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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Peripatetic Larry Brown

The writing has been on the wall the last ten days or so pointing to Larry Brown's now official departure as head coach of the Detroit Pistons. Check this Ian Thomsen piece for SI dated July 7:

On the team bus to a shootaround the morning of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals last month in Miami, Brown was heard complaining that the Cavaliers were having second thoughts about the inexperience of Wizards player personnel director Milt Newton, who at the time was Brown's hand-picked choice to become Cleveland's GM. In order to demonstrate that Newton was worthy of the Cavs' job, Brown asked Joe Dumars how much front-office experience he had before the Pistons elevated him to his current post as president of basketball operations. You can imagine that Dumars would have preferred Brown to be focused solely on that night's game, which the Pistons lost 88-76 despite an injury to Dwyane Wade.

The next day during an optional workout in Auburn Hills, Mich., Brown spent 20 minutes on the sideline of the practice court berating Liz Robbins of The New York Times, who a week earlier had broken the news that Brown was close to joining the Cavaliers as team president. Several of Brown's players were on the court, putting in extra work in hope of overcoming their 3-2 deficit to the Miami, while point guard Chauncey Billups was in Dumars' office plotting a strategy to adapt the Pistons' pick-and-roll against Shaquille O'Neal. Everyone was focused on trying to beat the Heat except for Brown, who -- in full view of his players -- was acting as if he cared more about his next job than about leading the Pistons to a successful title defense. "It would be nice if he was in here with us," said Billups, glancing at Brown from the window of Dumars' office.

Why Thomsen and others in the press didn't put these details forward at the time is confusing to me. That Detroit managed to come so close to repeating under these distracting circumstances is a testament to the professionalism of those players.

So what the hell is wrong with Larry Brown? This is the guy who was negotiating to become the head coach at Kansas while he was coaching the New Jersey Nets in the playoffs over two decades ago. Then he said he'd return to Kansas after winning a national title--he lied. In fact, check out the hall of fame bio listing of Brown's coaching career stops:

ABA's Carolina Cougars (1973-74) (104-64)
ABA's Denver Rockets (1975-76) (125-43)
NBA's Denver Nuggets (1977-79) (126-91)
UCLA (1980-81) (42-17)
NBA's New Jersey Nets (1982-83) (91-67)
University of Kansas (1984-88) (135-33)
NBA's San Antonio Spurs (1989-92) (153-131)
NBA's Los Angeles Clippers (1992-93) (64-29)
NBA's Indiana Pacers (1994-97) (190-138)
NBA's Philadelphia 76ers (1998-2003; announced his resignation on May 26, 2003) (255-205; 26-30 in the playoffs).
NBA's Detroit Pistons (2003 - present)

How many hall of fame coaches have had that many pro or major college gigs?

Certainly, Brown is a very talented basketball mind who has gotten results on the court (the 2004 Olympics being a notable exception). However, he is not quite among the elite coaching ranks, in my view, because of his tendency to leave teams so soon, without leaving much of a long-term impact on the organization. The great ones don't keep moving from job to job like they have ants in their pants.