TrueHoop: Larry Brown

A few years ago, a friend suggested I make a big chart like the cops use in mob movies. All those photos, with all those lines showing the structure of relationships among networks of people.

Only instead of researching a crime family, I should chart Larry Brown and the long string of coaches who surround him.

John Kuester
John Kuester: One of a zillion NBA coaches with ties to Larry Brown.
(David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)

It is, my friend suggested, a helpful way to understand many things that happen in the NBA, and would be especially helpful today.

Basketball's inventor, James Naismith, would be up there, with a line to Phog Allen who learned from the originator. Allen has a direct line to Dean Smith, who coached ... Larry Brown. 

Then the chart would start to get really wide, because the list of people who coaches who have played for or worked under Brown is immense. This is only the beginning:

  • San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was once Brown's assistant, and best man. (And Cleveland head coach Mike Brown used to work under Popovich in the job Popovich used to have under Brown.) 
  • Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry coached under Brown in San Antonio, on a staff with Popovich and San Antonio executive R.C. Buford. 
  • Boston coach Doc Rivers played for Brown when he coached the Clippers.
  • New York's Donnie Walsh was once Brown's assistant coach, in Denver, where Paul Silas (LeBron James' first NBA coach) played for Larry Brown.
  • New Orleans coach Byron Scott played under Brown in Indiana.
  • Atlanta coach Mike Woodson was an assistant to Brown in Detroit.
  • Former Detroit coach Michael Curry played for Brown in Detroit. 
All of that is background for the news about the Pistons' newest head coach. ESPN's Marc Stein has sources saying the new coach of the Detroit Pistons will be John Kuester.

If you made your big board of the Brown basketball coaching family, many lines would connect Kuester and Brown:

  • Kuester assisted Brown in Detroit and for his entire six-year run in Philadelphia.
  • Just like Larry Brown, Kuester played college basketball for Dean Smith at North Carolina. Kuester played from 1973-1977.
  • In October 1978, when Larry Brown was the head coach of the Nuggets, the team signed Kuester -- who played the better part of three seasons in the NBA -- to his second NBA contract, which expired at the end of season (when Brown was replaced by Walsh).

Here's where that gets especially interesting. I know it seems like ancient history now, but Brown left the Pistons in a hail of bitterness. Brown and the Pistons reportedly severed ties after Brown betrayed the Pistons by reportedly courting a job as team president of the team Kuester is leaving, the Cleveland Cavaliers, even as the Pistons were in the 2005 Finals. (Brown then didn't get the job with the Cavaliers, and landed in New York and now Charlotte.)

Of course, that was four years ago, and the Pistons' owner Bill Davidson has since passed on. Is the reported hiring of Kuester a sign that the Pistons have mended ties with Larry Brown and his family tree of coaches? Perhaps.

Or it's a sign that it's hard to find a good coach who doesn't have ties to Brown.

The Salt Lake Tribune's Ross Siler has this dispatch from the Orlando Pro Summer League, where the Sixers and Nets are strange bedfellows: 

The union became official at halftime of Monday's summer-league opener at the RDV Sportsplex, when 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski pulled up a seat along press row next to Nets president Rod Thorn.

For one week at least, the Atlantic Division rivals have come together, with a joint New Jersey/Philadelphia entry in the Orlando summer league prompted by the worst economy in a generation.

Terrence WilliamsNets rookie Terrence Williams: Would this man steal Eddie Jordan's trade secrets?  (Fernando Medina via Getty Images)

Whatever they lose in individuality, the Sixers and Nets hope to save in costs. They took the court Monday in generic blue NBA jerseys, coached by a staff of two New Jersey and two Philadelphia assistants.

"I'm not a fan of it,” Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan admitted. "I like working with your own players and teaching your own guys, getting your own guys in your system.”

"I don't want to have to berate their player for not picking up. It just doesn't seem right to get on their players for doing something that you want them to do.”

The marriage has led to some strange scenes, to be sure. Philadelphia's newest first-round pick, Jrue Holiday, warmed up for Monday's game in a Nets shirt, leading one Sixers staffer to observe that a free shirt is a free shirt.

After Monday's game, Jordan was asked about Nets rookie Terrence Williams, prefaced with the qualifier: "You won't have him beyond this week ...”

(Jordan's answer: "He's a very competitive player. He's strong, he's a bull out there. He's got great, quick moves. He can change direction in a heartbeat. He's an aggressive player. I really like him.”)

