The case against Mo Cheeks (and other retread coaches)

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Is hiring a veteran head coach truly safer than rolling the dice on a rookie? Only if a GM is worried about losing his job.

After watching Michael Curry and John Kuester completely bomb, Pistons fans are understandably nervous about first-time coaches. The same, it seems, can be said for Joe Dumars, who's wish list apparently has Mo Cheeks on top followed by Nate McMillan.

But should Curry and Kuester's failures preclude the Pistons from considering another rookie? It seems like a lifetime ago, but Rick Carlisle worked out well for the Pistons once upon a time, and our division rivals in Chicago and Indiana have certainly fared well with Tom Thibodeau and Frank Vogel. Milwaukee hired Larry Drew, who left his first gig with a winning record and three straight trips to the playoffs, and Cleveland just brought back Mike Brown, who's earned a career .653 winning percentage since Cleveland gave him a chance in 2005.

I don't want to state the obvious while trying to sound profound, but all NBA coaches were rookie coaches at some point in their career, so isn't there some value in giving someone new a shot? Is hiring a retread truly that much more of a sure thing? Grantland's Jared Dubin crunched the numbers to find out:

Between 1996 and 2001, 26 of the 52 (50 percent) full-time head coaches hired by NBA teams were retreads. Between 2002 and 2007, 36 of the 57 (63.1 percent) were retreads, and over the past five years, retreads filled 27 of the 41 (65.9 percent) openings.

This trend raises a couple of questions: (1) Does hiring a coach with prior NBA head coaching experience result in an appreciable improvement from the prior regime? And, (2) Does it make an appreciable difference when compared with the hiring of a first-time head coach?

The answer to the first question is a pretty resounding "no." The 90 retread coaches hired since 1996 took over teams with a collective winning percentage of .495 under the previous coaching regime. How much did those coaches who "know how to succeed in the NBA" improve those teams? Well … they didn’t. The winning percentage stayed at .495. If we teased the decimal points all the way out, we’d see that the cumulative winning percentage of teams that have hired retread head coaches since 1996 is actually worse than the cumulative winning percentage of those same teams under the previous regime.

Click through and the whole thing for more details -- including the chart that shows how first-time head coaches may initially struggle but on average outperform retreads for the duration of their tenure.

In other words: retreads are safer for a front office looking for short-term returns. If Joe Dumars is feeling "win now" pressure from Tom Gores, Cheeks might be safer than, say, Brian Shaw. But if Dumars is looking to build a legitimate contender with staying power? He's probably better off rolling the dice.

Now your thoughts. Would you have the patience to suffer through the growing pains of another first-year coach? Or has Lawrence Frank taught you that experience is overrated?

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