Mo Cheeks’ Firing Is A WhoDunit? Mystery

For some, the timing left many shaking their heads, even some at The Palace where firing coaches is a part of the culture.

Without question, the firing of Mo Cheeks as Pistons coach on Sunday came out of nowhere.

But this is the NBA, pro sports where money is long and patience is short.

Don't trip. This isn't a new movie, something we haven't seen before.

In the last 25 NBA seasons, four other coaches got put out quicker than Cheeks, who lasted just 50 games. The San Antonio Spurs canned Jerry Tarkanian after just 20 games. It's the faster exit ever.

It's not that Cheeks was doing a great job in his first season. For sure, there were many rough patches. Still, the team had been playing well recently.

In fact, the Pistons (21-29) were coming off back-to-back blowouts wins at home over the Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets. In all, they had won four of their previous six and are just a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

 That's why this sounds like a move made by the owner Tom Gores. It's impulsive, not rash. It's a move an owner with his mind made up makes despite the results in front of him.

"Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change," Gores said in a statement. "We have not made the kind of progress we should have in the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be some growing pains, but we can be patient as long as there is progress.

"The responsibility doesn't fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is 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."

This is the eighth coach fired under president Joe Dumars' watch since he took over in 2000.

And you can bet Dumars didn't really pull the plug on all the coaches dismissed. For sure, the owner played a bigger role in the decision than many know.

Nonetheless, that's the role of the president/GM – not rat out the owner, but shield them when tough decisions are made.

It's hard not to feel for Cheeks because it seems so sudden, so unfair. Most think a person should at least get a year to see if he can get it together. Cheeks had a two-year contract.

It's hard to truly judge a coach after such a small number of games when you consider all the new pieces the team had this season, including two new starters in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. Plus, the Pistons have the youngest starting five in the NBA.

That's not to ignore some of the terrible losses this team has suffered, especially blowing leads late in games.

But to be fair, it's hard to ignore those big wins the Pistons had this season, including wins on the road in Miami and Indiana. In fact, the Pacers only home loss this season came at the hands of the Pistons.

"This was a difficult decision for our organization to make but we needed a change," Dumars said in a statement. "We have great respect for Maurice and appreciate his hard work."

Still, Cheeks is out and assistant coach John Loyer was named interim coach. He makes his debut Monday night at The Palace when the Pistons host the Spurs.

The bottom line remains that the NBA is a players' league, always has been. That's why the Pistons were able to have great success despite the departures of Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and Flip Saunders in a six-year span. The team continued to win because it had talent.

The same holds true for this bunch.

Before the season, I predicted the Pistons to finish sixth in the conference and make the playoffs. I still believe that even with this coaching change before the All-Star break.

By no means are they out of anything in the weaker-than-usual East. Plus, we are seeing some of Smith and Jennings best basketball of late. The pair combined for 65 points in the Pistons' victory on Saturday night vs. Denver.

Cheeks should have been able to finish the job he started. But that's not how it works in the high stakes of pro sports. If you don't win, you open the door for you to be replaced.

It's harsh, but reality. Like others before him, Cheeks just found out personally.

Rob Parker is a columnist for The Shadow League. He is also an analyst for Fox Sports 1 in Los Angeles. He co-hosts The Odd Couple on Fox Sports Radio and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California.