In addition to their own draft picks and players, the Nets and Sixers each made four selections for the team. The offense can best be described as an overlap of Jordan's and Lawrence Frank's systems.

"It's a combination of what they've done and what we're going to do,” Jordan said. "And that's why we make it work, because we know the Nets.”

Frank called it "a little bit of an introduction” to his offense, adding, "But I think this has to be more about the development of the guys as opposed to putting in your system. Especially when you're
splitting a team, it makes it tougher.”

The biggest benefit, Frank said, comes in having a deeper summer-league team than most. The Nets/Sixers have four recent draft picks in Chris Douglas-Roberts, Holiday, Marreese Speights and Terrence Williams.

Were it not for the history between Jordan and Frank, Thorn and Stefanski, as well as assistants Tom Barrise and Mike O'Koren, the Philadelphia and New Jersey pairing probably would be doomed to

"It's a joint venture, where it only works for us because we know the Nets guys,” said Jordan, who nevertheless described the partnership as being "different” three times in one answer.

Of course, the Nets and Sixers players still have it better than Bobcats second-round draft pick Derrick Brown, who is playing with the Jazz in Orlando with Charlotte not fielding a summer-league team to cut costs.

Brown ended up with the Jazz thanks to a longtime connection between Charlotte coach Larry Brown and Utah general manager Kevin O'Connor. (There's a lengthy explanation as to why the Jazz didn't also end up with Bobcats lottery pick Gerald Henderson.)

Brown had nine points in his NBA debut Monday night, which came in a Jazz jersey, playing for a team coached by Jazz assistants. In fact, Brown wasn't even sure if the Bobcats were sending a representative
to Orlando to watch him.

"It's definitely a good opportunity to be out there and start the ball rolling in the NBA,” he said. "Whatever it takes for me to make a stand in this league, I'm going to do it.”

Frank was asked if the Nets and Sixers were just ahead of the curve, whether next summer will feature other entries based on geography and cost-saving, like the Heat and Magic, the Bulls and Bucks, the
Warriors and Kings or the Jazz and ... nobody.

"In these economic times, look, you've got to be fiscally very responsible and I think you just have to be prudent in the decisions you make,” Frank said. "Every group is different. This worked for us and Philly and it made sense, and who knows what the future holds. Hopefully, things get better.”

The Shootaround

February, 8, 2009

Who's Better, Who's Best?  Vladimir Radmanovic v. Adam Morrison?  Carmelo Anthony v. Kevin Durant?  Ray Allen v. Mo Williams? Vote early, vote often at the TrueHoop Network: 

Vladimir RadmanovicMatt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "First, the Bobcats aren't rebuilding.

To say they are rebuilding is like stating that taking a large pile of dirt, 2x4s, and a big metal sheet is a house. Sure, you have parts of a house. But I'm still walking down to the 7-11 to use the restroom, you know?

Second, let's talk about 2010.  Charlotte is not on the list.  It's just not. And I'm a small market guy, people. But Charlotte, by even their own fans' admission, is not going to be on the list for the Free Agent Class of Doom. So if you're not playing for 2010, why on earth would you concern yourself with clearing cap space? Don't you want big contracts for medium players you can parlay into cap space when you can use it? Don't you want veteran players that you don't have to sign to long term extensions for max deals? They have enough good players where they're not going to get a top five pick. Isn't it better to put some wins together so your team, doesn't, you know, dissolve?

it's not like Larry Brown's going to ask him to run point. Radmanovic won't be asked to defend Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. He needs to knock down shots and not do stupid things. And worst case, he's gone in 2011, when everyone else will have already blown their payroll the summer before. Radmanovic doesn't create any demands for playing time, or attention from the media. As long as he doesn't go snowboarding, they're good. Yeah, it's six million. But it's six million for one guy versus four million for several guys who will just frustrate you."

Kevin Durant

Joe Newell of Daily Thunder: "If Carmelo is the sole Western Conference small forward worthy of All Star consideration, you would expect him to be having the best season among them right? Take a look here at a head to head comparison of Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant...Durant is shooting the ball much better than Carmelo any which way you look. He's got a better field goal percentage, better 3fg percentage and better free throw percentage (KD is actually 18th in the entire league in 3fg% at this time). There's no denying Durant is shooting well, significantly better than Carmelo.

