Pistons fire coach Maurice Cheeks

Updated: February 10, 2014, 11:58 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Detroit Pistons have fired Maurice Cheeks just 50 games into his tenure as the team's head coach.

The Pistons announced their decision Sunday in a statement released by the team.

"This was a difficult decision for the organization to make but we needed to make a change," Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said. "We have great respect for Maurice and appreciate his hard work."

Sources briefed on Detroit's thinking said Sunday that assistant coach John Loyer will be formally named interim coach before Detroit's home game Monday with San Antonio. But NBA coaching sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins has emerged as one of the primary contenders for the job, having interviewed with the Pistons last summer when Detroit unsuccessfully tried to convince Hollins to join Cheeks' staff as an assistant.

Yet sources added Sunday that Pistons owner Tom Gores could elect to wait until the offseason before bringing in a full-time replacement for Cheeks, with the Pistons facing a number of difficult decisions in coming months and still very much alive in the race for a playoff berth this season thanks to the forgiving Eastern Conference.

Dumars, who has now dismissed eight coaches since taking charge of Detroit's front office in 2000, is in the final year of his contract. The fact that Cheeks was ousted in-season instead of Dumars could thus be seen as a sign of support for Dumars, who was part of two championship teams in Detroit as a player and another as its top executive.

But holding off on hiring an established replacement for Cheeks -- with Detroit only a half-game out of the East's No. 8 seed despite its 21-29 start -- could likewise be seen as worrisome for Dumars, since it would suggest that Gores wants to leave open the option of a new lead executive choosing his own coach.

If the Pistons do decide they want to focus their efforts on hiring Hollins, they have an immediate opportunity to pursue him unopposed, since Detroit -- despite winning four of its last six games -- is the first NBA team to make a coaching change this season. Hollins coached Memphis to playoff appearances in each of the last three seasons and a berth in the Western Conference finals last year, but the Grizzlies opted not to renew his contract this past offseason.

The Pistons went 21-29 under Cheeks, who previously had head-coaching stints with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers.

Despite a new-look lineup featuring Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, the Pistons entered Sunday as the No. 9 team in the Eastern Conference.

"Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change," Pistons owner Tom Gores said in the team's release. "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."

Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva took to Twitter on Sunday, apparently in disbelief that Detroit had fired Cheeks.

Jennings also indicated on Twitter that he was surprised by the team's decision. Jennings later tweeted his thanks to Cheeks.

Cheeks, 57, owns a 305-315 career record over parts of nine seasons with Detroit, Philadelphia and Portland. He was a four-time All-Star point guard during his 15-year playing career.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Cheeks
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesMaurice Cheeks lasted just 50 games as the Pistons' head coach.

The Pistons gave him his third shot to be an NBA head coach in June, but didn't let him finish one season with the disappointing team that made moves to make a push to earn a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 -- which was Michael Curry's only season as their coach.

Since then, Detroit has gone through two seasons under John Kuester and two under Lawrence Frank. After neither of those coaches could make any real progress, Cheeks was brought in and the Pistons acted boldly last offseason.

Detroit signed Smith and traded for Jennings, trying to bolster a roster that already included young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

But the mix has been uninspiring for the most part. The Pistons have had problems defensively and have struggled to close out games in the fourth quarter.

The poor attendance that's become commonplace at The Palace hasn't changed -- and Detroit's 11-15 home record hasn't helped.

Cheeks was Detroit's ninth coach since the 1999-2000 season.

The Pistons have won four of six, including back-to-back blowouts at home against Brooklyn and Denver on Friday and Saturday. They host San Antonio on Monday night.

ESPN.com's Marc Stein, Jeff Goodman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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