All's not well in the basketball world if there isn't a bit of mischief in the Motor City.
It's hard to single out a low point during Detroit's season of unfortunate events, but Wednesday's 112-98 loss to the tanking youthful Orlando Magic might stand out above—or below?—the rest. When one team's hoping for postseason success and the other is praying for a favorable pull in the draft lottery, the former should not be getting thumped by the latter.
Yet, such is life for these problematic Pistons, thanks in no small part to the damage done by general manager Joe Dumars. Between a jumbled roster and a first-year coach who looks in over his head, Detroit has been an unmitigated disaster.
With Dan Feldman of the Detroit Free Press reporting that a win-now edict from owner Tom Gores is hanging over the franchise, tensions have been simmering all season. They appeared to reach a(nother) boiling point Wednesday.
David Mayo of MLive.com has the details:
Will Bynum, one of the most cerebral and low-key Pistons, was lifted from the game with 8:52 left in the second quarter and the Magic leading 32-28, and the ensuing nose-to-nose confrontation he engaged with head coach Maurice Cheeks was the clearest signal yet of internal tension.
Chauncey Billups and Josh Smith had to cool down Bynum, who didn't play again.
After a night's rest to clear his head, Bynum stood by his actions after Thursday's practice.
"I don't regret it," he told Brendan Savage of MLive.com. "I regret the fact that maybe I was a bit too passionate about it. But other than that, I don't."
Bynum added he has no plans of approaching his coach, nor does he expect the two to have a conversation. Cheeks echoed that sentiment, then shined some light on a perplexing double standard.
"Starters sometimes get a little bit more leeway than guys come off the bench," Cheeks told Savage. "That's the way it is."
While I don't disagree that the NBA caters to its top talents—it's hard to be a superstar's league without giving those players superstar treatment—Cheeks hasn't confined his clashes to his reserves.
He yanked blossoming big man Andre Drummond just 11 seconds into his second-half run during Detroit's 116-106 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 26. Drummond eventually got back into the mix, but was given just three minutes of playing time during his next appearance.
The big man didn't hide the fact he was clearly bothered by the short leash:
Cheeks himself might wish he could take that one back. As Pro Basketball Talk's Dan Feldman noted, "A head coach who has directed one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams can’t afford to clash with his best player."
Cheeks has left the Pistons' prized offseason acquisition, Josh Smith, completely out of second-half action twice this season. He also pulled Smith from the starting lineup on Nov. 22 when the 28-year-old missed a practice after staying in his native Atlanta on what he thought would be an off day.
Starting the game on the sideline seemed to be the result of miscommunication between the player and coach, but benching him for an entire half bothered Smith.
"It's an honor for me to play, you know what I'm saying?" he told Mayo. "So when anybody challenges -- or anything about the fact that, you know, about me not wanting to play -- then I take real offense to it."
Rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope didn't seem happy that his streak of 40 consecutive starts ended on Wednesday. "Coach's decision," he told Mayo. "It was his choice. You've just got to roll with it."
Cheeks said earlier this season Brandon Jennings, a five-year veteran, still doesn't know how to play the point guard position.
"It takes a certain amount of time for a guy to do that if that if they haven’t been doing it that way their whole career,” Cheeks told Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press (h/t PistonPowered.com). “I don’t think it’s just an overnight thing, I think Brandon is learning a little of that.”
It's hard for a coach to put himself on the hot seat in one season.
Cheeks may have pulled it off, though. He's clashed with his starting point guard, his backup floor general, his rookie sharpshooter and all three of his starting bigs.
Cheeks has Larry Brown's personnel skills, but none of the former Pistons coach's success. I hope Cheeks wasn't planning on staying around Detroit for very long.