...Carmelo has some points in his favor. He is a better rebounder than Durant. Carmelo is also better at distributing the rock to his teammates and he gets to the line more frequently than Durant...However, Durant is a better shot blocker, turns the ball over less, and draws fewer fouls. Also consider that Durant spent the first 13 games of the season out of position at the shooting guard position.  You will probably notice that Carmelo actually scores 4/10ths of a point more per 36 minutes of play, but also notice that he uses more than an extra field goal attempt to do it in. Durant is a more efficient scorer than Carmelo.

...Durant does more with each possession, and uses fewer of them."

Ray AllenJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "I can't really sum up any righteous anger over Ray Allen getting the injury-replacement all-star spot over Mo Williams, mostly because Allen was a huge snub the first time around; he's been Boston's best offensive player, he's shooting a career-high 63.2% TS to lead all guards while scoring 18 a game. I'd actually put him in there instead of Pierce. I think Rashard Lewis was an EXTREMELY questionable choice over Mo, and there's certainly a strong case for Mo over Devin Harris, but this actually wasn't all that bad."

Hardwood Paroxysm: Rob Mahoney offers a counter-point on the Morrison/Radmanovic deal.
Hoopinion: A rough night in Atlanta. 
Valley of the Suns: How is the Amare buzz playing in Phoenix?

(Photos by Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press, Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images, Chris Livingston/Icon SMI via Getty Images)

Lying in Style

October, 13, 2008

Jake from the blog NBA on the Brain had a totally crazy idea: To write this entire NBA season in fiction.

As it goes along, in more or less real time, he'll write a fake version of the back story. He explains here.

It'll be a lot of work, and if the preseason is any way to judge, it'll be fun to read.

Jake has been working on some training camp stuff already, team by team.

Here he is talking about Larry Brown and Michael Jordan in Charlotte:

The stain of failure had soiled the General's record, and it made many people across many lands who were familiar with war question the abilities of a man they had once seen as unquestionable. Oh, many still had faith in him (out loud), but the whispers behind his back were multiplying. He needed to go out with a win. He needed to retire with vindication.

"Hit the showers! You're done for the day. Be here an hour earlier tomorrow and expect to stay two hours later!" He watched them file out, heads hung from fatigue or the knowing shame of letting him down. They dripped sweat and smelled of exertion. He sat -- once they had all exited -- to collect his thoughts and begin planning for the next day of training.

The footsteps that he had heard above were now echoing off of the floor and coming towards him from his left. He knew who it was but looked up just the same. As the tall bald man made his way toward him, the General was aware for a moment of their one similarity. "That man was a super hero" he said quietly to himself, "and even he couldn't escape age."

"How do they look, Larry?" the Superhero asked.

The General shook his head briefly. "Not that good, Mike. Not really that good."

"Can you change it?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I think I can. It's going to take a lot of work. There will be many complaints. Some guys will want to quit. They'll want out. I might break one or two of the softer ones."

The Superhero laughed. "OK, Larry. You do what you need to do to them. We need to win."

The General was uncertain if the Superhero meant "we" as in all of them collectively, or if he meant "we, Larry. You and I". Either could be true. The two old men alone now on this floor needed to win. One needed to restore his legacy and the other needed to add a dimension to his own. The General decided that it didn't really matter what the Superhero meant. They just needed to win.

A couple of days ago, I noted that Larry Brown had quit his job with the 76ers, and speculated, without any special insight, that he might land in Chicago.

Things have changed, and I'd now like to change my bet.

First the Charlotte Bobcats announced this morning that they have fired Sam Vincent. The decision, say the Bobcats, came after Michael Jordan met with Vincent after the season.

"The decision to remove Sam as head coach after just one season was difficult," Jordan says in a press release, "but it was a decision that had to be made because my first obligation is to do what is in the best interest of our team."

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer is reporting what sources have told me: in end-of-season interviews between players and Bobcat front-office personnel, Vincent's flaws were a key topic.

And now, a source close to the situation says Larry Brown -- a University of North Carolina legend just like Bobcats honcho Michael Jordan -- will be the next coach of the Bobcats.

Five other sources with connections to the team and/or Brown tell me they have heard the same thing, and believe it to be true, although none have specific knowledge of the talks.

Everyone I talk to who hears about this says it makes sense. And once you start looking for signs it is happening, they seem to pop up everywhere, even in the smallest of ways. For instance, Bonnell reports: "Two sources said shortly after Brown resigned as executive vice president with the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday, a Bobcats employee contacted the 76ers for biographical information on Brown."

And last night David Stern, the king of coy, actually said a throwaway "yes" when asked by Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News if he"has a job for Larry Brown." What did he mean by that? It was unclear at the time, but it's a little clearer now.

