Mo: No Sulking

Cheeks remains upbeat as both he, Smith put practice absence in their past

Maurice Cheeks
Mo Cheeks has a message for anyone studying the Pistons for signs of fissure or implosion: Nothing to see here, move along.
Rocky Widner (NBAE/Getty)

Mo Cheeks has a message for anyone studying the Pistons for signs of fissure or implosion: Nothing to see here, move along. And if he senses any residual frustration over the 4-8 start to a season of elevated expectations, well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“In terms of the way we think we should be better, yeah, there is such a thing as good frustration,” Cheeks said following Saturday’s practice, the day after a home loss to one of the teams the Pistons figure to be fighting for a playoff berth, Atlanta. “We’ve got good guys, good energy guys. Today was a good energy day. I don’t let ’em sulk. I don’t let that happen. And I told them, we’ll be better. Every day is a learning day, whether you win a game or lose a game. So we’ve got to learn things from it.”

Friday’s 96-89 loss sprung from a game that had a weird feel to it, the Pistons never really finding a rhythm yet managing to do enough to stay close and actually take the lead with less than four minutes to play before a rash of late turnovers undermined their chances.

It also ended with Josh Smith on the bench, where he was to start the game and for all but 19 minutes and 32 seconds, about half his normal workload. Cheeks explained after the game that Smith missed a Thursday practice after staying home in Atlanta when the Pistons played there Wednesday night. Smith, who had left the locker room before it was opened to reporters after Friday’s game, said Saturday that he anticipated there would be no practice and he felt compelled to spend time with his ailing father. Cheeks decided to practice on the flight home. Smith said he learned of the practice at about 12:30 a.m.

“Generally – 99.9 percent of the time – on back to backs, you have the day off,” he said. “Considering I was at home and my father was dealing with a real serious illness, I thought it was self-explanatory, but I should have made better communication as far as letting those guys know I was going to stay over. I apologized to Joe Dumars and Mo Cheeks the following day. I really want to move past it.”

As far as Cheeks is concerned, they already have. Smith will be back in the starting lineup at Brooklyn for Sunday’s matinee.

“Josh is our three, (Greg) Monroe is our four, (Andre) Drummond is our five and that’s the way we’re going to play,” Cheeks said. Asked if he has spoken to Smith further about the incident, he said, “What are we going to talk about? That’s over and done. You move on. Nothing really to talk about.”

Smith, sensitive to a perception of him built during his nine years in Atlanta he believes was largely inaccurate, made clear there was no breach of trust with his teammates.

“What people have to understand is players are a close-knit family,” he said. “If anybody understands, it’s the players. We’re still people and still have to deal with real-life problems. They understood the concern I had as far as my family and they were behind me 100 percent. That’s what you ask of your teammates.”

If there is any roiling panic over the 4-8 record, both Smith and Cheeks did a good job of concealing it.

“I liked our game last night,” Cheeks said. “Obviously, I didn’t like the result, but I liked our game. … We could have won a game here or a game there, but it’s always going to be that way. It’s a long season. A lot of basketball left.”

“A lot of good teams in this league struggling right now to find themselves and we built a new team and we still have to get to know each other and get a feel for each other,” Smith said. “I could see if it was January and we were facing a situation where we were still behind the 8-ball, but we still have a shot at doing something special. We just have to try to convert it on the court. We have good chemistry off the court, we just have to be a ble to try to convert it and do whatever it takes to mesh on the court.”