I've stated more than a few times that I wanted the Pistons to go outside the box with their next coaching hire -- whether that meant across the ocean in pursuit of the Zeljko Obradovic, down to San Antonio to snag Gregg Popovich's right-hand man Mike Budenholzer or even just Indianapolis to roll the dice on Brian Shaw.
But Maurice Cheeks? He's a familiar face, but he's not exciting. He's coached decent teams, but never really good ones. And hey, it's science: retread coaches are historically worse than first-timers.
Those new guys, they're all unscratched lottery tickets. Pick the right one and it might change the franchise forever.
Comparing Cheeks to a hypothetical best-case scenario isn't exactly fair, though. Clearly, after interviewing as many candidates as he did, there must have been a reason that Joe Dumars and Tom Gores kept coming back to Cheeks.
"The leadership and player development qualities he brings as a former player and coach blends nicely with the roster we are building for the future," Dumars said in the press release announcing the hire. "He’s won an NBA championship, coached in two NBA Finals as an assistant coach and mentored some of the top young players in the NBA."
There's no sense in trying to read between the lines here, but the overall message of Cheeks as a mentor who focuses on player development got me thinking. It's been several years since I last covered NBA games with any regularity, but I do recall being impressed listening to Cheeks.
So I did some Googling ... and found an article I wrote for FanHouse (R.I.P.) during the 2008 playoffs when Cheeks and the 76ers pushed the Pistons to six games:
While listening to Mo Cheeks talk to the press before last night's Game 5 match with the Pistons, I couldn't help but notice how much he seems to enjoy the responsibility of teaching as well as coaching.
"I enjoy coaching. I can't play anymore, so this is the closest thing I can do to play. I enjoy all of the things that come with it -- I don't enjoy you guys too much [laughter] -- but I enjoy all the things that go with coaching, and that is what I tell my players. ... I particularly enjoy when I see Lou Williams and [reminding] him about being up the floor and [how he'll have] a chance to get a steal up the court -- and I'll look up and he's up the floor and he's getting a steal. Those are some of the rewards of coaching.
"I'm pretty fortunate in that I have players that listen, they try to go out and do all these things right. And I'm very fortunate in that area that I have these guys that go out there and try and do things right and listen, and they don't always do them right [laughs] but they're out there trying to do them. And that's a very fortunate thing for me as a coach, and I think that's rewarding for our coaches is that you have these guys, you're trying to teach them, you're trying to show them different things about the game and then they go out and try to do it."
That 76ers team had just a single rotation player older than 27. In fact, relying upon young players been a recurring trend in Cheeks' career, as Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News notes:
Dealing with the young players in Oklahoma City, most observers around the league believe, will serve Cheeks well in his third stop, moreso than his X’s and O’s acumen. Cheeks played a crucial role in the development of the guards in Oklahoma City, namely All-Star Russell Westbrook, along with forwards Zach Randolph in Portland and Andre Iguodala in Philadelphia.
"He wasn’t a negative force in Oklahoma City," an executive said. "It’s not universal that all guys learn. Cheeks doesn’t strike me as a bitter personality, so he’s not sitting back feeling like he was screwed (in Portland and Philadelphia). He said, ‘If I get another chance, what could I have done better?’ "
Am I completely sold on Cheeks? Not yet. But I'm starting to see the logic, or at the very least accept the narrative of Cheeks as a teacher ready to mold young players. And considering the most important building blocks on the roster -- Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Knight and whoever the Pistons take with the No. 8 pick -- are between the ages of 23 and 19 -- having a coach with a track record of trusting and developing young players counts for something.
What say you? Does Cheeks really have whatever it was that Curry, Kuester and Frank were missing? Or will he prove to be yet another mistake -- and perhaps, the final nail in Dumars' coffin?