UPDATE: Check this out. ESPN's Marc Stein from March:

Bobcats president Michael Jordan would surely prefer not to fire Sam Vincent after just one season. Yet one plugged-in source describes Vincent's dismissal as an inevitability, with any hit that Jordan might take for the growing perception that the former teammate he hired can't reach Charlotte's players sure to be softened if he can convince a coach of Brown's stature to take over.

That scenario would be reminiscent of Jordan's tenure in Washington, when the first coach MJ selected -- Leonard Hamilton -- lasted only one season before being replaced by a proven NBA commodity in Doug Collins.

I'd argue, furthermore, that Brown is unlikely to come across a more appetizing option than Charlotte, even if the Grizz are interested or even if he's given an opportunity by the Hawks' dysfunctional ownership group to replace his former assistant Mike Woodson in Atlanta, as Peter Vecsey suggested Friday night on NBA TV.

Brown has made it clear that he doesn't want his 23-59 nightmare as the Knicks' coach to be his last big job and the Bobcats would have to appeal to the 67-year-old given his North Carolina ties, Jordan's decent collection of talent to work with and the Bobs' overwhelming need for someone who can teach them how to win.

All that would set Brown up perfectly in the East for the sort of instant improvement he triggered at pretty much every NBA stop he's made except with his hometown Knicks.

On the Loose: Larry Brown

April, 24, 2008

The Philadelphia 76ers announced today that Larry Brown has resigned as Executive Vice President. From the press release:

In January of 2007, Brown rejoined the Sixers organization as Executive Vice President, less than six years removed from coaching the franchise to the NBA Finals in 2001.

"It's rare you'll find a separation between an organization and an executive as amicable as the one the 76ers had with Larry Brown today," said Stefanski. "Larry was born to coach and this is something he and I talked about when I took the job here back in December, so it comes as no surprise to me. Working with Larry was always a pleasure and to watch him contribute with Maurice, his staff and the players was terrific."

Which means: fire up the rumor mill!

You have to think he's going to end up coaching somewhere.

There has been talk of this or that college program. Sure could be. But on the other hand, how many college jobs were made available to Coach Brown during this interlude from coaching? I think the proper number is likely somewhere around one zillion. Yet he has not bitten on any of them, preferring instead to linger in front-office purgatory while memories fade a little about how badly things went last time he was on the bench.

So, if we boldy assume he is headed for an NBA team, which one might it be?

It could be just about anywhere. It could even be your team. There are coaches who are alive in the playoffs right now who could be fired. Assume nothing.

There is always a "list of coaches on the hot seat" brewing. Seattle GM Sam Presti, for instance, recently failed to give PJ Carlesimo a vote of confidence. Charlotte's Sam Vincent always makes these lists (and Larry Brown is a Carolina guy!). It has been reported that Memphis' Marc Iavaroni is vulnerable. And as the Mavericks lose, you hear more and more talk about Avery Johnson feeling job pressure.

On the other hand, there is a code among coaches. They are all nearly insane with the fear of getting fired. As a favor to each other, the code says that you don't hunt another coach's job. Certainly not publicly. Instead, you wait for a job to open, then you compete like hell for it.

As a dean of the coaching fraternity, Brown, I suspect, would never do anything with even the slightest chance of making it look like he was trying to get another coach fired. If he were hoping to get one of those jobs, my assertion is that Brown would have delayed his resignation from the 76ers until the job he wanted was available. That way no one has to feel Brown breathing down his neck.

Since Scott Skiles was hired in Milwaukee, the currently open NBA coaching jobs are:

  • New York
  • Chicago

Is there any chance that Larry Brown returns to the New York Knicks who so recently demonized him?

Maybe, I guess it's theoretically possible.

But it was not all that long ago that David Stern called Larry Brown and James Dolan into his office for a firm chat.

And even more recently, Brown has not had nice things to say about the work environment under Dolan, telling Philadelphia Magazine's Anthony L. Gargano, for instance: "Imagine when you get to work, they don't talk to you. They had security people standing close to me in press conferences, and spies throughout the arena."

The Associated Press quotes Brown's agent, Joe Glass, today saying: "He has the taste of coaching back in his mouth. It would be refreshing to have a situation going that he could enjoy, rather than the last one, to say the least."

