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Old 06-28-2001, 02:12 PM   #1
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Default Blazers find their coach -- Maurice Cheeks!

Former 76ers' assistant coach has signed on to be the coach of the troubled Blazers. Any opinions?

Being in Philly, I hear only good things about Mo Cheeks. If ANYBODY is going to make this team click, it's this guy. He's a great person, who seems to be able to get along and can command respect with anybody!

Good luck to Mo in Portland!

According to ESPN:
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Portland Trail Blazers hired Maurice Cheeks as coach Wednesday night, hoping his easygoing manner and emphasis on defense will motivate Rasheed Wallace and the rest of the underachieving team.

"My strength as a coach will be dealing with the players," Cheeks said at a news conference following the NBA draft. "I'm aggressive. My style of play will be aggressive, particularly on the defensive end. I like to let the team play a little bit, because I think when you have veteran players, they know how to play."

Cheeks, an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers the past seven years, signed a four-year contract. Terms were not disclosed, but his salary is believed to be $2 million to $3 million per year.

Blazers general manager Bob Whitsitt managed to keep the interview process mostly a secret during the nearly seven weeks since Mike Dunleavy was fired. But Zach Randolph, the team's first-round draft choice, let it slip during a conference call earlier Wednesday night when he referred to "Coach Cheeks."

The coaching search was delayed when the first choice, Flip Saunders, turned down a five-year, $30 million offer and stayed with the Minnesota Timberwolves for less money.

"I wanted to look at some of the younger assistants that have worked very hard in this league and are ready to be a head coach," Whitsitt said. "When I started getting down to the short list of those guys, Maurice just jumped up to the top."

Cheeks, 44, has no head coaching experience, but he has something that might be more valuable: the respect of Wallace, who was a boy growing up in Philly when Cheeks was the starting point guard for the Sixers.

Wallace, who last season broke his own league record with 41 technical fouls, didn't get along with Dunleavy, especially late in the season as the Blazers were losing 14 of their final 22 regular-season games.

Dunleavy suspended Wallace for one game on April 16, after Wallace threw a towel into the face of teammate Arvydas Sabonis during a dispute. After the game, Wallace argued with his coach and had to be restrained by teammates.

Cheeks doesn't really know Wallace personally, but said his emotions are part of what makes him a great player.

"I'm not going to try and harness him as a player," Cheeks said. "Actually, I'll try to talk to him in a way of trying to keep him on the court, because it's a better team with him on the court than off the court."

Dunleavy was fired May 8, nine days after Portland was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Lakers.

Another leading candidate for the Blazers' job was John Lucas, who also had Philadelphia connections and specialized in dealing with troubled players. Lucas interviewed with Whitsitt, but when an offer wasn't forthcoming, he took the Cleveland position.

Cheeks is known as a mild-mannered coach, and Allen Iverson has praised him for helping him mature as a player and a person.

Philadelphia coach Larry Brown said he and general manager Billy King gave Cheeks high marks when Portland asked to interview him.

"Billy and I told Bob Whitsitt it's the greatest decision he could make," Brown said.

The Blazers are counting on him to motivate a group of aging veterans and ego-driven former stars who fell way short of their preseason goal of reaching the NBA Finals. In addition to dealing with Wallace, Cheeks must deal with several other simmering issues:

Sabonis, 36, is a free agent and reportedly is deciding whether to retire, play in his native Lithuania or return for another contentious season with the Blazers.

Steve Smith, 32, never was happy about being demoted to backup shooting guard behind Bonzi Wells.

Scottie Pippen, 35, might not be ready to start over with a new coach, even one who works hard and preaches defense like Cheeks. Pippen also has been injury-prone, and last season averaged only 11.9 points.

Cheeks had said it would be a difficult decision to leave his beloved Philadelphia. But after helping lead the Sixers to the Eastern Conference championship, he got an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

The city feels the same way about Cheeks, who played 11 of his 15 seasons with the Sixers. The four-time All-Star was the league's career steals leader when he retired in 1993.

He was instrumental on the great Philly teams in the early 1980s that also included Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones and Darryl Dawkins. The team won the 1983 title, sweeping the Lakers and going 12-1 in the postseason, a winning percentage that was the NBA's best until the Lakers went 15-1 this year.
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Old 06-28-2001, 10:40 PM   #2
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Thumbs up to the Blazers for this move. I think this could be just the guy to get this talented team to the Finals, or at least make a Lakers/Blazers series interesting.

Just think how good this team could be if they are all in sync and hot...
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Old 06-29-2001, 12:01 AM   #3
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Good luck to Mo Cheeks there.

He's sure going to need it with those bunch of headcases.
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