AUBURN HILLS – Everyone seems to think John Kuester is fortunate to become a head coach at 54.
But he almost didn’t get a crack at being an assistant coach.
After Kuester was fired by George Washington in 1990, Red Auerbach hired him to be the Celtics’ video coordinator and scout. He spent four-and-a-half years doing that behind-the-scenes work.
Then in 1994, Boston head coach Chris Ford had colon surgery and missed a few weeks of the season. Assistant coach Don Casey served as head coach, allowing Kuester to become an assistant.
But that temporary promotion didn’t thrill Kuester. He was fine doing his video and scouting work.
“To me, that’s the way you become a coach in this league – is understanding what the league is all about, understanding plays,” Kuester said.
M.L. Carr took over as head coach the next season, and Kuester became a full-time assistant. He spent 14 years as an NBA assistant prior to Joe Dumars picking him as the Pistons’ next coach. (For Kuester’s complete basketball history, see below the jump).
He certainly learned a lot during that span. And he learned how to learn – evidenced by his decision to spend the last five years coaching without Larry Brown after coaching under him the previous seven.
When Kuester was hired to be Boston University’s head coach in in 1983, his credentials were so thin that he cited state titles from his high school playing days as a qualification.
That’s certainly not the case now. So, don’t blame Dumars for reneging on saying he wanted to replace Michael Curry with an experienced coach. Dumars never said he wanted to hire someone who had been an NBA head coach.
Even if you count every 20 years of being a college head coach or NBA assistant as the equivalent as one year of being an NBA head coach, Kuester is more experienced than Curry.
But is that enough to make Kuester successful?
He admits Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown had to push him to be more vocal and with leading the team last year.
“Was I reluctant? Absolutely,” Kuester said. “That was something I thought was gong to feel comfortable with, and you don’t realize until you go out there and do it – not only in the preseason, but you’re doing the regular season and you’re doing it during crunch time.”
Was that just because he was an assistant, or does he not have the makeup to be an NBA head coach?
The evidence is stacked against him.
- He had mixed results in his two head-coaching gigs – 35-22 in two years at Boston University and 47-96, including a 1-27 season, in five years at George Washington.
- He was as content being a video coordinator as he was an assistant coach.
- He had trouble at times speaking up in Cleveland.
But he was the best hire for the job.
The Pistons aren’t winning a championship this year. He’s just like Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. He’s an affordable piece in building toward a title. His knowledge of the game is as tantalizing as the free agent duo’s talent.
If he takes the next step and helps Detroit compete for a championship, great. If not, his contract won’t prohibit the Pistons from moving on.
Auerbach was one of the first people Kuester mentioned today, and it’s clear he’s grateful for that opportunity in 1990.
“When I came into the league, you want to be in an environment where you’re learning,” Kuester said.
He did that.
The question now is whether he’s ready to teach.
Kuester’s basketball history
|1977-78||Kansas City Kings||Guard||31-51|
|1983-84||Boston University||Head coach||16-12|
|1984-85||Boston University||Head coach||15-15|
|1985-86||George Washington||Head coach||12-16|
|1986-87||George Washington||Head coach||10-19|
|1987-88||George Washington||Head coach||13-15|
|1988-89||George Washington||Head coach||1-27|
|1989-90||George Washington||Head coach||14-17|
|1990-91||Boston Celtics||Scout/ video coordinator||56-26|
|1991-92||Boston Celtics||Scout/ video coordinator||51-31|
|1992-93||Boston Celtics||Scout/ video coordinator||48-34|
|1993-94||Boston Celtics||Scout/ video coordinator||32-50|
|1994-95||Boston Celtics||Scout/ video coordinator/ assistant||35-47|
|2004-05||New Jersey Nets||Assistant||42-40|
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