By Ashley Dunkak
AUBURN HILLS (CBS DETROIT) – They call him Magic Mo.
“Cool dude, very genuine,” says Detroit Pistons rookie Tony Mitchell, who smiles as he expands on his characterization of his new coach. “He’s always honest with you. He’s going to let you know what he wants from you on and off the court. I respect him so much as a basketball coach and a person.”
All of players on Detroit’s roster seem to enjoy new Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks, but the beloved former NBA point guard will need more than tricks up his sleeve to deliver a Detroit team that has not won more than 30 games in any of the past four seasons.
The numbers represent an especially ugly fall from grace considering the Pistons had made the playoffs 12 of the previous 14 seasons until this recent four-year stretch.
“Everybody’s seen the last, what, five or six years,” said guard Rodney Stuckey, who has been with Detroit since 2007. “It’s been pretty beeep. I think we’re just all excited to get back on that right path, get back to what Detroit basketball is and making it to the playoffs each and every year and eventually try to compete for an NBA championship.”
Significant turnover on the roster might mean a shortage of continuity compared to more veteran teams, but it also gives the Pistons a desperately needed chance for a fresh start.
“With eight new guys and a new coach, I think they’re open for new ideas, new things happening, so I think it’s an advantage for us to have eight new guys because now their mind is a little bit more open and open to more challenges, more new things, and I think it would help us out a lot more,” Cheeks said.
Cheeks still has some time to determine a starting lineup and get the new group ready to start the season, but in the meantime, he appears to have the confidence of his players.
Even before the start of training camp, the players have already been impressed by what they have seen of their new coach. Renowned as a great former player as well as one of the great gentlemen of the game, Cheeks almost always appears laid-back and at ease. Players assure, however, that he has plenty of fire when players need to hear it.
“You all can see him – low-key guy, but once you guys leave, he’s a whole different man,” forward Andre Drummond said. “He’s an exciting coach to be around. He’s a player’s coach as well, too. He played in the league, so he knows what’s going on. He can really tell us a lot, so I’m just glad that he’s our coach.”
Cheeks’ NBA experience, 15 years, after which the Philadelphia 76ers retired his number, gives Cheeks a significant amount of credibility with the players. Cheeks’ record as an NBA head coach is 284-286, but his time as a player is something players value immensely.
“He’s a former player and he understands the game of basketball, and he understands when you need rest and when it’s time to work hard, so I think he’s going to help us out a lot,” Stuckey said. “It’s going to be fun.”
The guards in particular like the idea of having Cheeks as the man running the show because the point guard is typically the player with the best understanding of how the offense works, the player who orchestrates the movement of the whole team.
“Him being a point guard, he was a general on the floor too, as well, and I think the point guard position is probably one of the hardest positions to play because you need to tell everybody where they need to be in what position, and you need to get everyone involved too, as well, so I think he’s going to help everyone out,” Stuckey said, “and I think we’re just all excited.”
Rookie Peyton Siva, who is coming off a significant role in Louisville’s NCAA championship win, said he is already learning more about the point guard spot from Cheeks.
“He’s just a great coach,” Siva said. “It’s real easy for me to learn from him just because he was a player, he played the game at the highest level against some of the toughest competition, so it’s really great for me to learn from him, just pick his mind, see little things I can do to change my game and I’m looking forward to learning from him also.”
The Pistons have chewed through four coaches in the last six seasons. They could use a little Mo Magic, and it looks like Cheeks is off to a solid start.