Monday, July 18, 2005
Where did our love go? Team, coach seek clean slate
By Marc Stein
The Detroit Pistons say they were always open to having Larry Brown continue as their coach.
Larry Brown still says he doesn't want to coach anywhere except Motown.
The buyout both sides are working on says otherwise.
Monday's disclosure that the Pistons and Brown are negotiating a divorce, with three years and $18 million left on their marriage contract, confirms that what both sides really want is a fresh start -- no matter what has been said in this dragged-out, season-long saga.
Pistons owner Bill Davidson is clearly ready for his team to chase a championship without the daily drama of its leader being linked with jobs in Los Angeles, New York or Cleveland. Even if that means a risky drop down in coaching grade.
Brown, meanwhile, is unquestionably eager to have the option to move on to one more NBA outpost without having to walk out on his current job to get that shot. By reiterating how much he wanted to come back to Detroit, which we'll undoubtedly hear soon, Brown will be able to liken this buyout to a firing. Which is what Brown wanted most, after enduring the worst criticism of his career for his recent flirtations with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This way Brown can transfer some of that heat onto the Pistons, thus setting himself up to go to New York -- at some stage in the next year, if not immediately -- in his more customary role of franchise savior as opposed to villain.
It remains to be seen how restrictive the terms of Brown's buyout will be when finalized. It's believed that the Pistons will try to keep him from taking the Knicks' job for as much of next season as they can, just as it's believed that Knicks president Isiah Thomas will offer Brown that job as soon as he is able to accept it.
It's also possible that Brown wants an extended break to regain his health after serious bladder complications plagued him for much of last season -- and to further diffuse the notion that he has been planning his escape from Detroit for months.
What's clear at this early stage of the split is that two wild and spectacular seasons on the Larry Brown rollercoaster were as much as all the riders involved could handle.
The Pistons' proud players will have to prove they can win without Brown. Likely successor Flip Saunders will have to work in a big shadow. And Brown, at 64, will have to be more charming than ever in his next stop to make folks forget the sordid side of these two seasons.
Yet it seems that not one of those big challenges -- none -- looks more ominous to Brown and his latest former team than trying to keep this partnership going.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.