Mo Cheeks isn’t a particularly good or bad coach. He is not a miracle-worker. He cannot take a fundamentally flawed roster and mold them into a playoff team, even in the moribund Eastern Conference. The Pistons’ roster doesn’t have a single player without some kind of major flaw. Josh Smith shoots too much even though he can’t shoot, Brandon Jennings does the same thing, Andre Drummond hits free throws at a lower rate than my mom, and Greg Monroe is a lead-footed defender. What the hell was Cheeks supposed to do with this team?
He was forced to play three bigs, none of whom has enough of an outside shot to open up the floor for the others. Add in Jennings and his general inability to shoot a decent percentage from the perimeter, and this team was bound to collapse in on itself offensively. On defense Smith’s time at small forward hurt the team, and Jennings and Monroe are both minus defenders. The roster just doesn’t make sense.
Any of these players could perform well in the right circumstances. Drummond is putting up great numbers and has a ton of defensive potential, just not enough to offset everything else that is happening. Jennings and Monroe have actually put up decent offensive seasons too, it’s just that none of it is resulting in much team success. Smith has been pretty bad, but he’s out of position and has played well before, even while jacking up hundreds of ill-advised jumpers.
There are things that could have been done to get more out of this team: staggered lineups, playing more shooters, etc., but the options were never great. The four best players on the roster (by a wide margin) don’t fit together, and that’s got nothing to do with how Cheeks attempted to use them.
The blame should fall on Joe Dumars, who has spent a tremendous amount of cap space on teams that never stood a chance of being more than the sum of their parts, both in the summer of 2009 and this past offseason. A(nother) new coach won’t have any more effect than changing the color of the jerseys. What the Pistons need to do is understand what a balanced roster looks like and start building towards one.
When this team was assembled in the offseason the team-building principal Dumars touted was talent acquisition. It seemed simple: gather the most talented players possible and see who could play together and who couldn’t. Now we know. Instead of beginning the process of auctioning off the square pegs, Dumars has tacitly blamed his coach for failing to fit them into the round holes he’s created, and the franchise will continue to lurch along in this state until he is either removed as GM or changes his approach.