What's the rush, Pistons?
February, 9, 2014
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com
The one about how Joe Dumars is up to eight coach firings in his 14 years in charge of the Detroit Pistons after Sunday's dismissal of Mo Cheeks.
So you're never really surprised when the Pistons announce a coaching change. Not even when Cheeks gets hooked just 50 games into his debut season after being hired to replace Lawrence Frank.
The reality this time is that Pistons owner Tom Gores, more than Dumars, is the one who wanted an instant change on his bench despite the fact that Detroit had just won four of six games in the wake of its 17-27 start. But the real surprise here, if you’re looking for one, is the fact that Cheeks was the first coach fired in the NBA this season ... and that he might go down as the only coach to be dumped in-season if New York's Mike Woodson can keep hanging on.
You certainly shouldn't have expected a flurry of midstream firings after a record 13 teams -- nearly half the league -- hired new coaches in the offseason. Yet it's extremely unusual to see so few coaches in jeopardy. How unusual? Woodson is widely regarded as the only other coach in immediate danger ... and ESPN.com ace researcher/editor/social media maven Adam Reisinger dug into it for Stein Line Live and found that there hasn’t been a season without an in-season firing in the NBA since 1970-71.
Of course, Woodson has survived at Madison Square Garden largely because the Knicks don't have an obvious interim option to step in like they did when Woodson took over for Mike D'Antoni. There isn't a proven successor to Cheeks on Detroit's bench, either, but that somehow didn't save him, which only adds to the confusion about the timing.
You can't say Cheeks was doing a good job when Detroit ranks as one of the Eastern Conference's bigger disappointments. You likewise still hear people asking why Detroit hired him in the first place when there was so little clamor for Cheeks' services as a head coach after his previous underwhelming stints in Portland and Philly. Yet you'd have to say that, by any reasonable standards, Cheeks deserved at least one full season with the Pistons after being handed what we'll charitably call an eclectic roster.
The only sensible scenario to explain Cheeks exiting first in 2013-14, before Woodson or anyone else, is because the Pistons want to make a run at, say, the very available Lionel Hollins before anyone else has a chance.
Hollins was immediately identified Sunday by sources close to the situation as a prime target for Detroit after the Pistons’ failed attempts last summer to convince him to work as an assistant on Cheeks’ staff. If the Pistons brought him in right away, to lend a strong voice and hard edge to a young team that would appear to need some guidance, then the timing of Sunday’s announcement starts to make sense.
Yet sources also insisted Sunday that Gores is inclined to keep John Loyer in the hot seat for the final 32 games and let the rest of the season play out before making any other big moves.
Which can only mean one thing.
If Gores is prepared to entrust the playoff push he mandated before the season to a substitute teacher, after the Pistons just went a pretty passable 7-7 in their past 14 games, it would mean he's not prepared to let Dumars look for a proven replacement for Cheeks unless he’s sure Dumars is staying on as his GM.
It would mean that Gores -- after combing through the detailed rundown from my colleague Amin Elhassan on the succession of moves that has put Joe D in peril -- is really not sure.