At first glance, newly named Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks might appear to be the heir apparent in the event Scott Brooks flames out in his first full run as head coach.
Cheeks owns a 284-286 record over the equivalent of about seven full seasons as the lead man in Portland and Philadelphia. He’s guided his teams to the playoffs three times. He’s one of the most mannerly men in coaching.
It’s enough to make you believe Brooks should keep one eye on the court and the other cocked over his shoulder.
And we’re not saying someday he shouldn’t.
But Brooks has the full support of the Thunder’s front office, and, for now, Cheeks should be viewed as a complement to Brooks rather than his eventual replacement. The Thunder rewarded Brooks with a lucrative two-year deal just before the end of last season. The contract has a team option that could keep Brooks, 44, in Oklahoma City through the 2011-12 season.
So, to be clear, there should be no questioning which man holds the keys to the ship and is calling the shots. Cheeks’ arrival should only assist Brooks in driving the boat.
Bringing in a coach of Cheeks’ stature, however, is a salute to Brooks’ makeup. The Thunder’s coach could have settled on someone with less experience who in no way would have been qualified to serve as a potential successor. But that coach would have had far less to offer.
The decision illustrates Brooks’ self-confidence and his trust in Cheeks. That trust stems from a relationship first formed in 1987, when Brooks nearly made Cheeks’ star-studded Sixers squad as a little-known guard out of UC-Irvine. Brooks made the team the next season and served as Cheeks’ backup for one year.