Mo: Full Speed Ahead

Off-season additions bolster Cheeks’ vision to force turnovers & run

Brandon Jennings
The day the Pistons unveiled Maurice Cheeks as coach, he made clear his preference was to coach a team that forced turnovers, then got out and ran. That pronouncement came before the Pistons added Josh Smith in free agency, Brandon Jennings in trade and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the draft among eight new faces brought on board over an off-season that fundamentally changed the roster’s makeup.

Bottom line: Full speed ahead, as far as Cheeks is concerned.

“That hasn’t changed,” he said of his vision for molding the Pistons. “I want to create turnovers. I want to get out in the open court. We’ve got some runners. We’ve got some athletes. We want to utilize those guys in those areas. We clearly have some big guys down low that can run. (Greg) Monroe and (Andre) Drummond, they can get down the floor.

“The vision I had when I first got here hasn’t changed. It’s just been enhanced, really, with Josh and Brandon and people like that who can get out in the open court and get out and play. I’m looking forward to it.”

The four players Cheeks cited – Smith, Jennings, Monroe and Drummond – will very likely be in the opening night starting lineup when the Pistons host Washington on Oct. 30. Other rotation spots, though, will be up for grabs in what Cheeks foresees as a throwback training camp.

“This is probably what in the old-school days, training camp was about, is competition – competing for spots, competing for minutes, and it gets no better than this right here when you have a lot of guys who can play different positions and in order to get minutes they have to be able to beat out another guy,” he said. “Over the years, this is what training camp has been about, competing. This training camp will be like years ago where you have guys who have to actually compete for a spot. Once you figure out who’s going to be playing, then you figure out where they play.”

Cheeks understands that eight new players and an essentially all-new coaching staff – John Loyer is the only holdover among a staff unveiled Wednesday, with longtime Cheeks acquaintance Henry Bibby the notable addition to the core staff that was in place during Orlando Summer League – it might take time for the wrinkles to be ironed out. He said he’ll lean on veterans and holdovers to smooth the transition. His bond with Jennings will be especially critical, of course, as he slides in as Pistons point guard.

“I’m not necessarily going to mold him,” Cheeks said, “I just want to enhance his game. He’s a pretty good player already. Certain things he’s been doing before, hopefully he can continue doing those things, and some of the things he hasn’t been doing, I can help him in those areas. Most important is running your basketball team. That’s what your point guard has to do and the people around you he’s playing with have to be very comfortable with him doing that. I’m pretty confident I can help him in those areas.”

Cheeks said he won’t designate anyone as his lead assistant coach – “We’re all here to help us win,” he said – and won’t assign anyone as defensive or offensive assistants. But, he said, “There are some guys I’m very comfortable with on the offensive end and some guys I’m very comfortable with on the defensive end. I don’t necessarily split ’em up that way, but their suggestions are probably used a little bit more because they’re pretty good in those areas.”

He said Bibby, a former Philadelphia 76ers teammate, “brings a wealth of knowledge, particularly on the defensive end.” Loyer, who worked under Cheeks in both Portland and Philadelphia, was Lawrence Frank’s lead offensive assistant coach. Maz Trakh coached the Summer League team. Those three figure to join Cheeks on the bench, with player development coaches Rasheed Wallace and Bernard Smith behind them.

Kamran Sufi, who has spent the past three years in the Chinese Basketball Association and before that was a D-League coach, will be the team’s advance scout. Raman Sposato, who worked under Cheeks in Portland and spent the past eight years with the Los Angeles Clippers, is the video coordinator.