Brian Dulik | The Gazette
CLEVELAND — An eventful offseason for the Cavaliers took another turn Tuesday when assistant coach John Kuester reportedly agreed to become the Detroit Pistons’ head coach.
The well liked and respected Kuester — an NBA assistant for 19 years — joined Mike Brown’s Cleveland staff in August 2007 and ran the team’s much improved offense last season. He was offered a two-year contract by Detroit with a team option for 2011-2012.
Pistons general manager Joe Dumars initially targeted former Dallas coach Avery Johnson for the job, but negotiations fell apart over the weekend when Johnson demanded a four-year deal, according to reports out of Detroit.
Once that occurred, the 54-year-old Kuester (pronounced Q-stir) immediately became the frontrunner for his first NBA head coaching job. He was a Pistons assistant during their 2004 NBA championship season and received countless warm greetings in the arena each time the Cavaliers visited Motown.
“A $4 -5 million (per season) coach is not what we need right now,” Dumars told the Detroit News in explaining why he didn’t hire Johnson. “We didn’t have one of those until we were close to contending for a championship when we got Larry (Brown).”
Kuester takes over a reloading Pistons squad that added guard Ben Gordon and forward Charlie Villanueva in free agency, but did not re-sign veterans Rasheed Wallace or Allen Iverson. They are currently shopping solid shooting guard Richard Hamilton in hopes of saving money and pairing Gordon with erratic point guard Rodney Stuckey in the starting lineup.
The cash savings are key because Detroit is still paying ex-coach Michael Curry, who was fired last week by Dumars, for two more seasons. Curry replaced Cuyahoga Heights native Phil “Flip” Saunders at the helm last summer, but had communication problems with his players throughout a 39-43 campaign that ended with a first-round playoff sweep by the Cavaliers.
In addition to his time with the Cavaliers and Pistons, Kuester has also worked as an assistant in Orlando, Philadelphia and Boston. He last served as a head coach in 1990 at George Washington University, and played three seasons in the NBA, splitting them between the Kansas City Kings, Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers.
Kuester’s departure is the second surprising development for Cleveland this summer, following its acquisition of Hall of Fame-bound center Shaquille O’Neal from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic.
The aftershocks from that move resonated throughout the Eastern Conference with Orlando trading for Vince Carter and letting Hedo Turkoglu go, and Boston adding Rasheed Wallace and courting Grant Hill. Clearly, the three best teams in the East remain in a class of their own.
On the free agent front, the Cavaliers continue to negotiate with power forward Anderson Varejao, who has spent his entire career with the team and appears likely to stay.
They also have targeted Toronto shooting guard Anthony Parker and Trail Blazers forward Channing Frye, both of whom were eligible to sign with the team as soon as 12:01 a.m. Wednesday when the NBA’s free-agent moratorium ended.
Much ado about nothing
The basketball world was buzzing Tuesday over an ESPN report that claimed LeBron James told free agent Trevor Ariza that he was staying with the Cavaliers beyond the expiration of his contract in the summer of 2010. The network later issued a revised story, complete with a denial attributed to a source close to “The King.”
James’ situation today remains the same as it has been for the last three years: He is signed with Cleveland through the 2009-2010 season and can make roughly 15 percent more money going forward by staying on the North Coast.
He isn’t eligible to sign an extension of any length with the Cavaliers until July 18, but has a one-year option worth approximately $17 million on his current deal that he can pick up at any time. The earliest he could even discuss a contract with another franchise is July 1, 2010.
Dulik may be reached at email@example.com