Maybe having Brown's former Indiana boss Donnie Walsh at the helm changes all that. But how does Larry Brown play with New York fans? At the introductory press conference, wouldn't they almost have to trash current Knicks employee Isiah Thomas, just to make the hire make sense?

In the meantime, there's Chicago. John Paxson and Larry Brown are both old school, and they both like defense. By process of elimination (or, almost elimination -- college, other teams, and New York are not really ruled out), my speculation leads to be believe Chicago could be the most likely bet.

No doubt, this will play out in some fashion over the off-season, and we will see what happens. Some day soon, there will be new information that will change everything, and I will change my mind entirely.

However, for today, if you have an office pool going, put me down for a very small wager on the Bulls.

The Playbook: Alvin Gentry

December, 17, 2007

The Playbook is an ongoing series of conversations with coaches.

Phoenix Suns assistant coach Alvin Gentry has been coaching in the NBA for nearly 20 years. As an NBA head coach of the Heat, Pistons, and Clippers, he has coached the likes of Glen Rice, Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, and Elton Brand. He has also been an assistant for the Spurs, Hornets, Pistons, Heat, and Clippers. He currently works under Mike D'Antoni for the Phoenix Suns.

You have been a coach of some kind around the NBA for nearly 20 years. Would you rather be a head coach or an assistant coach in the NBA? What's the difference?
I mean, obviously you'd rather be a head coach. I mean, I'd rather be a head coach and run your own program and run your own team and things like that. However, that's a very difficult situation, so I'm happy doing what I'm doing right now. I think I'm on a great team and a great franchise, but obviously I would like to have another chance to be a head coach in the league.

You're talking to me from a hotel in San Antonio, where you were once an assistant coach working alongside Gregg Popovich and RC Buford under Larry Brown.
I was. I was an assistant for Pop for six weeks before I got the head coaching job with the Clippers [years later] too.

The Spurs have been Phoenix's nemesis a little bit. Do you feel maybe you should have stuck with the dark side?
Well, I don't think so. There's a reason that everything's happened, and these guys have hadAlvin Gentry a great run and Pop has done an outstanding job here. I still think that we're good enough that if everything aligns itself that we'll have a chance to win the championship. I mean, obviously winning a championship is very important.

Before the season they always make people like me pick who's going to win a championship, and I picked Phoenix this year. What do you think, are you going to make me look smart?
We're going to try to make you look smart. I think the whole thing is obviously you've got to stay healthy, and not only do you need to stay healthy, you've got to have some luck. If you look at the situations that have happened, you've got to stay injury free. That's the big thing. We lost Joe Johnson three years ago, a guy that's a really tough matchup for anybody. We lost him. The next thing we lost Raja [Bell], and then last year obviously the suspension thing. And that's not to say that we would have beaten San Antonio anyway, but we had a better chance going in with Amare and Boris than we did without them.

I have to ask you about Jack McCallum's book "Seven Seconds Or Less" for a second. It's a behind-the-scenes look at your current team, the Suns. First of all, overall when that came out and you guys all got a chance to read it, what did you think?
Well, I thought he did a good job with it. Obviously everything is not a bed of roses and there was some negative stuff there, but I thought for the most part it kind of depicted what we're all about and our team and our players and the way things were behind the scenes.

We gave total access to Jack. It wasn't one of those deals where, oh, no, you've got to step out, or hey, let's not talk around Jack. We were just ourselves, and I thought he did a good job of showing that.

There were a couple episodes in the book I want to ask you about. You kind of famously called Michael Olowokandi something that I don't know if we can put it on, but it sounds like "Pansy."
Well, no, and that kind of got a little bit blown out of proportion. We were just talking about dunks one day, and it was really just kind of kidding around thing, and it got to be a little bit bigger than it really was. I like Michael, I think he's a good guy, and that was just kind of one of those things that got a little bit blown out of proportion, I think.

But then in the book Jack points out that the next time you guys played them you hid under the stands for a little bit to make sure there wasn't any uncomfortable confrontation.
(Laughing) that didn't happen. I've talked to Michael after that, and I've talked to him a few times after that, and obviously I coached him for two and a half seasons in LA and had some big games. He had some 20 rebound games and things like that. I think, like I said, I think that one was kind of blown out of proportion a little bit.

