Friday, October 01, 2010

Motor City mess: Dumars isn't helping Kuester

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - John Kuester always struck me as a guy that just needed a chance.

A brilliant offensive mind, Kuester is certainly not the sexiest member of the Dean Smith coaching tree, but the Detroit Pistons mentor has never really been a self-promoter -- he's just a rock-solid basketball guy that sat under the learning tree of some of the greats.

Kuester played for Smith at North Carolina in the 1970s and spent three years in the NBA before starting his coaching career the old fashioned way, as a volunteer assistant in his hometown of Richmond. His first big break in the college coaching ranks came in 1981 when Rick Pitino brought him on as an assistant at Boston University. Two years later, when Pitino left for the New York Knicks, Kuester found himself as the youngest head coach in NCAA Division I basketball.

His head coaching career derailed a bit during his next stint at George Washington. A miserable 1988-1989 season in which the Colonials compiled a dismal 1-27 mark ensured Kuester would have to change addresses again sooner rather than later.

Instead of taking a step back in college Kuester, jammed his foot in the NBA door by joining the Boston Celtics organization in 1990. It took five years, but he was finally promoted to an assistant coach by the C's in '95.

Kuester's NBA ascension really sped up in 1997, however, when another North Carolina product, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, hired him as an assistant in Philadelphia.

Brown, with Kuester as his top assistant, guided the previously moribund 76ers franchise to the playoffs in five of his six seasons at the helm, including an NBA Finals appearance in 2001. Kuester then followed Brown, one of the best technical coaches in NBA history, to Detroit where the organization won its
third NBA Championship in 2003-04.

Stints on the bench in New Jersey, Philadelphia again and Cleveland followed for Kuester before Pistons basketball chief Joe Dumars, likely trying to recreate what Brown brought to his franchise, came calling before the '09-10 campaign.

Kuester's first year as an NBA head coach in the Motor City was a bit of a disaster, however, resulting in just 27 wins and a berth in the NBA Draft Lottery, an unfamiliar position for a franchise that had gone to the postseason eight consecutive times.

Kuester's "chance" was being ruined by Dumars' bizarre rebuilding plan.

Since Dumars gave shooting guard Ben Gordon and power forward Charlie Villanueva big deals during last year's offseason, and forward Jonas Jerebko showed significant upside in his first NBA campaign most thought the Pistons president would move long-time stalwarts Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince in
the hopes of creating some salary cap relief and playing time for his young and promising parts.

Instead, Dumars was unable to do anything, and his big move during this offseason, other than drafting Georgetown big man Greg Monroe, was signing another wing player on the downside, Tracy McGrady. Now, Kuester finds himself overloaded with wings and power forwards.

Keeping them all happy is a trick Houdini couldn't accomplish.

An optimist by nature, Kuester put a nice spin on an untenable situation.

"One of the things we have to recognize is [Hamilton and Gordon] have to be on the floor at the same time," Kuester said at the team's recent media day. "Whether it's in a 2-3 situation (small forward, shooting guard) or a 1-2 (shooting guard, point guard) situation, we'll have a number of times when you'll see Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton on the floor at one time. We've got to be efficient and effective with it but I'll tell you this: We should be able to score a lot of points."

Of course, where does that leave Prince? Or Rodney Stuckey, Villanueva or Austin Daye?

Jerebko has the size of a four but the mentality of a three. Play him at the power forward position and Villanueva has to sit while Daye's progress is stunted. Move him to small forward and Prince, Hamilton or the oft-injured McGrady are out of luck. Meanwhile, if Gordon is on the floor as the lead guard next to Hamilton, Stuckey will be on the bench sulking.

"I think it will sort out on that court over there," Kuester said, pointing to the practice floor. "I think we're going to have a number of guys that are going to compete for playing time."

Dumars could have helped Kuester by sorting out the roster before camp opened. Instead, he's undercutting the one chance Kuester needed.

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