guard Ben Gordon as a backup to Richard Hamilton, even though he had shown that he was ineffective coming off the bench.
Their other acquisition was veteran forward Charlie Villanueva, who was basically an older and more expensive version of their own player Jason Maxiell. Although many long-time observers of the Association criticized the signings; Dumars thought he had the makings of a roster that would propel his team deep into the Post Season. Instead they went deep into the cellar of the Central Division for the next few years.
The coaching carousel for the franchise has been rocky ever since they fired former head coach Flip Saunders in the Spring of 2008. Michael Curry held the reins for one campaign, while John Kuester lasted through two agonizing seasons on the bench. Former Nets head coach Lawrence Frank, could not turn the team around in his two years with the team, now they have given up on Cheeks, just 50-games into his first season.
The team went into the campaign with the highest hopes that the franchise has had in years. They acquired former Milwaukee Bucks point guard Byron Jennings and along with talented young big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond they expected to field a vastly improved roster this season. That disappointment was most likely a factor in the early firing of Maurice Cheeks.
There is another factor involved though, even if it is never mentioned by anyone on the Pistons. That would be that Dumars contract runs out at the end of this season and the club’s performance over the last few years, does not make a strong case for bringing him back.
Dumars’ fate now rests in former assistant Jon Loyer, who will be the interim coach for the rest of the season. Loyer has a strong chance of getting Detroit into the eighth seed in the upcoming Playoffs; the real question is can he do enough to save Dumars from the firing squad?