If all goes according to plan, Maurice Cheeks will become the Pistons’ eighth coach under Joe Dumars.
Cheeks will also likely be the last.
Tom Gores has set misguided goals, and Dumars – with no other option if he wants to keep his job – has indulged the owner. The result is another stale move for an organization that’s swimming in place until it drowns next summer.
The admittedly impatient Gores said the Pistons “better” make the playoffs this season, and though an 0-8 start quickly lowered expectations, Gores promised swift action after the season. Lawrence Frank was fired and Dumars was spared, but we’re headed into year three of what was reported to be a three-year window for Dumars to prove himself.
It’s in this environment the Pistons chose Cheeks as their next coach.
Cursed to hire a coach in the same offseason it seems six playoff teams will also choose new coaches, the Pistons probably struggled to garner interest from good coaches with proven track records. So instead of rolling the dice on a promising assistant as they should have if that were the case, the Pistons settled for proven mediocrity.
The Pistons aren’t daring to be great. They’re settling for a perceived guarantee of mediocrity, but they’re not even getting that.
The Bucks made the playoffs this season with a 38-44 record, and Cheeks could get the Piston there – a majority of his teams have gone 38-44 or better – but Detroit’s roster might not stack up with the 2005-06 76ers, a Cheeks-coached team that started Allen Iverson, Chris Webber, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver and Samuel Dalembert and went 38-44. Hiring Cheeks doesn’t exactly inspire confidence Dumars will wisely use his cap space to upgrade considerably the team this summer.
But a playoff berth in 2014 shouldn’t be the Pistons’ ultimate goal, anyway.
Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond could be the centerpieces of a very good team down the road if the Pistons show patience, continue to obtain and play young players and get one more high draft pick. But another lottery season will likely cost Dumars his job, and he knows it, so he can’t sit idly and let the Pistons take the ideal, patient route.
Not only did that lead to Detroit planning to hire Cheeks, it contributed to trading a first-round pick to the Charlotte Bobcats just so the Pistons could have cap space a season sooner. The Pistons, at the expense of their future, are going all in for the 2013-14 season.
The draft choice they owe Charlotte is top eight-protected next year, and Cheeks, moderate improvement from the current roster, the No. 8 pick and a free agent or two could very well push the Pistons out of the league’s bottom eight. Cheeks is not a bad coach, at least not to the depths an unproven coach could have sunk, but moderate gains are not enough thanks to the Gordon trade.
The Pistons landing a pick between No. 9 and No. 14 would be a disaster, and Detroit sneaking into the playoffs might be only marginally better. The postseason berth would probably save Dumars’ job for another year, but as the standard rises in future seasons – even after dumping a pick in the loaded 2014 draft – can Cheeks really deliver?
Dumars is still around, in part, because Gores overruled Dumars’ preference of Mike Woodson when the Pistons hired Frank. It’s not as clear which members of the organization pushed hardest for Cheeks – though Nate McMillan was the early reported frontrunner, Dumars wanted to hire a coach weeks ago, and then Gores put his stamp on the search and hired Phil Jackson, so you do the math – but that distinction won’t save Dumars this time.
I don’t think there’s a general manager on thinner ice right now than Dumars, and whether or not the hire was completely his choice, Dumars needing Cheeks to save him bodes poorly for Dumars.
Whether Gores or Dumars deserves more of the blame for the uglier situation the Pistons are headed toward is inconsequential. Gores is the owner and holds the power, so Dumars will be the one who falls if and when Cheeks falters.
Dumars’ end might not be inevitable, but it’s close.