Pistons Bounce Mo Cheeks After 50 Games

Maurice Cheeks had a 15-year pro career as a top notch point guard, but his latest coaching gig with the stagnant Detroit Pistons lasted just 50 games. It marked the fifth-shortest stint in the last 25 seasons for an NBA coach in his first season with a team. Jerry “The Towel” Tarkanian was fired as coach of the San Antonio Spurs after 20 games in the 1992-93 season.

The 57-year-old Cheeks owns a 305-315 career record over nine seasons as a NBA coach. The former four-time all-star with Philly couldn’t get the Piston’s to .500 and didn’t get much time to change the culture.

When it comes to coaching, legendary players get disrespected and dumped with no consideration for their past on-court accomplishments. The list of revered ballers who came up lame as coaches includes cats like Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and now Mo Cheeks, whose firing is another in the game of musical chairs that the Pistons organization has played with its bench bosses since the height of Joe Dumars’ tenure when they won the title in 2004.

It’s pretty much been all downhill from there for Detroit's President of Basketball Operations. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2009 with Michael Curry at the controls and he got ousted after one season. John Kuester and Lawrence Frank also had a couple of rotten egg seasons as bench commando in the D.

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. Some insiders reason that Cheeks being ousted in-season instead of Dumars could be a sign of security for Dumars, who was part of two championship teams in Detroit as a player and another as top-dawg executive.

Despite upgrading the team’s talent portfolio by adding Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, Detroit struggled to a 21-29 record under Cheeks this season. But because the Eastern Conference is so dysfunctional, the Pistons are only a half-game out of the playoff’s No. 8 seed, which makes the move even more shocking. Fans, media and Piston's players seemed a bit rattled by the sudden move and had twitter buzzing.   

Although Dumars has been known to have an itchy trigger finger, it’s reported that Pistons owner Tom Gores ordered the hit. Gores is frustrated with being a mediocre team. When he opened the bank in free agency, he thought he was getting pure playoff product. Instead, his Piston’s still look stepped on and lack potency.

"Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change," 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."

It’s gotten really bad in Motown, which was once as popping an NBA basketball town as you'll find. Attendance has been steady plummeting at Pistons games and the fans have become increasingly agitated with Dumars and the organization. The team's lack of succcess has reflected the overall depressing mood in Detroit. The last decade has been a slow, dreary demise highlightted by failed promises of a leadership that has eaten away at the soul of the city.

Obviously hiring and firing cats is not helping the Pistons' return to glory. There’s a large contingent of media heads who feel the answer to a Piston’s revival is getting rid of Dumars who will never live down drafting super-hyped Serbian sensation Darko Milicic over the sure-fire American Dream Carmelo Anthony in the 2003 NBA Draft. Dumars says that regretable blunder, "is my biggest regret."

ESPN’s Bill Simmons flat out blames Dumars for this current Piston’s mess and said, “I think we can all agree it’s time for a change in Detroit.”

Assistant coach John Loyer will be formally named interim coach before Detroit's home game Monday with San Antonio. But NBA sources are hot on former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, who has emerged as one of the primary targets for the job, having interviewed with the Pistons last summer when Detroit unsuccessfully tried to convince Hollins to join Cheeks' staff as an assistant. Hollins did a bang-up job coaching Memphis to playoff appearances in three-consecutive seasons and a berth in the Western Conference finals last year, but inexplicably the Grizzlies opted to chuck him. 

Other names emerging from the rumor mill are former Pistons rebel rouser Rasheed Wallace and 2004 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups. In a 2013 NBA preview by sportsillustrated.cnn.com, NBA scouts felt Billups was the real coach of the Piston’s anyway. Now there is a faction of fans propping him up as the next coach.

"Billups, in reality, is going to be the coach for this team because Mo Cheeks and his staff aren't strong. Cheeks [who previously coached the Trail Blazers and 76ers] has never been an X's-and-O's guy or a disciplinarian. When he's had good veteran players, he's had success. But when he's had a young group that looked for leadership, that hasn't been there because he's a quiet guy. “

According to Yahoo Sports, an official White House petition was created to have Wallace named as the team’s interim coach. The goal is to get 1000,000 signatures. Wallace has been gaining coaching experience since being hired as an assistant coach for the Pistons in July.

In light of that recent information, I guess it’s official. The Piston’s fans have reached desperation mode. While Wallace is a respected competitor and somewhat legendary Piston’s player, he’s been known to blow a gasket or two in emotionally charged situations. He has a well-publicized and historically adversarial relationship with the refs and has never really exhibited an ability to maintain his composure for long stretches of time. There’s no doubt that he can lead men, he understands his X’s and O’s, he’s a warrior and a champion. But imagine Sheed’s team down by 20 late in the fourth quarter and the ref blows a call. You can’t have the face of your franchise leadership yelling, “Ball Don’t Lie” at an opposing player when he misses a free throw.

W'ell have to monitor Sheed's progress on the bench over a few seasons. It’s an interesting thought, but hiring Sheed to coach anybody’s NBA team is probably a ways off, even for a desperate Pistons franchise.


JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.