Posts Tagged ‘John Kuester’

Surprise: Dumars Fires Yet Another Coach


VIDEO: Cheeks is out at Detroit after only eight months

Mo Cheeks, the eighth coach to serve during Joe Dumars‘ run as president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, lasted eight months before, as multiple media outlets reported and the team eventually confirmed Sunday, getting the ax.

Dumars is in his 14th season, six years removed from Detroit’s last .500-or-better season. And the Pistons’ lone championship on Dumars’ watch (2004) came so long ago, Yao Ming, Latrell Sprewell and Seattle still were in the league and Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and the Charlotte Bobcats weren’t.

That math no longer adds up.

In fact, with the clamor for advanced analytics to measure and dictate every motion and inclination of every player associated with an NBA team’s success or failure, the league is overdue for a concrete rating system for front-office executives. They’re the guys, after all, who are lauded or ripped by a new generation of sportswriter/analyst, depending on how avidly they embrace or eschew such calculations.

Or how ’bout this? A simple ceiling on the number of coaches a GM can hire or fire before it is his head on the chopping block.

Three would seem to be plenty, though four might be a reasonable number as well. If you spot the boss one for clearing the deck after he takes the job – the way Dumars did in 2001, replacing George Irvine with Rick Carlisle – two or three more ought to be enough, after which the scrutiny needs to shift from the sideline to the executive suite.

That would have only gotten Dumars to about the halfway mark in presiding over his personal coaches’ Boot Hill.

After Irvine and Carlisle, Dumars and the Pistons turned to Larry Brown, who did precisely what everyone expected him to do: he got Detroit to The Finals in his first season, steered its ensemble cast to the 2004 championship, then won another 54 games before his AWOL DNA kicked in and he was on the move.

Flip Saunders was brought in and did even better, in terms of victories, going 176-70 in three seasons. But he never had full control of the Pistons’ veteran-laden locker room – thanks, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton – though Saunders’ non-confrontational style was well-established before Dumars ever hired him. The core of that Detroit team was in decline, anyway, so when Saunders was dumped in 2008, so was its trips to the Eastern Conference finals and, for that matter, days sniffing air above .500.

Saunders at least holds the distinction of lasting longest under Dumars. After him, Michael Curry, John Kuester, Lawrence Frank — and now Cheeks – have followed in rather rapid succession, each staying two years or less.

The Cheeks firing borders on Kim & Kris eye-blink brief, with the added touch that Pistons players apparently learned the news Sunday through media and fan postings on Twitter. Sure, they’re the ones allegedly responsible, underperforming at a 21-29 pace that most experts felt should have been flipped to 29-21 by now. But class is as class does, and while Dumars – always classy as a Hall of Fame player in Detroit – can’t be held responsible for every leak, it does add to the impression that there’s chaos and scapegoating going on in the Motor City.

The Pistons have been in or near the league’s bottom third both offensively and defensively. As of Sunday morning, they were ninth, out of the playoff picture, despite an East standings that from No. 3 down ought to be a land of opportunity. Detroit has been OK within its conference actually (18-14) but a 3-15 mark vs. the West has been killer, as was the Pistons’ 7-15 mark at home halfway through the schedule.

The inability to meld the work of big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, some reported rancor among the players over the rotation and the confrontation/aftermatch between the coach and guard Will Bynum – that’s all on Cheeks. The question, though, of whether 50 games was enough to decide his fate – after successive two-years-and-out terms of Frank and Kuester – was answered by Dumars and owner Tom Gores.

“Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Gores said in a team statement. “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.

“The responsibility does not fall squarely on any one individual, but right now this change is a necessary step toward turning this thing around. 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.”

Pinpointing where that approach begins or ends, that’s the challenge. And that’s the area – made up top in jest but maybe a real void in need of filling – to be addressed. There’s got to be a more concrete way of capturing Dumars’ successes and failures.

The talent of which Gores spoke is largely of the individual variety; there’s no one even casually familiar with the NBA who didn’t stack up as many or more “cons” on the right side of Brandon Jennings‘ and Josh Smith‘s ledgers as “pros” on the left. It was, in a sense, a higher risk/reward gamble on “me first” guys than Dumars had perpetrated in 2009 when he splurged on free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to little positive effect.

