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Oklahoma City Thunder: Impact of Maurice Cheeks' departure to be determined

by Berry Tramel Modified: June 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm •  Published: June 11, 2013
Maurice Cheeks is heading to Detroit. / Photo by Sarah Phipps
Maurice Cheeks is heading to Detroit. / Photo by Sarah Phipps

Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks is headed to Detroit to coach the Pistons. You can read our story here.

I don’t know what to make of the hiring because I don’t know what to make of Cheeks. Scotty Brooks’ coaching staff is mostly mysterious to all but a few outsiders. We don’t know what their personalities are within the team, don’t know what their particular responsibilities are, don’t know how much Brooks relies on each guy. About all we know is who gets to sit on the front row with Brooks. Cheeks was a front-row guy and sat next to Brooks; I assume that means he was confidant No. 1.

So the mystery of the Thunder staff and front office means I can’t shed much insight into the Cheeks hiring. He’s been the head coach at Portland and Philadelphia. Maybe Detroit knows what it’s getting in Cheeks, because of those stops.

Cheeks’ overall record is 284-286; he made the playoffs three times in seven years (he was fired early in his eighth year as head coach at Philly) and never won a playoff series.

Cheeks coached the Jail Blazers teams in Portland. Zach Randolph, Damon Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace, Ruben Patterson. I don’t know how a guy is supposed to coach that crew. Then Cheeks coached the 76er teams that made the transition from Allen Iverson to, well, I don’t know what Philadelphia transitioned to. Andre Miller was a heck of a player, Andre Iguodala was a promising young player, Kyle Korver could shoot. But it wasn’t much of a team.

I don’t know who gets credit in Thunderville for Russell Westbrook’s development. My best guess is Russell Westbrook. But to whatever degree Cheeks helped Westbrook into becoming an elite point guard, it’s been impressive.

So really, I don’t know what Detroit is getting as a head coach. But I know what Cheeks is getting. A wayward franchise. The Pistons were historic in their consistency early in the 2000s. Now Detroit is consistent again. The wrong way.

The Pistons made six straight Eastern Conference Finals, 2003 through 2008. That’s amazing. Detroit won the East in 2004, when it won the NBA title, and again in 2005, when it lost to San Antonio. Then the Pistons — with that balanced starting lineup of Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton — reached the East Finals three straight more times. Lost to Miami in 2006, Cleveland in 2007 and Boston in 2008.

Finally, those grand Pistons grew older, the team broke up and now Detroit is a ghostship of a franchise. Ben Wallace left in free agency, Billups was traded for Iverson and Detroit fell to 39-43 yet still made the 2009 playoffs. But the last four seasons, the Pistons have gone 27-55, 30-52, 25-41 and 29-53.

Detroit has a couple of promising big men to build around. Greg Monroe just turned 23; Andre Drummond turns 20 in August. But the Pistons don’t have much beyond that.

Cheeks will have his work cut out.

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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