The Larry Brown Circus Rolls Out of Detroit

So, now that the media has had a chance to sink its teeth into the notion that Larry Brown really is leaving Detroit, what have we learned?

In the Detroit Free Press, Mitch Albom says the split started in January, when Larry Brown told the New York Post that coaching in New York was always his "dream job." Things deteriorated when he didn't get surgery over the All-Star break, but instead while the Pistons were in action. Then Brown took longer than expected coming back, there was "the Cleveland thing," and his ongoing health concerns. It was too much soap opera for Pistons owner Bill Davidson.

Albom does as good a job as anyone ever has of explaining how things work in Larry Brown's mind to get us to this point.

For what it's worth, here's my pocket Sigmund Freud. Larry Brown is a good friend to his friends and endears himself to certain media types because those people can do for him the thing he most needs: tell him they love him. Tell him he's great. Tell him over and over. Tell him like they mean it -- because they do.

With management types -- and with certain players -- Larry has more difficulty, because those folks rarely love any coach all the time and they certainly don't love him forever. So, inevitably, Brown wears out his welcome and he gets a bit antsy and he hears the siren call of someone else wooing him, telling him he's wonderful, and he follows it. And he can. Because he's a terrific coach, and he usually leaves the money on the table and doggone it, some people really do love him.

But others can't take him. They can't take his moods. They can't take his endless need for reinforcement. Players respect Brown for his marvelous basketball knowledge, but, after a point, he can lose them. They see through his self-absorption. Some of them stop listening. The Pistons have a recent history of splitting with coaches before that affliction gets too serious. They did so again Monday.

Joe Glass, Larry Brown's agent, has given Chris McCosky of the Detroit News has some insight into the ongoing negotiations that must sound great to Knicks President Isiah Thomas:

One of the key issues of the buyout-compensation talks has been whether Brown could coach for another team next season.

"I don't know what's going to happen, but do I think that Larry Brown will have the right to coach next season?" Glass asked. "Without a question of a doubt."

Brown has said for weeks that he wanted to return for his third season with the Pistons. The Pistons, though, were concerned that Brown's health would prohibit him from coaching a full season.

Brown, who has been afflicted with a serious bladder ailment since Nov. 3, told the Pistons he would be able to coach this season but couldn't give them 100 percent assurance that he would be able to make it through a whole season without complications.

Pistons owner Bill Davidson had demanded that assurance from Brown.

It is believed the Pistons have offered several compensation options to Brown.

One would be that they would pay off the remaining $20 million if Brown agreed to sit out a year. Another was that they would just fire him, and then the money he earned from his next job would be deducted from the money he was owed by the Pistons.

The more plausible scenario would be a compensation package that included the freedom for Brown to coach wherever he wanted next season. In return, Brown would agree to leave all or most of the money on the table.

Without citing the sources of his convictions, Detroit News columnist Rob Parker sides with the Pistons:

But don't blame the Pistons. They had wanted Brown to coach the team.

Also don't buy into the notion that owner Bill Davidson and team president Joe Dumars forced Brown out. It's not true.

Brown, not the Pistons, made all of this come unglued. After all, he had three years remaining on a five-year contract. His status was up for debate only because he no longer wanted to be here.

The Pistons had to move on, though. It's only fair to the players, the organization and the fans.

With possibly the best starting lineup in the NBA, this franchise shouldn't have such an unstable situation with its head coach. Success is supposed to breed success and the willingness of all to keep succeeding.

Meanwhile, at the New York Daily News, Mike Lupica sides with Larry Brown, but with a caveat:

Listen: I've known Brown since he was coaching in the ABA and bought tickets to a Knicks game in 1975 so David Thompson, playing for him then, could see the Garden. I consider him a friend. Did I think it was a good idea for him to even have a conversation with the Cavs' owner? I thought it was a terrible idea. But if the Pistons thought it was such a terrible idea, it is fair to ask why they granted him permission to talk to Gilbert at all?

Of course now it is leaked - the Pistons have controlled the news flow on this from the start - that Brown initiated those talks with the Cavs, something he vehemently denies. They want this whole thing to be another example of Brown, who has moved all over the place in basketball, wanting to make another move, this time to the Knicks.