The Pistons constantly tout their youth – their starting lineup ranks as the NBA’s most tender (23 years and change) – and the fact that their record is best among the league’s four youngest teams. But if that’s something to overcome in the short term, the W-L mark that the kids cobble together seems an odd thing to hold against Cheeks. He didn’t wave a wand and make them young.

More Dumars: Rodney Stuckey was going to be the Pistons’ future until he wasn’t, and only lately has done better in his new zero-expectations world. Then there was the Darko Milicic gaffe, a blown No. 2 pick in 2003 from which the franchise still hasn’t recovered. All while the No. 1 (LeBron James), 3 (Carmelo Anthony), 4 (Chris Bosh) and 5 (Dwyane Wade) picks will be at All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

Gores’ arrival as owner apparently was a reset button for Dumars, because new bosses need basketball people they trust the same as chaotic, distracted owners (the previous Pistons regime). But eight coaches in 14 years and, with whoever takes over on the sideline now, six in eight seasons goes beyond fickle toward feeble.

Even if, in formulating an analytic to apply to the GMs, some allowance gets made for the length of the exec’s reign, Dumars would seem to have exceeded an acceptable average for pink slips. The next one he hands out, he needs to be standing in front of a mirror.

Or better yet, he needs to take over as coach himself and demonstrate that his GM/president knows what he’s doing.

Pistons Working To Save Their Season, Refill Once-Packed Palace

DALLAS – The Detroit Pistons have crashed as hard as the Michigan economy over the last few years and the combination has resulted in a lot of eerily quiet nights inside The Palace at Auburn Hills.

“It is strange for sure,” Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva said before the Pistons dropped a 10th road game in 11 tries Saturday against the Mavericks. “The fact that my first five years in the league, seeing that place sold out every game; every time we went into Detroit it was sold out. It just shows how hard the economy hit, but I think it will bounce back. It’s just a matter of time.”

For now, there are more empty seats than filled ones at Pistons games. But to pin Detroit’s turnstile problem mostly on a rotten economy is to discredit die-hard Pistons fans that have grown weary of throwing good money at bad basketball.

Entering tonight’s eighth home game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit’s average attendance is 12,392 and ranks last in the league — behind Sacramento, New Orleans and last season’s worst team, Charlotte. Take away the home-opener crowd of 16,646 and the average dips to 11,683. On most nights the actual attendance is much less.

FROM FIRST TO WORST
The Pistons rank last in the league in attendance this season. A look at the club’s average attendance over the last 13 seasons
Season Avg. Attendance Rank
2012-13 12,392 30th
2011-12 14,413 28th
2010-11 16,660 18th
2009-10 18,751 8th
2008-09 21,877 1st
2007-08 22,076 1st
2006-07 22,076 2nd
2005-06 22,076 1st
2004-05 22,076 1st
2003-04 22,076 1st
2002-03 20,470 1st
2001-02 18,556 11th
2000-01 14,812 22nd

“It’s not weird because it’s not a situation where it’s been drastic, where this season it was packed and the very next season it was nothing,” said Tayshaun Prince, a career Piston and last remaining member of the 2004 title team. “It didn’t just hit rock bottom at one point. When things are going so well for a long period of time and then all of a sudden when things hit, then they started to veer down, veer down, veer down.”

From 2002 through 2009, not coincidentally the last time Detroit made the playoffs, the Pistons ranked No. 1 in attendance in six of those seven seasons, routinely boasting sellout crowds of 20,000-plus. The one season they weren’t No. 1, they were No. 2. The run included the ’04 championship and a repeat Finals appearance under Larry Brown, and four other East finals appearances, one prior to Brown under Rick Carlisle, and three more after Brown under Flip Saunders.

Since Saunders won 59 games in 2007-08, but lost in the East finals for a third consecutive time, Detroit has rolled through coaches Michael Curry (39-43) and John Kuester (57-107), with Lawrence Frank now in his second season and trying to rescue a 5-13 start that opened with eight consecutive losses.

Detroit hasn’t won more than 39 games in any of the last four seasons and average attendance has steadily declined from the top spot in ’08-’09 to eighth to 18th to 28th and now to rock bottom.

