Like a once-popular band still touring off a decade-old album, the Detroit Pistons front office—fronted by general manager Joe Dumars—keeps finding ways to survive.
Sadly, the encore always seems to include a number about some other guy getting the axe.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Detroit officially fired head coach Maurice Cheeks early Sunday following a disappointing 21-29 start to the season.
Owner Tom Gores had become increasingly impatient with Cheeks, and sources with knowledge of his plans say that he had been pushing for a change in the coaching staff.
Eight different coaches have been replaced under Dumars' run as GM, but league sources told Yahoo Sports he had been an advocate of giving Cheeks more time as coach – especially in light of back-to-back victories over the weekend.
Detroit has more than enough talent to claw its way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, peppered as it is with far more pretenders than contenders.
The question is whether interim head coach John Loyer—tasked by Dumars with shepherding the team through the remainder of the regular season—can finally find a formula that works, and works consistently.
The potential problems in putting the puzzle together were obvious enough to anyone who understood the particular pieces: For Brandon Jennings (lefty scorer), Josh Smith (lefty scorer), Greg Monroe (lefty scorer) and Andre Drummond (gifted but offensively limited) to truly mesh, everything would have to break right.
Needless to say, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
Of the four, Smith has been by far the most disappointing: According to stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com, Smith is charting career-lows in player efficiency (15.2), true shooting percentage (47 percent), total rebounding percentage (10.9) and block percentage (3.2).
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Getting Smith’s confidence back to even-keel will be one of Loyer’s most pressing short-term concerns. Without it, the Pistons could easily find themselves on the outside looking in.
That’s not to say Smith has been a total liability from a team standpoint. In fact, of the trio of Pistons lineups with at least 50 minutes of court time so far this season that have also charted a net-positive rating, Smith is featured in all three.
More crucially, these three units all feature Smith at power forward.
Compare that to Detroit’s two most oft-used lineups—Jennings, Rodney Stuckey, Smith, Monroe and Drummond (a net rating of minus-2.0 in 129 minutes) on the one hand, and Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Smith, Monroe and Drummond (minus-4.3 in 496 minutes) on the other—where Smith is slotted at small forward spot.
It boils down to a simple matter of spacing: Jennings, Smith and Monroe—and the latter two in particular—all prefer operating from the left side of the floor.
Definitive or not, the evidence clearly suggests what many feared: that Smith, Monroe and Drummond as most oft-used frontcourt might not work.
Back in July, Dumars told Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News that, of all the players on his roster, Drummond was the only one he'd call "untouchable."
Given Drummond's youth (he's only 20 years old) and performance (his 22.2 player efficiency rating is already tops on the team), that sentiment is certainly understandable.
Luckily, the Pistons still have time to pull the trigger on another short-term solution: trading Greg Monroe.
Back in January, D.J. Foster expertly dissected a few possible landing spots for Detroit’s versatile forward, the most intriguing of which is a potential multi-player deal with the New Orleans Pelicans:
Pistons receive: SG Eric Gordon (three years, $44.6 million) and PF Ryan Anderson (three years, $25.2 million)
Pelicans receive: PF Greg Monroe (one year, $4 million), SG Rodney Stuckey (one year, $8.5 million) and PF Charlie Villanueva (one year, $8.5 million)
This would be a tough deal for both sides to consider, but it would have the potential to be mutually beneficial. Detroit would get the shooting that's so desperately needed from two different sources, and New Orleans would have a very solid core in place with Jrue Holiday, Monroe and Davis.
The key point of Foster’s analysis: The Pistons desperately need shooting help. According to NBA.com, the Pistons rank 22nd in the league in effective field-goal percentage (48.5 percent), 24th in true-shooting percentage (51.7 percent) and dead last in three-point shooting (31.2 percent).
More importantly, moving Monroe frees Detroit up to play Smith almost exclusively at power forward.
In an interview conducted last month by MLive's David Mayo, Cheeks himself made clear Smith at the 4 was the most important factor in his team's frontcourt hierarchy.
It's better having Josh Smith and one of the bigs, and then you put Kyle [Singler] or somebody else out there. He's always been more of a smaller four.
And while the Smith-Drummond duo has yet to register a positive net rating (they’re at minus-2.8 thus far), keep in mind a considerable number of those minutes were with Smith playing out of position in lieu of the bigger—but more defensively challenged—Monroe.
Even if you believe Monroe to be a more valuable asset than Smith, the potential haul to be had by dealing Monroe would give the Pistons more options with which to bolster their best, most successful lineups.
With eight of their next 11 games being at home, the Pistons have a chance to thrust themselves back into the fold—something they could do even without trading Monroe, talent-laden as they are.
Still, it’s hard to believe Dumars, desperate as he is, doesn’t have at least one more roll of the dice left in the wrist, this one to the player side.
Anything to keep the old show going.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com and current as of February 9, unless otherwise noted.
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