It appears as if the Pistons DID make a trade before the impending deadline.
It wasn't a personnel move. Yes, they swapped Cheeks for John Loyer, but what I saw last night was an exchange of lethargy for energy.
Will it remain, and is it too late for such an poignant swap?
Outside of the clunker performance in their loss to Orlando - who slayed Indiana AND OKC after their Pistons win - the suddenly energized Pistons have won five of seven. The other loss in there came in Miami, a team the Pistons regularly pose problems for. The final in the Heat game was 102-96, and while it wasn't that close, it also wasn't a game where Miami could get the Pistons to concede at any point.
Interim coach Loyer was maniacal last night. Yelling, screaming out instructions non-stop and sweating nearly as much as his players. Both he and the players were engaged with one another which was corroborated by catching Andre Drummond swing an arm over Loyer as they walked victoriously off the court.
Didn't see that with the last coach.
Further examining body language tells me the players were engaged with their frantic interim coach. His exuberant energy may be unsustainable and may even become too grinding at some point, but in a short burst it could get the Pistons back to having a chance of avoiding Miami or Indiana in the first round, which should be the non-tanking goal for the reminder of the season.
As ludicrous as this sounds, Detroit's only four games back of Atlanta at the four seed!
Perhaps the last three Pistons' performances, and wins, came from the fact that they knew Cheeks was going to be let go.
Cheeks wasn't the best choice from the beginning of this remodeled roster. He's likely best suited in the role that he played in OKC, as an assistant. It also didn't help matters when Joe Dumars probably pulled a bait-and-switch on him. Do you really think he expected the roster he was given when he signed up to coach? Eh. I don't.
It's no wonder he clashed, or at least jerked around, just about every regular contributor on the roster.
In a way, maybe Cheeks pulled quite a savvy gambit. 'Heck no I ain't coaching this group.' What's the best way to get out and still keep getting paid? Undermine your own efforts! Bench highly paid players. Communicate poorly. Refuse to manipulate the rotation in any creative ways. Confound the lottery pick with erratic playing time. I can keep going.
Cheeks didn't like them. They didn't like him.
Loyer's charisma combined with the players playing for someone who they can connect with WILL lead to more productive times for the Pistons.
There were some eye opening and promising statistics last night.
- Six players in double figures and the other two scorers had 8 and 9.
- Josh Smith took just one three.
- Jennings didn't have a turnover.
- No player had more than two turnovers.
Unfortunately, they're still flawed. Renewed energy will only help them scratch out so many wins, even in the pathetic Eastern Conference. A move to shake up the too-big front court is still likely necessary for this team to unlock further potential. Because right now, they're in their own sizable way, and as they look to compile more wins under Loyer, teams will dissect them, probably go small against them and find ways to bring Smith back to the world of poor shot choices, and morph Jennings into a turnstyle of turnovers.
For now though, they're back to what I expected from the outset of the season. A team that's not top tier, but they're fun to watch and they're having fun playing.
There's no must-wins just past the 50 game mark, especially in a dreadful conference, but it could do wonders to continuing building the Pistons' rebounding psyche and confidence if they could take down Cleveland on Wednesday night, hit the break, then come out and at least split their home & home with Charlotte, whom they're dueling with at the 8 seed.
Win those three and there's much less pressure with fierce Western Conference opponents on the horizon after that.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
If anything, I took joy last night out of watching the Pistone enjoying THEMselves.
Boy, they hated Mo.