“It’s not on the fans to come out. It’s on us to put together a product every night that fans can be proud of,” Frank said. “Detroit has always shown great support, not just for basketball, for all their sports teams when they’re competing at the highest level. You’re used to seeing a lot of fans out there, but we’re appreciative for the fans that do go. Obviously, we understand the economic crisis and what hit, and Detroit obviously was hit harder than most. But from the beginning, it’s going to be on us to put together something that the fans can be proud of and want to support.”

To Frank’s point, and further proof that tough economic times alone doesn’t kill attendance, the Detroit Tigers have averaged more than 30,000 fans in each of the last six seasons. Even the Lions, amid another last-place season, are averaging more than 63,000 through six home games, better than 98 percent capacity. Both clubs play in relatively new downtown venues and some debate if the Pistons would be better served leaving their suburban digs some 30 miles north of the city.

But that ignores the club’s attendance track record over much of the last decade and before that when the Pistons shared the Pontiac Silverdome with the Lions.

So how close are the Pistons to rising up again?

“I think it’s real close,” impressive third-year center and leading scorer Greg Monroe said. “We have to find a way to come out every night and just play hard and outwork teams. I think we’re very close to doing that, but it’s going to take games to get the actual body of work to say we are doing it consistently.”

It’s hopeless to still lament the Darko Milicic draft and the free-agent millions thrown at Villanueva and Ben Gordon. Monroe is surrounded by a roster that might not contend for a title, but is at least intriguing for its youth. Second-year guard Brandon Knight and rookies Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond join Monroe as possible long-term core pieces. Veterans Jason Maxiell, Corey Maggette, Rodney Stuckey, Prince and, yes, Villanueva, should help to at least make a push toward playoff contention in a mediocre Eastern Conference.

No progress was made on that front during the recent two-game road swing through Memphis and Dallas with two more double-digit losses (nine in 11 road games). It was a disappointing development coming after the season’s first flirtation with momentum, a modest two-game home win streak that gave Detroit four wins in six games.

They put on an offensive show for the few souls that came out, beating Portland, 108-101, and then drilled Phoenix 117-77. That beat down drew an announced crowd of 10,517, about 300 more than the previous night.

Even the league’s top draws haven’t delivered bigger crowds. The Celtics drew 12,214 and 12,784 came to see three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“It’s been tough,” Maxiell admitted. “The last couple years the crowd’s been trimming down. We’re trying to bring the crowds back with some big entertainment. The guys that were here a couple years ago know how it was when we were winning, and we’re trying to bring them back.”

Pacers Announce Vogel As Coach

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Indiana Pacers have announced that Frank Vogel has become the team’s permanent replacement for Jim O’Brien.

Two league sources, plus an advisory sent out by the team on Tuesday night announcing that Pacers president Larry Bird and Vogel would meet with the assembled media Wednesday morning at 11 a.m. ET, confirmed what has been the worst kept secret it Indiana basketball since the Pacers’ playoff run ended.

Vogel helped guide the Pacers to their first postseason appearance since 2006, guiding them to a 20-18 record to finish the regular season. The Pacers were eliminated by Eastern Conference No. 1 seed Chicago Bulls in five games in the first round, but put up a fight from start to finish against the favored Bulls.

One of the major factors working in Vogel’s favor, per one of those sources, is that he was able to recruit former Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw to join him as the new lead assistant for the Pacers. Shaw, a candidate for several head coaching positions around the league the past two seasons, brings a championship pedigree, as both a player and coach, with him to Indianapolis. Shaw interviewed for the Pacers job in 2007 before O’Brien was hired.

Vogel’s hiring leaves just two other coaching situations unsettled. Kurt Rambis still has not been told of his fate in Minnesota and the Detroit Pistons’ search for John Kuester‘s replacement is ongoing.

Pistons Add Ewing To List

The Detroit Pistons have expanded their head coaching search by interviewing Orlando Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing, according to league sources.

Ewing, 49, has long desired to be a head coach, and has decried what he viewed as pigeonholing him as a “big man” assistant, a role he has undertaken while an assistant coach in Houston with Yao Ming and in Orlando with Dwight Howard. Ewing has said that he does a lot more than just work with bigs and is ready to run a team. He badly wanted to get a shot with the Knicks, the team for whom he became a superstar after being taken first overall in the 1985 Draft.

