Monday, December 15, 2008

Mo Money Mo Problems

It was a busy little Saturday in the land of Philadelphia. Plenty was on tap with Temple hosting No. 8 Tennessee at the Liacouras Center at noon, the Flyers hosting the Penguins at 1 and the Sixers looking to rebound from back-to-back losses at the hands of LeBron against the dreadful Wizards. It was all set up for a nice little Saturday.

Well, things started out wonderfully, as Temple got out to an early lead against a top 10 team. But it was hard to focus early on in the Temple game when suddenly, the news of Maurice Cheeks getting canned was scrolling on ESPN's bottom line. With a house full of people, everyone seemed stunned, myself included.

The Sixers have been struggling, underachieving even, no doubt. But just days before, it seemed as though Cheeks had a vote of confidence, at least in the short term, from the powers that be. Hell, just three months ago, Cheeks got an extension. Now, only 23 games into a season that followed a playoff birth, Mo was gone.

You may be next there, Larry

Now, I have to say, Maurice Cheeks has done an abysmal job this season. The Sixers are a team loaded with talent, albeit talent that lacks consistent shooting. Still, it is a squad that ran its way into the playoffs last year and did nothing but add more talented players to its roster. Sure, Elton Brand made for an adjustment and may not have fit the strengths of last year's team, but he's a perennial 20-10 guy. That can't hurt a squad.

What has hurt the Sixers has been a lack of any defined roles for the players, horrifically erratic substitution patterns and a general sense of confusion on the court—basically, things the head coach is in charge of. On any given night, we weren't sure if we were going to see Samuel Dalembert play 15 minutes or 30; if Reggie Evans, Royal Ivey or Kareem Rush would see the floor; if Theo Ratliff or Donyell Marshall would dress; if Marreese Speights would get in the flow or sit for long stretches.

I mean, Mo's handling of players' minutes was atrocious. For some reason, he seems to believe Willie Green is a player capable of starting in the NBA. He is not. And, as Joltin' Joe Blanton pointed out very accurately to me, Cheeks continued to play Willie Green and Lou Williams together at the same time, despite that backcourt continually getting burned while playing together. For some reason Reggie Evans, a player pivotal in the Sixers' run last year, has seen no minutes. I know Brand and Speights are much more talented players who have taken a lot of minutes away, but Evans is a better defender and more aggressive rebounder who should get consistent run for no other reason than to give a shot of adrenaline to the team.

Kareem Rush has to be the happiest Sixer of all in Mo's departure. Under Cheeks, Rush was buried on the bench. He was brought in to be a three-point threat, but instead, he's been riding the pine as much as Aaron McKie. For a team that lacks so much in shooting, you would think a guy who can knock down some shots would get some playing time. Not under Mo.

And while I knew all of this was true, I couldn't help but think the timing was odd … until I thought about some more. Mo did a great job last season and maybe deserved a few more weeks, if not months, to try and turn this around. That's what I thought almost all weekend, even though I think he had done a horrendous job. But then I started to think about it some more. Last season, he didn't start playing the younger guys until Stefanski came in, shipped Korver out and pretty much told Mo to play the youngsters. Maybe it was something Cheeks didn't want to do, and, as uncle jellyfish theorized last night, maybe Mo just was never Eddie's guy. I think there's some merit to that.

And now, looking back on it, Cheeks may have even gotten off light. All season long, we've heard how the Sixers run no plays for Thaddeus Young, despite the fact that, you know, Young was the most potent scorer in the first few games. Thad enhanced his offensive game leaps and bounds this offseason, developing a consistent jump shot, three-point range and a little handle to boot, yet Cheeks refused to utilize it to its potential. When you add all these things together, on top of the slow, too slow, transition time of learning to play with Brand, it really was a no-brainer.

Cheeks wasn't getting the job done, and he showed no signs of turning it around. In fact, he panicked. He inserted Willie Green into the starting lineup, sitting Thad, so Andre Iguodala could move back to the three, when the logical choice would have been to simple swap Iguodala and Young. But he didn't because he was out of answers. Cheeks was lost. His team was lost. And the Sixers kept losing. The next logical step was to lose the coach. Now let's hope the losing is out of their systems.

No comments:

Post a Comment