What is the No. 1 thing Maurice Cheeks can do to step up and help the Pistons make the playoffs?
Identify the optimal rotation – quickly
This is the whole season. The Pistons have talent. It’s just spread across many players, the most-talented of whom have overlapping skills. Cheeks doesn’t have an easy job, but it’s an extremely important one. I think the Pistons will make the playoffs, but I’m totally convinced they have a playoff-caliber rotation somewhere within the roster. It’s just a matter of how quickly Cheeks identifies it and how many games the Pistons lose before he does.
The teams that make the playoffs aren’t necessarily the ones that play the best. They’re the ones that have the best records. If the Pistons lose too much early before they fine the right lineup, their early-season record could keep them from the postseason.
Don’t get comfortable
It is not easy to coach for Joe Dumars. Three straight coaches – with far less talented teams – have each had two seasons or fewer and been shown the door. Cheeks is a retread coach without much success elsewhere and Dumars is an executive whose seat is allegedly one of the leagues’ hottest. The Pistons spent significantly to upgrade their roster in the offseason and they have a flashy, still-newish owner who is antsy to have a playoff team. It’s not necessarily fair to Cheeks, but if the team starts poorly, he may have even more limited time than his predecessors to right the ship.
Cheeks might not be a coaching genius, but he doesn’t need to do anything crazy to succeed. He has pieces, albeit ones that might not fit perfectly, but he has serious talent — something the Lawrence Frank and John Kuester eras lacked. In childhood terms, Joe Dumars has dumped a nice pile of Legos in Cheeks’ lap, now it’s Cheeks’ job to turn that pile of mismatched pieces into something good. He doesn’t need to create any of these this year, but a well-put-together boat should have the Pistons floating into the playoffs.