Maurice Cheeks is the new coach of the Detroit Pistons, but folks in the Motor City aren't exactly rolling out the welcome wagon.
“Hiring Maurice Cheeks is Detroit Pistons' latest uninspired move,” one headline proclaimed.
“The resume is underwhelming,” one reporter wrote.
“Why not go after a winner for just once?” one fan mused.
To which folks in Oklahoma City say, “We'll take him back.”
Cheeks spent the past four years as an assistant with the Thunder. He's been Scott Brooks' closest confidant on the bench. He's been a valuable voice as the only assistant who had experience as a player and a head coach.
But as much as anything, he's been the guy who's had a finger on pulse of Russell Westbrook.
Since Cheeks emerged as the Pistons' top candidate, much has been made of his hand in the development of the Thunder's point guards. Westbrook. Reggie Jackson. Even Eric Maynor.
But frankly, we have no idea how much of a hand Cheeks really had in developing those players. The Thunder is secretive. No watching practice. No interviewing assistants.
In Westbrook's case, chances are good that Westbrook deserves most of the credit for how far he's come during his five seasons in the NBA. He is a competitive son of a gun, a self-starter who has a raging internal fire. He probably would've willed himself to get better regardless of who coached him.
But I can tell you that a couple times, I got to The Peake early enough to see Westbrook and Cheeks working out before games. They put in their time on the floor well before the doors opened to the public, but early bird media members could catch a glimpse.
Their connection was obvious.
They were serious much of the time as Cheeks helped Westbrook through shooting and dribbling drills, but there were moments when they laughed and joked and smiled, too.
Yes, Russ the Raging Bull would smile.
Cheeks would rib him about something, then Westbrook would gig him right back, often about his age. Westbrook would occasionally imitate Cheeks' old-man-with-bad-knees walk.
You could see that Westbrook felt comfortable with Cheeks.
That is no small thing.
There are times when what Westbrook needs most is a confidant. When he gets wound up, he needs a sounding board, and in games and in practice, Cheeks has been the one who had Westbrook's ear.
Now, I'm not suggesting Westbrook always took Cheeks' advice.
See, the Memphis Meltdown.
You remember the kookiness that January night at The Peake. The Grizzlies were in town, and in the third quarter with the Thunder leading by 20 points — and Westbrook playing spectacularly — he was called for a five-second violation. He became immediately irate with Thabo Sefolosha for drawing a defender closer to him.
During a timeout soon after, Westbrook stood seething outside the Thunder huddle. Cheeks noticed his agitation and came out of the huddle to talk to him. Westbrook walked toward the end of the bench, and Cheeks followed.
Sitting down, Cheeks leaned toward Westbrook to talk to him and try to calm him down, but after a few seconds of rocking back and forth, Westbrook stood, angrily shoved aside a chair and stormed into the locker-room tunnel.
Something tells me Westbrook didn't do what Cheeks told him to do.
Not so much.
As volatile as Westbrook can be — he blocked a mascot's shot twice — he might've been even more explosive without Cheeks in his ear. Cheeks was known for his calm demeanor during his 15-year career as an NBA point guard, and he had that same composed vibe as a coach. Some of that rubbed off on Westbrook.
Even though he still does things that leave you scratching your head, that happens much, much less than it once did. Had that not changed, Westbrook wouldn't have become a perennial All-Star and a borderline first-team All-NBA player.
So, does Cheeks' departure mean that Westbrook's demeanor will suffer?
Thunder fans sure hope not.
They might be as disappointed about Cheeks going to Detroit as Piston fans are.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.