That's what we do in the media! There's another episode in there, where your team got back from I think a rough road trip as I remember it, and then you went home and your neighbor's alarm was going off and they were out of town so you went to put on some shorts, went over to check it out and the police took quite a bit of time questioning you about what you were doing there and wondering if you were a suspect, right?
I don't know if I was a suspect, but it just kind of happened that way. I'm sure if you see a guy dressed like I was looking over somebody's fence that you might question them, too. I would hope that it wasn't a racial thing, you know. I would really hope. I mean, I don't get hung up on those kind of things very often. I would just hope that it would just be a suspicious looking person that he decided to ask a few questions to and not the fact that I was black. Like I said, the whole racial thing, I would hope that it wasn't because of that.

I can't get a good handle on race relations in the NBA. On the one hand, a lot of teammates love each other, seems like they've made a big melting pot in a lot of ways, and there are a lot of blacks and whites in positions of power, et cetera. I just interviewed Bob Johnson who owns the Bobcats last week. But at the same time there seems to be all kinds of taboos and things. Like I know people joke about black players don't want to be dunked on by white players. Do you feel like there's a lot of racial tension in the NBA or are we past that?
I don't think there's racial tension. I think there's competitiveness in there. I don't think guys want to be dunked on by anybody. I think if you talk with the Collins brothers at Utah and New Jersey, I don't think they would want to be dunked on by each other. I just think it's a real competitive league. I think what we've got is our players are the most visible players in any pro sport. We don't have hats on, we don't have helmets on, so they're the most recognizable athletes that they are.

But I don't see it as any kind of racial tension or anything. I think guys go out and play. There's a hell of a lot of great black players in this league, there's a hell of a lot of great white players in this league. The last two MVPs, when you look at Dirk and what Steve has done, the last three, really, it's been white players.

I think that sometimes we maybe take the race thing a little bit you know, I don't know, overboard would be the right word, but I just think sometimes you've just got to judge people by people and not worry about what color they are.

Your team, just from reading that book frankly and watching them on TV, it seems like your team is just a place people are happy to be, and it sounds like you as a coaching staff go to some lengths to make everybody feel comfortable.
Well, I think that's a direct reflection on Mike [D'Antoni]. I think Mike does a good job of I think he's got a great relationship with all the players on our team, and that's from Steve Nash all the way down to the last guy on our roster. I think the one thing that he does, he's a good communicator, he makes
sure after practice -- really after most of our practices -- he'll walk around and ask every guy, are you all right, are you okay, do you need to talk, things like that.

And so what I think happens is that rather than have the tension grow, he nips most of the tension in the bud before it can even become a problem. I think that's just a direct reflection on Mike and the type of guy he is. He makes it a real comfortable environment for players to do well in. I think he makes it an environment where you feel like if you have something that you can do and it's in your game that you can do that without any repercussions.

One thing I really noticed in the book was that you, as a coaching staff, encourage shooters. I hear so many coaches talk shot selection all the time and they don't want this shot and that shot, but in that book, we heard you saying, look, we want you guys to shoot that shot.
Well, I think there again is Mike's philosophy, which I think it took adjusting as a coach, when you've been in this league kind of 20 years and it's kind of been the same thing. I think what Mike allows players to do is I think Mike's philosophy is if you have an open shot, we should shoot it because it may be very difficult to get that shot again in the next 10, 12 seconds. So our whole deal is if you've got an open shot, you shoot that shot, it's a good shoot, and as long as it's a good shot, it doesn't matter if it comes five seconds into the shot clock or if it comes 20 seconds into the shot clock.

People have tried to give sort of a thumbnail sketch of what the Phoenix offense is, how it works. Can you give me an insider's perspective?
Well, if you want a thumbnail sketch of it, what we try to do is keep pressure on the defense at all times, and that's on made baskets, missed baskets, turnovers. We try to keep the middle of the floor open so that Steve Nash and Grant Hill and Amare Stoudemire and guys that can drive the basketball and make plays have an opportunity to make plays. Our whole deal is that we take it to the basket, and if you stop us then we try to penetrate and pitch to open shooters and if you don't then we lay it in. It's a pretty simple all around philosophy as far as basketball is concerned.

Now can you give me the thumbnail sketch of Steve Nash's defensive abilities?

I'll tell you this, I think Steve is very underrated. I think what happens in this league is they pin something on you and then it kind of sticks with you. I think Steve is one of the hardest working defensive guys that we have. I think that he's a very smart defensive player. Sure, he's going to get overpowered by some of the guys, but those guys that overpower him overpower a lot of other point guards in this league, too. I don't think that's what I would call a negative. It's just a matter of physically that guy may be bigger or stronger than he is, but I think that it's really you know, some of the things that are said about his defense are not true, and I think as long as he's trying like he is and is working as hard as he is, we're fine with the way he plays defense.

