Andre Drummond reportedly very close with Pistons owner Tom Gores, who fired Maurice Cheeks

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In one of the NBA’s most-surprising coaching decisions, Maurice Cheeks benched Andre Drummond just 11 seconds into the second half of a loss to the Mavericks a couple weeks ago.

In one of the NBA’s most-surprising front-office decisions, the Pistons fired Maurice Cheeks just 50 games into a multi-year contract.

Perhaps, the moves were related.

Though he’s always been the type to trust his coaches, Drummond was clearly upset by his benching. And apparently, Drummond has the ear of Pistons owner Tom Gores (even beyond Gores playing third wheel on Drummond’s date with Jeanette McCurdy). So maybe Drummond, even if he tried to stifle his feelings, influenced Gores.

Dave Mayo of MLive:

One player later said the problem was that Drummond did exactly what he thought he was supposed to do and Cheeks didn’t understand that it was a product of miscommunication, not defiance.

Drummond and Gores communicate every couple of weeks about things, the player said, and seeing the franchise player unhappy probably didn’t go over well with the owner. Within a couple of days, Gores was in southeast Michigan, and the process of dismissal began to take shape.

Andre Drummond is not a superstar – not yet, at least – but he creeping toward the level of determining his coaches’ fates.

As a rookie, Drummond, indirectly, got Lawrence Frank fired last year. Frank’s stubborn insistence on not playing Drummond, who was already the Pistons’ best player, really sunk the their chances of winning. Maybe if Drummond had ranked higher than eighth on the team in minutes per game, Detroit would have won a little more and Frank would have kept his job.

And now Cheeks is gone shortly after their dustup.

Really, that’s exactly how it should be. I think Gores realizes Drummond is the most valuable member of the franchise, and coaches – and maybe even general managers – come second to a potential franchise player.

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Last year, Drummond needed minutes to develop. Frank didn’t provide them, so he had to go.

This year, Drummond needs a clear gameplan to reach the next level. Cheeks didn’t provide that, so he had to go.

Drummond has always professed a willingness to follow the direction his coach sets. It’s probably good someone higher up in the franchise is watching for his best interests.

That it’s the owner – who’s as high in the franchise as it gets – certainly says something about Drummond’s stature.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”