Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 6/10/13
If the Detroit Pistons were looking for a point guard Monday, they certainly found a great one. Maurice Cheeks went to four All-Star Games in a 15-year career, made it onto four All-Defensive First Teams and won a championship with the Philadelphia 76ers, all while playing the point at the same time as Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Dennis Johnson and John Stockton. Of course, at 56 years of age, Cheeks isn't going to be running the point for the Pistons. He's going to be the head coach, and his history at that job isn't quite as spectacular. After his playing career ended, Cheeks was an assistant for the 76ers from 1994 to 2001, helping a team led by Allen Iverson reach the 2001 NBA Finals. The Sixers lost in four games, but Cheeks was suddenly a hot young coaching prospect. At the age of 45, he got what looked like a good job, replacing Mike Dunleavy in Portland. The Trail Blazers were coming off 59- and 50-win seasons, and were just a year removed from a seven-game defeat by the Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference finals. Unfortunately for Cheeks, while he inherited a great deal of talent, he also had to try to deal with the personalities attached. These were the "Jail Blazers" of Bonzi Wells, Rasheed Wallace, Shawn Kemp, a very young Zach Randolph and an old Scottie Pippen. Cheeks was able to keep things afloat for the first two years, going a combined 99-65, but couldn't get the Blazers out of the first round of the playoffs in either season. By the 2003-04 season, Pippen was gone, while Qyntel Woods and his pit bulls had arrived to give Cheeks more off-the-court headaches. Portland missed the playoffs with a 41-41 record, and when they started the next season 22-33, Cheeks was out of a job. He was still considered a strong coaching prospect, given the issues he'd had to deal with in Portland, and when the next season tipped off, Cheeks was back in Philadelphia as the coach of the 76ers. Once again, he was walking into a decent situation -- the Sixers were coming off a 43-39 season in 2004-05 that saw them lose in the first round to the Finals-bound Pistons. He also had a roster that included Iverson, Chris Webber, Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert. Cheeks improved Philadelphia's offense, something that had been seen as a weakness, but the team fell apart defensively. They finished the year at 38-44, missing the postseason. Iverson was traded in Cheeks' second year, allowing the team to be built around Iguodala, Andre Miller and Dalembert. The new look was better defensively, but struggled to score -- Kyle Korver finished second on the team in points. Another losing season, and another postseason spent on the golf course. With Iguodala and Miller both comfortable as the keys to the team in 2007-08, Philadelphia recovered to a 40-42 record and a playoff berth against the last gasp of the Pistons dynasty. Detroit won in six games en route to their last trip to the Eastern Conference finals. A year later, Iverson was in Detroit and things started to go terribly wrong at the Palace. It wasn't much better for Cheeks. The team started 9-14 in 2008 and Cheeks was fired for the second time. With two four-year failures under his belt, a career winning percentage of .498 and a 0-for-3 record in the first round of the playoffs, much of the luster was gone from his resume. Until Monday, he had been successful as an assistant under Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City, helping develop players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. And now, five years after being canned by the 76ers, he's a head coach again, taking over the Pistons. It's not hard to see what Joe Dumars respects about Cheeks. Their playing careers overlapped, and they were both tough guards who could help a team on both ends of the floor. As an assistant, Cheeks has helped develop superstars like Iverson and Durant, and been on staffs that have taken teams to the NBA finals. There's just one huge question mark hanging over his career -- can he make things work as a head coach? It's a fair question to ask -- he hasn't coached a team to a winning record in a decade, and wasn't able to move Portland or Philadelphia forward from where he took over. Cheeks will be the 13th Pistons coach since Chuck Daly left in 1992, and the eighth since Dumars took over the franchise in 2000. In all that time, Flip Saunders is the only one to make it through three full seasons. He was fired after winning 59 games in 2007-08 and taking Detroit to a sixth straight conference final. In the five seasons since Saunders was let go, the Pistons haven't had a winning record, haven't won a playoff game, and have now used four head coaches. Dumars could have gone in several different directions with this hire -- there are always highly rated assistants available, and coaches with track records who have found themselves out of work. Instead, he is gambling that, well into his 50s and with two failed attempts behind him, Cheeks is the coach that can wake up the slumbering giant at Six Championship Drive. If Cheeks isn't the right hire, Dumars won't be making the next one.
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