PistonPowered Mailbag: Maurice Cheeks reaction and (a lot of) trade proposals

Submit questions for the weekly PistonPowered Mailbag to  patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @patrick_hayes.

I think most fans were aware of how poor a job Maurice Cheeks was doing as coach of the Detroit Pistons. I had a friendly debate with a reader on Twitter about whether or not Cheeks was the worst coach in the league this season “by a landslide” or simply the worst coach in the league. Needless to say when those are the positions taken in a debate, it shouldn’t come as a shock  that Cheeks was fired.

I only have a few thoughts to add to the Cheeks conversation:

* He had talent. Some commenters on the Detroit Free Press column I wrote Friday argued that no coach would win with this roster. That’s simply not true. The Pistons have significantly more talent than they have at any point in the previous four seasons. It’s true that that talent, collectively, does not really mesh all that well, but it’s also true that a more prepared coach with a better offensive and/or defensive system could be getting more out of the roster than Cheeks did.

* Cheeks’ firing should mean the end of Joe Dumars’ tenure as team president. Dumars came into this season with a clear mandate to make the playoffs, with the implication from ownership that if the team didn’t, it would likely cost him his job. So with that type of pressure, and with coaches like Lionel Hollins, George Karl, the Van Gundy brothers, Nate McMillan and a handful of highly regarded assistants on the market, you’re going to roll with … Maurice Cheeks? Dumars doesn’t deserve to be fired for the Cheeks hire alone, but when he chose Cheeks as coach, I had little confidence from that point on that this team was going to perform well enough for Dumars to keep his job.

* I have a major issue with “playoffs or else” ultimatums. I mean … has one ever actually worked? If Tom Gores was at the point of giving Dumars an ultimatum, he should’ve just fired him in the offseason. Most people understandably don’t perform with the long-term health of the organization in mind when their immediate concern is self-preservation. So yes, Dumars damaged the Pistons with several moves this offseason, but ultimately, the responsibility for entrusting him to continue doing this job is on Gores.

* The timing was mildly surprising only because the Pistons are coming off a couple of double-digit home wins against decent teams. But we still shouldn’t be that surprised. I was at the game Saturday with some friends, and seeing this team play from the crowd is really underwhelming. I don’t know how it looked on TV, but in person, it appeared as if both teams were just doing warm-ups. They were getting to the rim on virtually every possession, no one was closing out on shooters, everyone was biting on pump fakes and everyone was diving into passing lanes gambling for steals. Offensively, as we’ve seen all season, the Pistons really don’t run anything. Other than Andre Drummond, who was bound to get better when played the minutes he deserved, and Rodney Stuckey, who is motivated and playing for his next contract, is there anyone on this roster anyone can point to and say, “Maurice Cheeks made that player better?”

On to this week’s mailbag questions (apologies for not getting this up Friday … but I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t considering what would happen over the weekend). Send me more questions and we’ll do another edition this Friday.

What’s your take on the Cheeks firing? After hearing that Dumars really tried to talk Gores out of it, it sure sounds to me like Gores is likely to clean house…. and if that is the case, how do you think this effects our approach to the trade deadline? — Mark

As I said above, I agree with your sentiments that this is the beginning of the end for Dumars. I have no issue with that, either. The time has more than come for Dumars and the organization to part ways. Thanks for the memories, good luck with your future endeavors, etc. Dumars will be fine and probably even work in the league again. The Pistons, however, will enter a period of uncertainty and possibly another rebuilding period depending on what Dumars’ eventual replacement thinks of this roster.

As far as deadline moves, I can’t see Gores allowing Dumars to do much if he really is a lame duck — certainly no moves that would take on long-term salary. Firing Cheeks made it clear Gores would like the team to still make a playoff push, so it’s possible he could sign-off on a minor move or two that brings in a shooter on the cheap, but I’d guess that Dumars is going to have to live or die with the imperfect roster he assembled.

Who would u want as a replacement? I’m thinking Lionel Hollins or George Karl. — Faraz

Either would be fine with me, as long as Dumars isn’t the one making that hire. With the way the Pistons burn through coaches and the way Dumars has historically used coaches as scapegoats, any established coach would be insane to work for him.

I like Hollins because he successfully coached a team featuring a strangely assembled, huge lineup devoid of outside shooters all the way to the Western Conference Finals. He helped Mike Conley become one of the more underrated point guards in the league and he helped Marc Gasol become a highly skilled big man offensively and one of the league’s best defenders. I like Karl because he could run a fast-paced offense that takes advantage of Detroit’s speed and athleticism. I like Jeff Van Gundy because of his ability to coach defense and I like Stan Van Gundy because he surrounded Dwight Howard — whose skillset is obviously a match to what Andre Drummond should develop into — with an array of shooters and made it all the way to the NBA Finals.