I notice you played for [Pete Maravich's father and coach] Press Maravich at Appalachian State.
I did.

We all heard about how he sort of was the genius that created his son, I guess. But what was it like playing for him?
Well, the only thing about it is I went there thinking, boy, we're going to run up and down and shoot the heck out of the basketball and everybody is going to average 20, and then when I got there, I realized that he was more of a defensive guy than anything, and we didn't shoot a whole lot and we didn't run up and down a whole lot.

I just thought he was ahead of his time with some of the things that he thought about. All the stretching and all the exercising that is done now, we were doing that in 1975. I think that he was way ahead from that standpoint and just some of the things that he did basketball wise, and he was a great man. He really was a great man.

Did you do what we think of now as "homework basketball," all these exercises that he developed for his son Pete?
Well, what he did, we have a lot of drills that we did in practice that would and he was a little bit different. The guards did all the same things as the big guys, the big guys did the same drills as the guards, as he tried to make everybody a complete player and he wanted our bigs to be able to step out on the floor and play and do some things like that. Like I said, I thought he did he was a really great basketball mind that was probably a little bit ahead of his time.

He was just one of the people you worked with. You worked with Larry Brown pretty extensively. We've all heard he's a great teacher, but what does that really mean in practice?
I think what Larry does is he demands perfection, and in order to get that he's a big believer that you have to execute and it starts in practice with your execution. So he's tough on point guards. He really knows how important it is for your point guard to run your team and do good things, so he's tough on point guards. But all the guys that have listened to him and all the guys that have kind of gone by what he said have become really good players in this league.

I think if you go back and talk to Mark Jackson or even Chauncey Billups, I think they'll tell you, they'll be the first to tell you that Larry has really helped their games.

Or Allen Iverson ...
Or even Allen Iverson.

I'm going to run through a bunch of names in your biography here. Your cousin is David "Skywalker" Thompson?
He is.

That must have been something to grow up in driveway games with him, wasn't it?

Well, it is, it was, and the only thing I remember is that when I was a sophomore he was a senior, and we both had really good basketball teams in high school. We decided to guard him as a box-and-one, and I think I held him to like 38 or something like that.

And you were probably happy with that, huh?
(Laughing) No, but he's a tremendous player, and I don't know if the younger generation can appreciate everything that he did or everything that he was in the NBA for a guy his size. But he was a tremendous shooter, tremendous leaper. I mean, the guy averaged almost 40 points a game as a freshman in college, and then he came into the league. I think any time you can line up and get 73 points in an NBA game and the way that he plays and the things that he did, he was a terrific player.

You also worked with Doug Collins.
I did work with Doug Collins. I'll tell you, I think Doug is the most intelligent person that I've ever been around in my life just intellectually and basketball-wise, when you put it all together.

I thought that he just had an unbelievable grasp of the game from a coaching standpoint. I just don't think coaching is for Doug, and I think he'll be the first to tell you that.

But from the standpoint of knowing the game and being able to put guys in situations of success, if you go back and look I mean, when he was at Detroit we came into a situation where basically I think they'd won 22 games or something the year before, we won 46 and then 54, and he did a great job of putting guys in position where they could be successful.

He's just got an unbelievable knowledge of the game and an unbelievable feel of the game. You know, I mean, the guy was the first pick in the NBA draft, so he's got to know how to play. But to me I'm still reall
y close to Doug, and I almost look at Doug as a brother. I'm really close to him. I just thought that he was just he's just a brilliant guy, and I don't know how to explain that other than there's not anything intellectually that you can ask him about that he wouldn't know about, and basketball wise he's just a real I just think he's a real student of the game.

He has an appreciation. He can go all the way back to the Bob Pettits and those people of the world and even back farther than that, and he appreciates the evolution of the game.

Another person I want to ask you about is your former colleague who's now head coach Marc Iavaroni. Can you tell us a little bit about him?
Yeah, I think Marc is the most organized guy I've ever been around in my life. I think he does a great, great job of I think covering all the areas. I think he's going to do a great job in Memphis. Obviously it takes a little while, but I think he'll get guys to play hard for him. I think he has an unbelievable grasp of the game. He's worked for some great coaches. He's been in the system for Pat Riley, he's been in the system for Mike Fratello, two great coaches in this league.

