Maurice Cheeks was officially introduced as the head coach of the Detroit Pistons at a quiet press conference today. A beaten down looking Joe Dumars sat beside him and attempted to assure everyone that everything was under control. That would be a nice thing to believe, but being the coach of the Pistons is a lot like being named the Hand of the King in Westeros. You probably won’t last too long. Execution, banishment, mid-season firings, the Pistons have been a team in perpetual coaching turmoil since the departure of Flip Saunders and to many Mo Cheeks isn’t any kind of long term solution.
The Pistons had reportedly been courting the likes of Brian Shaw and Nate McMillan for the big chair, but settled on the amiable Cheeks, a person that is exceedingly easy to admire. That seems to be the consensus about Mo. He’s a great guy, though his coaching career up to this point has been mediocre. He’s gotten his teams to the playoffs, but never out of the first round, and certain troubling remarks from his past (including his insistence that the corner three is the toughest shot in basketball) have not inspired confidence that he has what it takes to pull this team out of the quagmire.
Dumars went on to explain why Cheeks was their eventual choice, saying that he has “the ability to connect with people, the ability to have a steady hand every day.”
Mo Cheeks was all quiet platitudes. He’s excited to be here. He wants to get back to the tradition started by Isiah and Joe. He can’t wait to get started. The floor opened up for questions and a tiny silence settled over people whose nature it is to question aggressively. Mo cracked a joke. “No questions? I like that!” Everyone laughed but then the questions roll in and some of them have an edge. Were your other two head coaching gigs kind of negative experiences? Subtext: They must have been negative because you kind of sucked at coaching. Of course Mo said that all his experience was a positive experience, and that even the dark days were not negative. Bravo!
Mo did go out of his way to praise Scott Brooks and the Oklahoma City organization in general, emphatically stating that he had learned a lot during his time as an assistant coach. He said that he would use his experience as an assistant in OKC and his previous head coaching experience as a sort of super-experience and that he hoped it would produce a “recipe for success”.
He said he expects unselfish and committed play out of his team, and that will be the mark (or stamp) he hopes to be remembered for.
“This team has a lot of young talent,” Cheeks said, “It just has to be honed.”
This should be a fresh start and a time for optimism. Just the other day I wrote something very optimistic about the Cheeks hire. It came from a good place but I’m allowed to be optimistic because at the end of the day, I’m not risking my livelihood on this hire, not risking my future job prospects or my reputation. Mo Cheeks has been through this before and so has Joe and so have most of the reporters. It’s a dance with stunted choreography but the reality is everyone knows they are living on borrowed time, even Joe Dumars. After Michael Curry, John Kuester, and Lawrence Frank, after trading Billups for Iverson, and after the cap disasters (not to mention the terrible instincts that led to those signings) of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, after all of that, Dumars still has a job. Of course he is that last link to both Piston dynasties, but at a certain point all bets are off and we all have to be prepared to sacrifice our firstborn to Rumpelstiltskin.
So, the affable Mo Cheeks in all likelihood represents the last stand of Joe Dumars.
Perhaps fittingly, the feed to the press conference shriveled and crackled into distorted white noise in the midst of Joe talking about why Mo was the perfect hire, and the NBA cut away to talk about Dwyane Wade.
Before he was gone Dumars said, “People are always skeptical until you prove yourself.”
That’s true. But that too has a shelf life. Next you just have to prove yourself again and again and again. Two championships playing for the Pistons and one as the General Manager and Joe Dumars is still proving himself.
Welcome to Detroit, Mo. I hope you prove yourself, whatever that means. I am rooting for you.