Basically, I’m just ready for the Pistons to hire and invest in an established and proven coach rather than a retread.

(Re: My Free Press column Friday) Not sure why you start the article advocating for a coaching change then finish it with the Casey situation in Toronto insinuating coaching stability is what got them to where they are now (despite poor records the prior two seasons). If you’re saying they should fire Mo Cheeks after just over one half a season, just come out and say it. Personally I think he needs more time and some better fitting pieces on the roster. The late game situations aren’t his fault, he’s not out on the floor throwing lazy passes to the other team or allowing dribble penetration or taking poor shots. This team, players and coaches still need more time to gel, grow with each other, learn from mistakes with each other. Take a deep breath Patrick — Chris

OK … I think Mo Cheeks should be fired. I think he never should’ve been hired in the first place. I think when Feldman spent significant time and research ripping the hire (only to himself be ripped for being “too negative”) he was right on the mark. He was the only local writer to significantly look at the red flags in Cheeks’ background suggesting he’s not equipped to be a head coach in the league, and I think the results this season proved him right for doing so.

As far as my column, my point was that coaching stability has hurt the Pistons. But that was not advocating more time for Cheeks. It was point out that the Pistons problem is twofold. First, they have not hired coaches recently worth investing in (Cheeks, Kuester, Curry, Frank). Secondly, their impatience with coaches has probably hurt them as well. I used Casey as an example of a quality candidate who got off to a poor start but eventually turned it around because the front office supported him AND made moves (notably, shedding Rudy Gay and his chucking ways) that helped set Casey up for success. The Pistons have hired coaches who were bad, but they’ve also compounded those poor hires by giving them major roster issues and not making in-season moves to fix those problems. And for the record, the front office did more to support Cheeks than any of his three recent predecessors. Dumars traded Billups, who would’ve undoubtedly made Curry’s first season smoother. Dumars refused to trade or even punish disgruntled, unhappy players who routinely berated and even mutinied on Kuester. He gave Lawrence Frank a playoff mandate and a roster that included Corey Maggette penciled in for a rotation spot before the season started. Cheeks certainly had roster challenges, but he also had a lot more talent than Curry, Kuester or Frank had to work with.

I’m sure you get tons of these, but here’s some trade ideas, from teams that actually make some sense (at least in my fan-dominated mind).  My question is, who says no? — Nathan

Holy wow, Nathan … I’m impressed by your Trade Machine productivity. I would love some research unit at a college to study how many work hours have been wasted since ESPN launched the Trade Machine. I’d be fascinated by that (and also be a major contributor to those wasted hours). I’ll just go down your list:

Wizards say no. They’re a playoff team right now, playing fairly well and, although I’m sure they’d love to have Monroe, the former Georgetown star, in D.C., I can’t see them shaking up a lineup that seems to be playing better together. They also have a playoffs or else mandate for their front office, so with that goal in sight, it’s hard to see them making a major move.

  • Sixers say no. Pistons would definitely do that to get out of Smith’s deal, but I don’t think a rebuilding Philly has any interest in taking on Smith’s contract. They could move Young and Turner in other deals and probably get more value for them.
  • Mavs say no. They’re way to analytically inclined to be tempted into taking Smith unless the Pistons are giving up a draft pick or young player for the trouble.
  • Pistons say no. McGee and Gallo are both injured and really expensive to boot. Would love Wilson Chandler on the Pistons though.
  • Both probably say no. I think Golden State would like Monroe and he’d be a good fit there, but they wouldn’t take on Smith and jeopardize that his shot-happy ways would ruin their vibe as the playoffs approach. Pistons would probably want a better young player than Barnes if they ever became open to moving Monroe.
  • Plausible, but only if Dwight Howard would still like to play with Josh Smith and only if Houston thinks they can fix him by playing him at his natural position.
  • Thunder say no. Ibaka’s contract is reasonable and Perry Jones has actually shown signs of playing well in limited stretches. They’d be taking on a player in Monroe who they might have to max soon, then giving up a really good starter and a really good prospect to pay Josh Smith. Can’t see that happening.
  • Suns say no. They’re on the market for a star-type player, but Josh Smith is not that player. If they want to deal Len and some of their hundreds of first round picks, they could do much better than Smith.
  • Pistons say no. Hayward is not an attractive enough young wing to move Monroe for.

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