Kuester seems like a classic No. 2, but he’s worth a shot


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

1973-74North CarolinaGuard22-6
1974-75North CarolinaGuard23-8
1975-76North CarolinaGuard25-4
1976-77North CarolinaGuard28-5
1977-78Kansas City KingsGuard31-51
1978-79Denver NuggetsGuard47-35
1979-80Indiana PacersGuard37-45
1980-81RichmondVolunteer assistant15-14
1981-82Boston UniversityAssistant19-9
1982-83Boston UniversityAssistant21-10
1983-84Boston UniversityHead coach16-12
1984-85Boston UniversityHead coach15-15
1985-86George WashingtonHead coach12-16
1986-87George WashingtonHead coach10-19
1987-88George WashingtonHead coach13-15
1988-89George WashingtonHead coach1-27
1989-90George WashingtonHead coach14-17
1990-91Boston CelticsScout/ video coordinator56-26
1991-92Boston CelticsScout/ video coordinator51-31
1992-93Boston CelticsScout/ video coordinator48-34
1993-94Boston CelticsScout/ video coordinator32-50
1994-95Boston CelticsScout/ video coordinator/ assistant35-47
1995-96Boston CelticsAssistant33-49
1996-97Boston CelticsAssistant15-67
1997-98Philadelphia 76ersAssistant31-51
1998-99Philadelphia 76ersAssistant28-22
1999-00Philadelphia 76ersAssistant49-33
2000-01Philadelphia 76ersAssistant56-26
2001-02Philadelphia 76ersAssistant43-39
2002-03Philadelphia 76ersAssistant48-34
2003-04Detroit PistonsAssistant54-28
2004-05New Jersey NetsAssistant42-40
2005-06Philadelphia 76ersAssistant38-44
2006-07Orlando MagicAssistant40-42
2007-08Cleveland CavaliersAssistant45-37
2008-09Cleveland CavaliersAssistant66-16