DETROIT (AP) — 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.”
A person with knowledge of Detroit’s plans said assistant John Loyer will take over as interim coach. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced an interim coach yet.
The Pistons haven’t made the playoffs since being swept in the first round in 2009 — in Michael Curry’s only season as their coach. Since then, Detroit has gone through two seasons under John Kuester and two under Lawrence Frank.
After neither of them could make any real 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.
The poor attendance that’s become commonplace at The Palace hasn’t really improved — 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 Sunday. “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 only a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the East, but that’s largely because so many teams in the conference are having similar problems. The Pistons are only three games better than they were after 50 games last season.
Cheeks became the first coach to leave or be fired after 50 games or fewer with an NBA team since Bob Weiss, who coached only 30 games for Seattle in 2005-06, according to STATS. That does not include interim coaches.
“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. They host San Antonio on Monday night, and the team has not made any announcement about who will coach that game.
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 head coach in June.
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.”
At that point, speculation centered around the upcoming trade deadline and the possibility that Detroit might shake up its roster again. Now, the Pistons are hoping another coaching change can improve the franchise’s outlook.
Detroit made the conference finals six straight years from 2003-08, but the team’s fall was swift after that, and rebuilding has been difficult. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Pistons’ championship in 2004 — and the atmosphere at The Palace could hardly be more different.
“We’re focused on how to make our players the best,” Gores said earlier this month. “I don’t think we’ve done our best job of making sure they are at their best. They are working at 100 percent, but these are young men who need a lot of preparation.”
The Pistons became the third major pro team in Detroit to make a coaching or managerial change in the past six months. Jim Leyland of the Tigers stepped down and was replaced by Brad Ausmus after last season, and the Lions fired Jim Schwartz in late December, eventually replacing him with Jim Caldwell.
So Ausmus, who has yet to manage a game, is now the second-longest tenured manager or coach of the city’s four major pro teams.
Yahoo Sports first reported Cheeks’ firing.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)