DETROIT – Even by the Detroit Pistons’ recent standards, this was an abrupt change.
Detroit fired coach Maurice Cheeks on Sunday after less than a year as coach, with the Pistons languishing well below .500 despite offseason moves aimed at putting the struggling franchise back in contention.
Detroit is 21-29, and although the Pistons still have a decent chance to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, their new roster has performed erratically.
“This was a difficult decision for the organization to make, but we needed to make a change,” team president Joe Dumars said in a statement. “We have great respect for Maurice and appreciate his hard work.”
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Cheeks became the first coach to leave or be fired after 50 games or fewer with an NBA team since Bob Weiss, who coached 30 games for the Sonics in 2005-06, according to STATS. That does not include interim coaches.
A person with knowledge of Detroit’s plans said assistant John Loyer will take over as interim coach.
The Pistons haven’t made the playoffs since being swept in the first round in 2009 — in Michael Curry’s lone season as their coach. Since that time, Detroit has gone through two seasons under John Kuester and two under Lawrence Frank.
After neither could make much progress, Cheeks was brought in as Detroit’s ninth coach since the 1999-2000 season.
In addition to hiring Cheeks last offseason, Detroit signed forward Josh Smith and traded for point guard Brandon Jennings, trying to bolster a roster that already included young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.
But the mix has been uninspiring for the most part. The Pistons have had problems defensively and have struggled to close out games in the fourth quarter.
Poor attendance has become commonplace at The Palace of Auburn Hills — and Detroit’s 11-15 home record hasn’t helped.
“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “We have not made the kind of progress that we should have over the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be growing pains, but we can be patient only as long as there is progress.”
Detroit is battling for the final playoff spot in the East, but that’s largely because so many teams in the conference are having similar problems.
“The responsibility does not fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is a necessary step toward turning this thing around,” Gores said. “I still have a lot of hope for this season and I expect our players to step up. I respect and appreciate Maurice Cheeks and thank him for his efforts; we just require a different approach.”
The Pistons have won four of six, including back-to-back blowouts at home against Brooklyn and Denver on Friday and Saturday.
Cheeks previously coached Portland and Philadelphia, a team he won an NBA title with as a point guard. The Pistons gave him his third shot to be an NBA coach in June.
Cheeks has a 305-315 regular-season record.
Gores was in attendance at a recent game and said he thought the team was better than its record.
“I’m not satisfied. Our job is to make sure that our players are at their maximum,” Gores said after that Feb. 1 game against Philadelphia.
“I’m not satisfied with the job I’m doing. I’m not satisfied with the job anyone is doing.”