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Pistons hire Maurice Cheeks as head coach

8:58 PM, Jun 10, 2013   |    comments
Team Chuck coach Maurice Cheeks talks to an official during the second half of the BBVA rising stars challenge at the Amway Center in Orlando. Team Chuck defeated Team Shaq 146-133. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
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(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - The Detroit Pistons are indeed hoping that three times turns out to be a charm.

Maurice Cheeks, who once held head-coaching positions with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers, will get his third shot in the lead chair when the Pistons open the NBA season next fall.

Cheeks, 56, has agreed to join the Pistons after the two sides worked out a multiyear agreement, the Pistons confirmed this evening. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"We're pleased to welcome Maurice Cheeks to the Pistons organization," Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said in a statement. "The leadership and player development qualities he brings as a former player and coach blends nicely with the roster we are building for the future. He's won an NBA championship, coached in two NBA Finals as an assistant coach and mentored some of the top young players in the NBA."

Cheeks becomes the 29th coach in Detroit franchise history - the eighth in the past 14 seasons. He has spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach with theOklahoma City Thunder.

"After spending some time with Maurice, I was very impressed not only with his basketball knowledge but his communication and leadership skills," Pistons owner Tom Gores said in a statement. "We are very excited to have someone of his experience and talent help take this franchise into the future."

Cheeks interviewed with the Pistons three times, including one meeting with Gores in Los Angeles. He emerged as the front-runner after he traveled to Auburn Hills for the third interview the first weekend in June. Finalist and former NBA head coach Nate McMillan also received three interviews.

Cheeks inherits a team that has had five straight losing seasons and has missed the postseason four straight seasons. Crowds are sparse and the coaching search failed to create local buzz. The hire probably won't create excitement as the fan base was looking for a sexier name.

But the job offers promise because of the young and imposing frontline of fourth-year power forward Greg Monroe and second-year center Andre Drummond. There are other young promising pieces such as Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler and Khris Middleton.

And an even larger factor is the $20 million in cap space Dumars will have to reshape the roster that will have a lot of turnover going into next season.

"I'm definitely looking forward to a change," Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko said today at the Academy of the Americas, a Detroit public school, before the hiring was announced. "... I know (Joe Dumars) and ownership is going to make the right call. All I'm doing is getting prepared, and I'm just excited about the fresh start."

Older fans may remember when Cheeks was one of the league's best point guards during a 15-year career, mainly with the Sixers. He ran the point when Philly won the 1983 NBA title and played in four All-Star games.

Cheeks was a head coach with Portland (2001-05) and Philadelphia (2005-08). He reached the playoffs twice in Portland ('02 and '03) and once in Philadelphia ('08). His career record is 284-286.

Cheeks had uneven tenures in both spots - his last stint coming when he was fired 23 games into the 2008-09 season with the Sixers.

But he has handled such mercurial talents as Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells and a young Zach Randolph with the Blazers along with Allen Iverson with the 76ers. His teams were solid defensively and the Blazers were one of the league's best rebounding teams.

Since, he has been credited with the development Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook, who is known to have a competitive - yet combustible - personality.

Cheeks will replace Lawrence Frank, who was fired after posting a 54-94 record in two seasons. When Frank was hired in July 2011, there was palpable hope that the coaching carousel in Auburn Hills had ended.

But after a promising first season when the team played .500 over the last 42 games of the 2011-12 season, the Pistons started 0-8 last season. When the team completely collapsed with a 1-13 record with nightly blowouts, the writing was on the wall. Except for Monroe saying Frank deserved another season, it was hard to find support in the locker room.

Frank was fired the day after the Pistons concluded the season at Brooklyn with a 29-53 record.

Now it's up to Cheeks to provide stability.

Contact Vince Ellis: 313-222-6479 or vellis@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @vincent_ellis56.

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