Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Nomad walks again

Former Carolina Cougars/Denver Nuggets/UCLA/New Jersey Nets/Kansas/San Antonio Spurs/Los Angeles Clippers/Indiana Pacers/Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown is reportedly on his way to adding a tenth team to the list of teams he used to coach. According to ESPN.com's Chad Ford, Brown is set to become the Cleveland Cavaliers' team president, and he's prepared to leave his post in Detroit with three years left on his contract.

No one is surprised that Brown would look elsewhere despite giving his word that he is happy in Detroit. No one is surprised that a signed contract means absolutely nothing to Larry Brown.

But who knew that a coach who defined his career by teaching players to "play the right way" would turn around and stab his faithful charges in Detroit in the back when they needed him the most?

Who knew that a coach who had just won his long-awaited first NBA title wouldn't even wait a year before beginning to long for another franchise and another challenge?

We all wanted to believe that the championship would change Brown's nomadic ways. We all wanted to believe that he was sincere in talking about Detroit as his last NBA job. In the end, I think we all knew better.

If Ford's report is true, then Brown has decided, while in the midst of a playoff run with his current team, to leave the organization to take another job in the NBA. Even though the position in Cleveland (team president) is a promotion from his position in Detroit, this is still reprehensible behavior by a long-time NBA coach who should know better.

No one can fault Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert for wanting to get his front office structure set before the NBA Draft. No one can fault Gilbert for wanting to get the best-possible candidate for the job. However, is Brown really that candidate, and why is Brown flirting with another organization when he has a playoff series to worry about?

This isn't P.J. Carlesimo interviewing for the Timberwolves' head-coaching gig on an off day in the Western Conference finals. This isn't Romeo Crennel interviewing for a head-coaching gig on an off day during the off week between the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl. This isn't that, because it isn't nearly as big a distraction to the team involved.

This is the head coach of the defending NBA champions talking to a division rival about jumping ship, all while his team is trying to defend that NBA title in a very difficult series. This is akin to Bill Parcells negotiating to jump from the Patriots to the Jets, a division rival, while the Patriots are preparing to play the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. This is akin to Mike Holmgren failing to denounce rumors that he was preparing to jump ship from the Packers while they were getting ready to defend their title against the Broncos a year later.

Larry Brown has been nomadic in the past, but never before has he turned himself into a walking, talking, living, breathing distraction while looking out for himself over his team. He has always taken care of team business first, before worrying about his next gig. This time, Brown violated his own standards and practices.

For Gilbert, the red flags are alarming, and it's amazing that he either doesn't see them or fails to recognize them. The most glaring red flag is Brown's past. With his habit of jumping around from job to job, how can Gilbert possibly trust Brown. How can Gilbert allow himself to believe that Brown will stick it out in Cleveland long enough to take the franchise where he (Gilbert) wants it to go? In two years, when Isiah Thomas wears out his welcome (it might not take that long, but you never know with the Knicks), can Gilbert honestly believe that Brown won't jump ship for the big-market franchise?

There's more. How can Gilbert believe that Brown, who feuded with the young stars of Team USA during the Athens Games, will get along with LeBron James? How can Gilbert allow himself to trust Brown, notorious for hair-trigger reactions, to run the Cavaliers in a level-headed manner needed from an executive? Will Brown try to trade James if the two clash? If he does, how could he possibly get back fair market value for the NBA's most marketable star? When Brown was in Philadelphia, he had personnel control. He eschewed talent like Jerry Stackhouse and signed Gregg Buckner to a huge deal. Then, when the Sixers reached the 2001 NBA Finals, Brown complained that his team didn't have enough offensive punch to beat the Lakers.

Maybe the reports are wrong. Maybe Brown will stay on in Detroit. Maybe his health problems will preclude him from working anywhere in 2005-2006 (we certainly don't wish for this). Maybe Brown is the victim of bad reporting by Ford. Maybe Ford is the victim of sources who are lying or just plain wrong.

The likely answer here, though, is that Brown is leaving. And the timing couldn't be worse. Brown looks like the bad guy in a situation that he could and should have completely avoided. His name will always come up with job openings in the NBA, but Brown is usually pretty good at avoiding the bad publicity that comes with the rumors that seem to always pop up. If Brown wasn't leaving, though, this story would have died a week ago. Instead, it's gained momentum since then. And that leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that Brown has been talking with the Cavaliers, and I'm not sure Brown could have done anything worse than that at this point in time. I don't necessarily buy that this is a series-breaking distraction for this team, but I do think it will be a lot harder for Detroit to overcome Miami when their coach is ready to move on after the season. No matter how often I hear that it isn't a distraction, I have a hard time believing that it isn't at least in the back of the minds of those Detroit players.

I guess we'll just have to add Detroit to the list. Cleveland will have to wait a few more years.

(Is Brown hell-bent on coaching or working for every franchise in the Central? If so, then Chicago and Milwaukee should be on the lookout. The Official Nomad of the NBA might wedge his way into those organizations before it's all said and done.)

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