The Detroit Pistons are in the midst of a month-long free fall that begs the question: Should coach Maurice Cheeks' job be in jeopardy?
The Pistons are now on the outside of the Easter Conference playoff picture and have to look at the first half of the 2013-14 season, identify what has not been working and attempt to rectify the problem(s).
Every NBA team has a front office, a coaching staff and a roster of players. The degree to which any given team succeeds or fails depends—at least in part—on all three aspects of the franchise.
For example: The San Antonio Spurs have made the playoffs every season since 1999 because they were fortunate enough to draft Tim Duncan. But they couldn't have been as successful as they have been without one of the best front offices in the NBA and arguably the league's best coach in Gregg Popovich.
The questions for the Pistons now are: To what extent have the struggles been coach Maurice Cheeks' fault, and does he deserve enough blame to put his future as the Pistons coach in jeopardy?
*All statistics compiled from NBA.com and updated as of Jan. 30 unless otherwise noted.
The Case for the Hot Seat
Although Cheeks is in his ninth season as an NBA head coach, he's made some mistakes that shouldn't be made by coaches far less experienced than he is.
Take the blunder he made at the end of the Pistons' recent loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, a game in which Detroit led by 16 late in the third quarter.
With the game tied at 101, Pelicans guard Eric Gordon hit a runner with just 1.6 second remaining to give them a two-point lead. The Pistons had two timeouts and could have advanced the ball to half court.
"No I didn’t. I tried to call a timeout. That timeout is on me," he said. “I’m not going to leave it up to them. ... It’s my job to make sure we get a timeout. That’s the bottom line."
Cheeks has also been criticized for his mediocre play-calling during timeouts and inconsistent rotations. An example: In the past 26 games, Josh Harrellson has played double-digit minutes 13 times, yet did not play five times and played three minutes or less five times.
Combine the issues with timeouts and the lack of a predictable rotation with Cheeks' inability to rein in Josh Smith's shot selection, and there are some real concerns with him at the helm for the Pistons going forward.
The Case for the Not-So-Hot Seat
If Cheeks is not responsible for the bulk of the blame this season, then certainly the man who hired him in July should be.
Joe Dumars has been general manager of the Pistons since before the 2000-01 season, and thus has had more influence on the current makeup of the team than any other person. All the coaches and players from the previous regime are long gone; every player or coach on the team is there, at least in part, because of a decision Dumars made.
Dumars should get credit for restocking Detroit's young talent through the draft, selecting the likes of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope outside the top-five picks.
But he's also responsible for the free agent contracts of Charlie Villanueva (five years, $35 million) that has hindered the Pistons financially since 2009. Josh Smith's current four-year, $54 million deal threatens to do the same for the foreseeable future.
Dumars is also responsible for assembling a roster in which three of the top four players share two positions. And the rest of the roster he created is devoid of three-point shooting to surround the massive frontcourt and currently ranks dead last in outside shooting.
Finally, Dumars is the one responsible for Cheeks being the Pistons' fifth head coach since 2008 and eighth since 2000. The last three coaches have lasted no more than two seasons, making it impossible for the team to have any sort of consistency.
While there are things that can (and should) fall on Cheeks' shoulders for why the Pistons have struggled so mightily, the roster makeup and lack of continuity on the bench is to be attributed to Dumars.
Cheeks has undoubtedly had struggles this season, but he's not the root of the biggest issues affecting the team. The roster isn't a cohesive unit—it's a collection of parts that don't fit together. Until the Pistons make a move with one of the big men and add some perimeter shooting, this team is going to struggle to have success, regardless of who is coaching.
Just as importantly, the Pistons simply cannot afford to fire Cheeks after their recent history with head coaches. A mid-season firing would mean a fifth coach since 2008 for Detroit. It would mean learning yet another system for the players. And what respectable coach would want the job next with Dumars' track record?
Cheeks clearly has things to iron out as the Pistons coach and Dumars may be looking for a way to shake things up as the team continues to struggle. But any talk of firing Cheeks is premature and will only hinder the Pistons in the short- and long-term.
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