“It’s disappointing that I haven’t moved to the next step to getting a head coaching job, but all I can do is keep working hard and keep on preparing myself for whenever that opportunity arises,” Ewing told the New York Daily News earlier this month. “A lot of people try to pigeonhole me into just a big man’s coach and I’m just not a big man’s coach. I’m a coach.”

He is the fifth known candidate to replace John Kuester, joining former Hawks coach Mike Woodson, former Nets and current Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank, former WNBA coach and current Timberwolves assistant Bill Laimbeer and current Bucks assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, a former college coach at Indiana and Oklahoma. Each has interviewed once with team president Joe Dumars. It is not known if second interviews will be conducted with the Pistons’ new majority owner, Tom Gores.

Who Ya Got In The Finals?

MIAMI – In our rush to take our talents to South Beach, the hideout crew completely whiffed on our most important assignment of The Finals experience.

You!

Forgive us for being distracted a little bit. But Scottie Pippen hijacked our weekend with his comments regarding LeBron James being the “greatest to ever play the game,” over Michael Jordan, “the greatest scorer to play the game.” We also got caught up in some of the ongoing coaching news fallout  — Lakers’ boss Jim Buss regrets not consulting Kobe Bryant before choosing Mike Brown as Phil Jackson‘s successor, HT fave Kevin McHale is apparently headed to Houston and before the week is out the Pistons, despite denials from unnamed sources, could join the coaching search crew by shuffling John Kuester out the door for perhaps Mike Woodson?

And then we woke up to Dan Le Batard‘s passionate detailing in the Miami Herald of the curious case of the team everyone (including members of the “national media”) loves to hate:

Joy is usually enough. Gratitude, too. But that’s not all you’ll find here. “Thank you!” is glued to “Bleep you!” The joy is mixed with anger, defiance and hostility. Grace, humility and civility are noble but not quite fun. And sometimes sports make us irrational, emotion trampling logic on the way to the party. Burning cars in a championship riot? That seems like a way to protest something, not celebrate it. It also speaks to a larger unhappiness in the homes and lives away from that arena.

If LeBron James ends the season holding up the trophy, our city runs the risk of becoming so unhinged that it will put off even more people from sea to shining sea. When we throw things at [TNT's Charles] Barkley, a beloved icon, and shower him in curses during the Chicago series, we are just giving the media and America the snapshots and ammunition to smear all of us as barbaric, bandwagon baboons.

There is so much criticism in the coverage of this team that the Heat players get ripped for overcelebrating against Boston, changing the narrative almost immediately after the triumph. What is going to happen if a defensive, angry city overcelebrates with a radiator’s hissing relief after an entire season of abuse?

Slow down brother.

They do have to play the games first.

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Blogtable: Coaches on the hot seat

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

Which NBA coach will be the first to go once the regular season ends? Care to weigh in on who should be the first to go?

Steve Aschburner: Detroit’s John Kuester, only because he works in the Eastern time zone and the Pistons might be asking him to clean out his office before his team leaves Philadelphia on April 13, whereas Golden State’s Keith Smart will be finishing up that night three hours later against Portland. Both of these fellows will get zapped because of ownership changes, on top of mostly miserable seasons. Who should get the gate? Sorry, can’t urge someone out of a job in this economy.

Fran Blinebury: Whether he’s been set up to fail by his veteran players or G.M. Joe Dumars or both, there seems little question that John Kuester has lost respect and control in Detroit.  Once that happens, there’s no going back.  The once-proud franchise has to get its ownership situation settled, turn the page and move on.  Now. (more…)

Yet Another Twist In Pistons’ Saga

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The finger pointing in Detroit won’t subside anytime soon.

It’s going to take someone’s departure — Rip Hamilton or John Kuester, whoever goes first, take your pick — before we get any sort of handle on what’s really going on in Mowtown.