I think what Marc has done which is really good is that I think he's taken something from all of those guys, from Pat Riley, from Mike Fratello, from Mike D'Antoni, and then I think he's kind of incorporated those into the type of coach he wants to be, yet he's still himself. And I think that's the most important thing.

I look for Memphis to do good things here. Obviously it's not going to happen overnight, but I think Marc will do a great job there.

Anything else you want to tell me about that I haven't asked you about?
That's about it, other than when you've been in the league as long as I have you're going to work for a lot of teams and you're going to be fired a lot, okay? But I wouldn't trade it for anything. To me I think it's the purest form of basketball there is.

I think what happens is that in the league, which is really discouraging, is that it's a league of over 400 players and you may have ten guys that are bad apples, and those are the guys that are being written about, and you don't have guys writing about the Grant Hills or the Tim Duncans or the David Robinsons of the world, and to me those are the guys that everybody should be writing about and not the ten bad guys or whatever that are in this league.

For the most part all the guys in this league are good, solid guys. They're easy to coach and they do exactly what you ask them to do. If you take that out and you take 450 guys or whatever and there's only ten bad guys, that's a pretty doggone good percentage.

Actually one thing I want to ask you about really fast is there's only a couple really long tenured coaches in the NBA. Would the league be a better place if coaches got to sort of keep their jobs through the down periods a little bit more?
Well, obviously I'm going to say yes to that (laughing). But it's hard because it is a league of instant gratification. I do think that if you look around, the most successful franchises are the franchises that have longevity with coaches. If you look at Utah and what they've done over the last 15 years, they've won a ton of games. When you look at San Antonio, they're the winningest franchise of any pro franchise over the last ten years.

Obviously I think when you look and you keep continuity within your franchise and be able to just to be able to get by the bad periods at times, I think you can't be judged on one bad year or two bad years. I think you've got to give the coach a chance to kind of get that thing turned around and headed back in the right direction, but a lot of times the patience is not out there with management and they decide to make changes. Obviously that's their prerogative.

But I just see the teams that are winning the most in this league are usually the teams that have continuity within the coaching staff and within the players on the floor.

And they kind of build a culture, I guess?

(Photo: Noah Graham NBAE/Getty Images) 

Less Lovable Larry

June, 21, 2007

In today's New York Times, Howard Beck points out that in recent months Sam Vincent, Marc Iavaroni, Stan Van Gundy, Billy Donovan, Rick Adelman, Jim O'Brien, Larry Krystkowiak, and Randy Wittman have all been given (and Donovan eventually declined) NBA head head coaching jobs.

Meanwhile, legendary Larry Brown remains a consultant to the Philadelphia 76ers.

He openly lobbied for the Sacramento job which now belongs to Reggie Theus. He managed to get an interview in Memphis. But, for the moment at least, one of the best basketball minds in the business is apparently an unattractive candidate. He is not among those reported to be in the running for the one remaining head coaching vacancy, in Seattle.

Beck writes:

There is little doubt, even among Brown's supporters, that his recent past is hurting his candidacy. The Knicks fired Brown after he alienated most of his players and engaged in a public feud with the star guard Stephon Marbury. Brown was also accused of trying to broker trades and undermining Isiah Thomas, the team president.

Nine days before joining the Knicks, Brown was fired by the Detroit Pistons, despite guiding them to two finals and one championship (in 2004). The Pistons' owner, Bill Davidson, furious over Brown's dalliances with the Knicks and the Cleveland Cavaliers, said Brown was "not a good person."

In severing ties with Brown, the Knicks and the Pistons paid a combined $25.5 million in contract settlements.

In some quarters, Brown is also blamed for the disappointing bronze-medal finish of the United States team in the 2004 Olympics. As the head coach of that team, Brown was criticized for not giving enough playing time to the young stars Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire.

Brown turns 67 in September and might be picky about his next destination. Friends say Brown only wants to coach a contender. A number of N.B.A. executives said Brown lost interest in the Memphis job when the Grizzlies failed to win one of the top spots in the draft lottery.

Some expect that Brown will eventually replace Maurice Cheeks on the 76ers' bench. But the list of teams willing to gamble on him is clearly shrinking.

Brown has one thing going for him, though: every owner knows that Brown is a way to spend your way into some fan optimism. His teams don't often win titles, but even with lame rosters they always have a shot. At some point, that'll be enough to get somebody to roll the dice on him once again, I'd bet. It might be too soon at this point. But within the next couple of years, once he has had time to lower his standards a little, perhaps, I bet he'll be prowling the NBA sidelines again.