UPDATES THROUGHOUT with Kuester negotiations:
The Detroit Pistons have passed on Avery Johnson in their search for a head coach and have entered into negotiations with Cavaliers assistant John Kuester, a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com. A person familiar with the negotiations said an agreement is expected within 24 hours.
Unable to satisfy Johnson's salary requirements and apparently unwilling to guarantee a third year, the Pistons have focused on Kuester, a former Pistons assistant under Larry Brown who is credited with diversifying the Cavs' offense last season after coach Mike Brown gave him autonomy on that side of the floor. Kuester has not employed an agent in his dealings with the Cavs, but he is being represented in his negotiations with Detroit -- by CAA Sports, the same agency that represents LeBron James.
Johnson seemed to have been in a position to work out a reasonable deal because Dallas still owes him approximately $8 million over the next two seasons. The Pistons, however, are in a similar position after firing Michael Curry last week. Detroit owes Curry about $5 million over the next two seasons.
Pistons president Joe Dumars traveled to Johnson's Houston-area home over the weekend to discuss the job. Previously, Dumars had stated that he wanted a coach in place in time for the Pistons' departure for Las Vegas summer league, which begins Friday.
The focus on Kuester wasn't surprising on several fronts. First, given Dumars' emphasis on upgrading the team's offensive potency by coming to terms with free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, Kuester's growing reputation as an offensive guru seemed to give him the edge over Thibodeau, who is widely regarded as one of the top defensive assistants in the league. The Pistons teams that advanced to six consecutive conference finals were built on defense, but it could be time for a change. It is not clear whether Dumars had reservations about Thibodeau's fairly rigid rotation system of defense, which is similar in style to the approach that wound up dooming the Cavaliers against Orlando in the conference finals. Thibodeau received credit -- and deservedly so -- for the Celtics' championship run in 2007-08, but his system benefited from having outstanding defenders like Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.
In addition to his history with the Pistons, Kuester also served on Brown's staff in Philadelphia when the team advanced to the 2001 NBA Finals in addition to stints in Orlando, New Jersey, and Boston. If money is as much of an issue with the remaining candidates as it was with Johnson, that may have tipped the scales in Kuester's favor as well. At close to $1 million per season, Thibodeau is one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the league. The hiring of Kuester would have a ripple effect, too; it would help the Pistons and hurt division rival Cleveland, which would need to find a new offensive guru to replace him.