Because as of right now, there are more conflicting reports than there is anything else emanating from pile of rubble that is this once proud franchise. Kuester has “lost the locker room,” per our very own David Aldridge of TNT and NBA.com (above). That massive player revolt of the other day was actually just a perfect storm of events, highlighted by Hamilton’s one-man revolution. And at least one local scribe, Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News, asked for the players to apologize before Saturday night’s game against Utah for a stunt that others suggest never was:

They can call it whatever they want, but this was a players’ mutiny against Kuester, a decent guy but a poor leader. He’s not strong enough to be an NBA head coach and surely will be fired at some point, but the players’ power-play against a powerless coach is indefensible.

Those guys are permanently stained, unless they make a sincere move to address it. Here’s their one short-term shot: The players should take the microphone before tonight’s game against Utah at the Palace and apologize to the fans — however many are left — for poor decisions. Say they’re remorseful and they’d like to try to fix it. Then play as if their careers are at stake.

Of course, that’d require accepting some blame, and accountability sure is in limited supply these days. No, words don’t automatically heal, but the Pistons must realize they still have fans who’d like to cheer instead of boo all night.

The Pistons did knock off the Jazz with an inspired performance led by their youngsters and journeyman. Hamilton watched it all unfold in street clothes, same as he has much of this season.

The Pistons’ Player Revolt

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Things have gone from bad to worse for the Detroit Pistons after Thursday’s trade deadline.

Several Pistons missed this morning’s shootaround practice in Philadelphia in some sort of “player protest” against coach John Kuester, per the Detroit Free Press.

Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Chris Wilcox all missed the shootaround. But that’s just the start. More from the Vince Ellis of the Free Press:

Team spokesman Cletus Lewis said Rodney Stuckey and Austin Daye missed the team bus as well, but they did arrive toward the end of the media session.

Lewis said McGrady had a headache, Prince had an upset stomach and Hamilton and Wilcox missed the bus from the team hotel.

Ben Wallace also missed the shootaround. Lewis said Wallace was dealing with a family matter. Wallace has missed games and practices over the past month because of the issue.

Only Greg Monroe, Will Bynum, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Jason Maxiell and DaJuan Summers were full participants in the morning shootaround.

Sources indicated that the discontent is directed at Pistons coach John Kuester, who has clashed with players repeatedly this season. The organization downplayed the absences, insisting Prince and McGrady were ill.

One source, who asked not to be identified, said he didn’t know what the next step would be, and didn’t say who organized the absences. But he said it was an organized protest, with some players deciding it was best to show up anyway.

Has it come to this for the Pistons?

Have things really gotten this bad for this Kuester, who said he will go with whoever is available for tonight’s game against the Sixers?

Maybe the players thought there was going to be some mass exodus at the trade deadline. And when that didn’t happen, they decided to take matters into their own hands.

Either way, this is a disastrous start to the stretch run of the season for a Pistons team that certainly didn’t need any more distractions.

Rip In Pistons’ Fabric

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Richard Hamilton deserves better than this.

I don’t care what has gone on this season, what the rift is between Rip and Pistons coach John Kuester or if these are indeed Hamilton’s last days in a Pistons uniform.

The man deserves better than what is going on right now in Detroit. Witness the craziness, per Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press:

Hamilton told the Free Press on Sunday morning that Kuester’s attempt to reach out to him consisted of Jerry Hendon, the team’s security head, coming to him a minute before the team was meeting to go over strategy for Saturday’s game with Phoenix to tell him Kuester wanted to talk to him.

“I felt offended that he sent Jerry instead of coming himself or sending an assistant coach,” Hamilton said. “I could tell Jerry was uncomfortable and I said no.”

He didn’t say how or when, but Kuester told the media Saturday evening that he tried to make a connection with his shooting guard. Hamilton hasn’t played in seven games since becoming the subject of trade talks with New Jersey and Denver and lost his starting position to Rodney Stuckey.

“We made overtures and one of the things that’s important is he is somebody that’s on our team now,” Kuester said before Saturday’s game. “We know that and we’ve reached out to him.”

It’s no secret that the Pistons are looking to unload Hamilton in a trade (he was a part of the failed, three-team Carmelo Anthony deal that would have landed Hamilton in New Jersey alongside Anthony and his former Pistons teammate Chauncey Billups). But to allow things to dissolve into the mess they have become these days is a sad way to part ways with one of the best players in franchise history.

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