"The Strong Guy"

Kuester preaches trust as Pistons coach

John Kuester was a key part of the Pistons' magical 2003-04 season, helping then head coach Larry Brown with practices, shootarounds and game plans.
David Liam Kyle (NBAE/Getty)
As the Pistons’ magical 2003-04 season unfolded, Joe Dumars noticed how often Larry Brown leaned on assistant coach John Kuester. It didn’t happen in the front of the cameras, but rather behind the scenes at the team’s practice facility.

“He was the strong guy with Larry, and he ran just about everything during that whole season - the practices, the shootarounds, the game plans,” Dumars said Thursday, when he officially named Kuester in Brown’s old post as Pistons head coach.

“He’s the guy that Larry turned to for everything. With all due respect to all the other coaches on the staff then, he was the guy that, when Larry needed something, he turned to him right away and said, ‘Q, what do you have?’ And boom, he’d give it right back to Larry.”

Kuester didn’t get the job on his lone season on the Pistons coaching staff - as successful as it was - but for the years of NBA experience he’s logged since 1990, when he broke into the league with the Boston Celtics as a video coordinator. It didn’t hurt, though, as both Dumars and Kuester acknowledged their past success together bodes well for the Pistons future.

“I’m very fortunate to be coming into familiar surroundings with people I know and trust,” said Kuester, who spoke with passion and conviction during the 20-minute press conference.

Kuester mentioned trust a lot Thursday - the trust he has in Joe Dumars and his staff, but more so about the trust he hopes to engender in the Pistons locker room between players and coaches.

Communicate, Help, Trust

Kuester said he will emphasize three themes - communicate, help and trust.

“We’ve got to do a great job of communicating on and off the floor. We’ve got to do a great job of helping each other, on and off the floor,” he said. “And when you have that communication and help, then that trust comes into play.”

As the Cavaliers’ “offensive coordinator” in 2008-09, Kuester helped orchestrate the Pistons’ swift, four-game departure from the postseason. He called the most recent Pistons squad and the one he’ll take into training camp “two different teams.” But he emphasized the value of chemistry, a Pistons staple that had deteriorated during the 39-43 campaign.

“There’s no magic formula,” he said. “Our philosophy will be, ‘Doing things the right way.’ We’ll accomplish that by the way we practice, by the way we play, by the way we interact with each other as players, all the time. And we’ve got to realize that we’re in this from day one.”

Kuester is encouraged to have Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince as building blocks, calling them “high character people. Guys that I trust, guys that I know will give us effort everyday.” Kuester’s relationship with Hamilton will be key, in particular, following the three-time All-Star’s publicized rift with previous head coach Michael Curry.

“Rip Hamilton is a special person to me,” said Kuester, who will be attending Hamilton’s upcoming wedding. “He’s a superstar as far as I’m concerned, and I think one of the things I wanted him to understand is, our relationship will be for a long time because it was that way in 2004.”

Barring a trade, Kuester will face the same dilemma Curry did - finding a way to accommodate Hamilton and another starter-worthy shooting guard, in this case, new free-agent acquisition Ben Gordon.

“Joe, we’ve got a chance”

As the sixth head coach of Dumars’ reign as Pistons president of basketball operations, Kuester said he knew he’d be asked about job security. He said his wife, Tricia, gave him a different way of looking at it.

“She said I was her sixth choice, and I’ve been married for 32 years,” Kuester said, eliciting laughter. “So the way I answer that is, Joe, we’ve got a chance.”

Dumars defended his track record of coaches after the conference, saying, “If you sat in my office and know how each one of those situations unfolded, you’d have a different perspective.” He reiterated that he had put Curry in “an unfair position” by expecting Curry to lead a team in transition after just one season on an NBA bench.

While Kuester is also a first-time head coach, Dumars cited his lengthy NBA resume, which spans nearly 20 years, including 13 as an assistant coach.

“He’s seen a variety of different situations,” Dumars said of Kuester, who spent seven years with the Celtics and six with the 76ers. One-year stints in Detroit, New Jersey and Orlando followed before he spent the past two seasons in Cleveland.

“It’s more fair to put someone with more experience in this situation,” Dumars said. “That’s why I’m very comfortable sitting here with John now.”

Accordingly, Dumars has different goals for Kuester than his predecessors. Kuester will not be held to the same standard as Rick Carlisle, Brown and Flip Saunders, who carried the burden of championship expectations.

“Our thing right now is to get back headed in the right direction,” Dumars said. “We’re going through a transition period now, so he’s not going to be judged on, ‘Hey, listen, if we’re not in the Finals, it’s a failure.’ That’s kind of the way it’s been for the last seven years.”

To drive the point home, Dumars succinctly closed the press conference by saying, “He might have the most job security in the NBA right now.”

Kuester appreciated the jesture. “God bless you, Joe,” he said.