Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Maurice Cheeks, this can work... I THINK!

This past Monday, Maurice Cheeks was hired as head coach of the Detroit Pistons, the seventh under the team's President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars.

Dumars has held this position since the 2000-01 season and the team has been relatively successful during his tenure. Key word: relatively. The Pistons haven't reached the playoffs since the 2008-09 season, when they were unceremoniously swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Michael Curry was the head coach, amidst speculation that he was hired to be a "snitch" for Dumars, and supposedly "take notes" on players to see how they really felt about the organization and Dumars, himself.

The following season, Detroit finished 27-55, their worst season since 1994. That team was headed by former Cavs assistant Jon Kuester, who coached one more season, finishing 30-52.

Kuester was then fired for former Celtics assistant and New Jersey head coach Lawrence Frank. The team showed some improvement but was plagued with inconsistency, youth, and a long overdue roster upheaval.

Now the Pistons have appeared to turn the other "cheek" (corny, I know... but you had to know that was coming at some point). Pistons fans, it's not... nor was it ever going to be Phil Jackson. He was just giving team owner Tom Gores some advice, which is common place in the NBA. Folks got so excited hearing Phil Jackson's name attached to the Pistons you would've thought a lost Kim Kardashian sex tape leaked or something. But Phil was NEVER coming here... Get that notion out of your head. He's probably chillin' in Montana about now, looking out the window at horses and cows, rollin' up a joint, and reading Sun Tzu "The Art of War" for the 34th time. But guess what? They went with the safe hire. The non-controversial hire. The logical and sensible hire. A player friendly hire. And more than likely, an inexpensive hire.

Ok, ok... I'm sure many of you reading this wanted George Karl. I don't think that hire would've made any sense. The Pistons have a young team and they're nowhere near being a championship contender. So why throw all the money he was going command his way to coach a team that is not ready for prime time? And by the way, teams Karl has coached have lost nine of the last 10 years in the FIRST round! Nothing about that says elite, to me.

The only other choice that made sense to me would've been former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, who's criminally slept on... and in my opinion the most underrated coach in the league. He coached a rugged front court in Memphis with Zach Randolph and Defensive Player of the Year Mark Gasol. That experience could've been huge in the development in potential Piston mainstays Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. But coming off a Western Conference Finals appearance, he would've cost an arm and a leg. Hell, have you seen that man's suit and tie collection? He probably would've had a separate clause in his contract for his wardrobe, alone! Sidenote: The Grizz are insane for not re-signing Hollins. "Philosophical differences", eh? Anyway....

Maurice Cheeks is the right guy at the right time for the Pistons. He's a high character coach, community oriented, defensive minded (and if you've watched the Pistons the last few years, you KNOW that's a definite weakness), and was a really good point guard during his 15-year NBA career. He's exactly the kind of coach that Brandon Knight needs, as Cheeks just spent the last four seasons as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was instrumental in the growth and development of Russell Westbrook and in a sense, took him under his wing.

Listen, I'm not calling him the next Red Auerbach. He has a career record of 284-286. In eight seasons as a head coach, his teams made the playoffs three times and lost in the first round each time. He was fired twice (Portland and Philadelphia). But keep these jewels in mind... In Portland, he had Zach Randolph, Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells on the same team. Not exactly the easiest job for a rookie/inexperienced coach. He went 140-106 in those first three years but was fired almost two-thirds into his fourth year, as the team was just 22-33 at the time of his dismissal. He should've at least been allowed to finish the season because that team wasn't going anywhere, anyway.

Cheeks quickly rebounded and got perhaps his dream job... head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, a place where he spent most of his playing career and where he served as a seven-year assistant under coaching legend, Larry Brown. Seemed like a fairytale ending, eh? Wrong. He arrived in Philly to a team in complete disarray, led by a disgruntled superstar in Allen Iverson and an often-injured and now well-traveled Chris Webber. Neither star was happy with the direction of the team, as Iverson was traded the following season and Webber was released. The Sixers were now at that time the youngest team in the NBA. In some circles, Cheeks became known as a coach that could be "run over" and one that lost control of his team. I disagree with both notions.

Cheeks arrives in Detroit to inherit a team with two frontcourt players with huge potential in Drummond and Monroe, an under-developed point guard in Knight... and a bunch of other questions. The Pistons current roster features 10 players 28 or younger. They only have four players over 30, with Corey Maggette being the oldest at age 33. Clearly, there's work that needs to be done. Despite criticism from a hungry fanbase, Detroit has drafted well the past three seasons and seem to be headed in the right direction. But they lack the two things that Cheeks witnessed for four years as an assistant for the Thunder... a bonafide superstar and an explosive secondary scorer.

To Pistons fans, I say this "experiment" is going to work... if the front office shows interest in it working. Tom Gores, who became team owner in 2011, has been talked about as being more concerned with the Palace Sports and Entertainment package than the actual team. Working in the Pistons favor is the fact they play in a mediocre Eastern Conference, so a playoff berth in the next two seasons isn't out of the question. But before this is considered a success, failure, or just a stopgap until the next hot shot candidate is available, get Cheeks some personnel. Period.