Kuester wasn't Joe Dumars' first choice. (That'd be Doug Collins, who kept his hat in the ring just long enough to know that he was wanted.)
And while we're being frank, Kuester clearly wasn't Dumars' second choice, either. (That'd be Avery Johnson, who used the leverage of being owed $8 million over the next two years by the Mavericks to demand more than Dumars was willing to give.)
But at the end of the day, there's still a good chance that Kuester was still the right choice.
Dumars rolled the dice on a first-time head coach last summer only to watch Michael Curry crash and burn. To be fair, it wasn't completely Curry's fault; he was set up for failure from the start when Dumars moved Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson the first week of the season. Even the most experienced and savvy coaches would have struggled to manage the resulting chaos, so it wasn't a surprise to see someone as green as Curry flounder.
So why has Dumars decided to tempt fate by hiring another first timer?
For one, all assistant coaches aren't created equal. Unlike Curry, who had just a single year of experience coaching at any level before taking the job in Detroit, Kuester followed his short NBA career as a player (1977-80) with a decade coaching in the college ranks followed by 19 more years on NBA sidelines. In fact, he's no stranger to the Palace or Dumars, serving on Larry Brown's staff in 2004 when the Pistons won the title.
So while it's true that Kuester lacks head coaching experience in the NBA, the fact that he's spent the last three decades of his life honing his craft on the sidelines has to count for something. Besides, anyone still wondering whether he's up to the task clearly wasn't watching many NBA games last year; Kuester essentially served as Cleveland's offensive coordinator, with Mike Brown literally handing over the clipboard and allowing Kuester to run the huddle.
Despite the presence of LeBron James, the Cavs were utterly stagnant on offense before this past season; with Kuester calling the offensive shots, the Cavs featured the most efficient offense in the East. Finally a complete team, the Cavs finished with the best record in the league, while Brown coasted to Coach of the Year, an ironic honor given he earned it by delegating more than he ever has in the past.
Can Kuester continue that magic in Detroit? Only time will tell, but it's a low-risk investment for Dumars to find out. Whereas Johnson was reportedly holding out for a deal similar to the four-year, $18 million contract Flip Saunders signed in Washington, Kuester reportedly agreed to a two-year deal (with a team option for a third) worth just $1.5 million a season. From the Detroit News:
"Where we are as a team right now is where we were at the start of Rick Carlisle's era here," Dumars said. "We are in the same sort of transition mode. A $4 million to $5 million coach is not what we need right now."Ironically enough, the Pistons will pay $4 million for their head coach this year: $2.5 million to Curry and $1.5 million to Kuester. But if Kuester pans out, he'll eventually get a hefty raise, either when he signs an extension or moves to greener pastures, much like Carlisle did in 2003. And if he doesn't, well, thanks to Curry's implosion last year, the bar has been set so low that he's all but certain to serve his entire contract.
(Update: Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reports Kuester actually signed a guaranteed three-year deal worth $6 million, not a two-year deal with an option for a third as previously reported.)
Had a more established coach such as Collins or Johnson taken the job, expectations would have been unreasonably raised, putting pressure on the coaching staff to sacrifice development for instant gratification. If the Pistons are ever going to get back to the sustained heights they reached for much of the last decade, they'll need to take a more patient approach.