Always smiling, Mo Cheeks takes over the Pistons’ bench looking to change a losing, negative culture and deserves a fair shot to do so. (Phillycop, Flickr)
The Detroit Pistons named Maurice Cheeks their head coach on Monday, which won’t bring much fanfare around the state or reinvigorate a stale basketball brand in Auburn Hills. That doesn’t mean Cheeks himself won’t be successful during his third try behind the bench, though.
Most probably figure that Cheeks is not a good hire (like Brian Shaw or Mike Budenholzer would be), but also think he’s not the most terrible one, either (like Lindsey Hunter or Darrell Walker). His major advantages are calmness along with coaching and playing experience, which does matter coming on the heels of Michael Curry, John Kuester and Lawrence Frank, all of whom had their major deficiencies in those separate areas.
However, for these purposes, the biggest plus for Cheeks might be the fact that few people will actually, truly care about this move. Professional basketball consciousness in Detroit couldn’t be trending any lower than it is trending on June 11, 2013. After involving Phil Jackson in this search and courting bigger coaching names, excitement will dwindle for Cheeks’ introductory press conference. Most will write him and the Pistons off from the beginning, and merely expect both to fail. Apathy has replaced anger, and a negative attitude is expected and understood after so many recent organizational mistakes.
Do remain skeptical, but don’t be so immediately sure Cheeks will fail. While you’re busy writing him off as the Pistons’ seventh coach in 10 years, touting his underwhelming 284-286 record and wondering how he managed to preside over the “Jailblazer era” in Portland, he’ll be teaching and coaching, passing along wisdom that only a fellow guard would know to Brandon Knight and overseeing the development of Andre Drummond. While the press is howling about how unassuming he is, Cheeks will be smiling and remaining positive and upbeat about his new role, which he desperately wanted for personal redemption’s sake.
For their part, the Pistons might be hiring Cheeks at just the right time, too. There’s no doubt he learned something coaching the Trail Blazers from 2001-2005 and the Philadelphia 76ers from 2005-2008. He dealt with plenty of characters there, ranging from Rasheed Wallace and Zach Randolph to Allen Iverson. Then, as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cheeks helped manage his share of superstar talent in Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. He’s seen plenty of things during a lifetime in the game, and his experience with multiple different types of players, mostly young ones, should help Detroit out.
In a players league like the NBA, coaching doesn’t count for much anymore, minus developing young talent. Erik Spolestra won a title last summer and is fighting for another, while Mike Brown, Stan Van Gundy and Avery Johnson have made runs to the finals. Mostly, the pressure should now fall on Joe Dumars and Tom Gores to make complementary moves with personnel to give Cheeks the best possible chance to succeed. With Kuester and Frank, that didn’t happen. Given plenty of cap flexibility, Dumars must make the right moves this summer to fix the roster. If that backfires, it must be he, not Cheeks, taking the next fall.
On June 11, 2013, as the wheels spin once again, disgruntled Pistons’ fans can’t do anything but look at the positives, give Cheeks his next chance and hope for the best.
Continue to assume the absolute worst, and Cheeks just might end up surprising you soon.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax