- Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Staff Writer
It didn't raise eyebrows that Maurice Cheeks was fired. It was the timing that seemingly didn't make sense.
Cheeks' dismissal came on the heels of perhaps the best weekend of the Detroit Pistons' season, with double-digit wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets. Not only that, the Pistons are set to take on Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs on Monday before facing a pillow-soft stretch against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Bobcats (twice).
It could have been Cheeks' chance for redemption, right?
Well, for head coaches of struggling teams, an easy stretch in the schedule actually can be an occupational death sentence. Front-office folks can be an opportunistic bunch. What better way to displace the blame and look smart than to bring in a new coach right before some winnable games? Look no further than last season, when the Nets let go of Avery Johnson after a 14-14 start. The next two opponents on the schedule? The 7-24 Cavs and the 7-21 Bobcats.
So Cheeks didn't last long enough to face Cleveland and Charlotte, but the writing had been on the wall for some time in the Motor City. With general manager Joe Dumars shelling out almost $80 million on Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings in the offseason, expectations were high. The Pistons had underperformed on both ends of the floor all season, hovering in the bottom 10 of the offensive and defensive ratings for most of the season.
As Per Diem colleague Kevin Pelton points out, the issues might have stemmed from Cheeks' reluctance to put his players in a position to succeed. Cheeks took too long to cut bait on giving heavy minutes together to Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, and the Pistons decided to cut bait on the coach instead.
Ultimately, expectations weren't met. As it is in all walks of life, expectations are everything. With that in mind, here is my ranking of the hottest seats in the NBA based on current circumstances, both on and off the court.
4mChris Broussard and Marc Stein