They have cleverly used his resume against him, even though the most recent part of his resume - the way the Pistons have played ball the last two seasons - sure works against Davidson and Dumars as they try to fire Brown and make it his fault.

"When I told them I was prepared to come back no matter what, I didn't hear back from them for five days," he said.

In the Washington Post a few weeks ago, Michael Wilbon wrote a tremendous piece about Larry Brown, in which he trots out the phrase "vagabond genius of basketball coaching," which Wilbon attributes to sportswriter Tony Kornheiser, who he says has known Brown for fifty years.

This isn't new. In fact, it's pretty standard stuff for the vagabond genius. In 1983, on April 7, with six games left in the regular season and his New Jersey Nets cruising into the playoffs with a 47-29 record, Brown resigned. Bang, zoom, gone. Went to the University of Kansas -- where, by the way, he would lead the Jayhawks to an NCAA championship.
You want more? On Jan. 21, 1992, Brown was coaching the San Antonio Spurs, who were in no trouble at 21-17, good for second place in the division. Only 16 days later, Brown was coaching the Los Angeles Clippers, whom he led to the playoffs that season and the next. His résumé is marked by brilliance and brevity. The Pistons knew when they hired Brown two years ago that he wasn't going to be around forever, and chances were he'd never see the beginning of a third season on the sideline in Detroit.

Everybody knows this about Larry Brown, his closest friends, his former players, his former employers, his peers, the people who run the NBA, coaches in France and Romania. Who could walk away from a UCLA team that went to the NCAA championship game in 1980? Only Larry Brown. Who could leave a team immediately after winning a championship at Kansas? Only Larry Brown. Who could begin to walk away from a team chasing a second consecutive NBA championship? Only Larry Brown. Only a man supremely confident yet obviously insecure could always say by taking on a new project, "I can do that," then make good on the promise and in quick time be ready for a new project.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that Brown is looking to leave. That's not necessarily so. He fulfilled contracts at Kansas and with the Philadelphia 76ers. But usually, people come looking for him. Abe Pollin's first choice two years ago following the Michael Jordan fiasco was Larry Brown. All four ABA teams that joined the NBA (Nets, Nuggets, Spurs, Pacers), he coached 'em all. That doesn't even include the Carolina Cougars. You can't really beat Coach Brown, not in college and not in the pros (okay, maybe in the Olympics), so you might as well get him to join you. Everybody calls Larry Brown, and new Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert is the most recent guy with a team, a need and Brown's phone number. He's always recruitable.

In The New York Times, Liz Robbins has two standout tidbits. In the first, she makes clear that anyone out there (Nate McMillan, Bob Weiss, and Dwane Casey this means you...) looking to hire some great assistant coaches might consider shopping the aisles in Detroit starting now:

Yesterday, Brown said that the Pistons had fired his assistants, which the team denied. Dumars said only, "I have told the assistants that talks have turned to a buyout."

In the second, she points to some very familiar parts of Larry Brown's history, including the ongoing spats over whether he was fired or not (he seems to much prefer getting fired--almost all of the quotes from Joe Glass today, I didn't bother to include them because it seemed unimportant, were along the lines of--I'm paraphrasing--"Larry Brown is getting fired, not quitting, not getting bought out, etc.") and what would appear to be tampering.

Brown has been through this dissolution process before in a Hall of Fame career encompassing 10 head-coaching jobs. He left as coach of the San Antonio Spurs in January 1992, saying he was fired by the team owner Red McCombs, but at the time the Spurs said that Brown resigned.

Brown was fired by the Nets in 1983 right before the playoffs when they discovered he was negotiating to become the coach at U.C.L.A.

NOTE: He left the Nets for Kansas, not UCLA, according to other reports.

This Jay Mariotti column from the Chicago Sun-Times is a little old, too, but poignant:

To believe him, we would have to ignore his vagabond past, which can't be done when Brown joined the Pistons after bolting the Philadelphia 76ers, for whom he bolted after leaving the Indiana Pacers, for whom he bolted after leaving the Los Angeles Clippers, for whom he bolted after leaving the San Antonio Spurs, for whom he bolted after leaving the University of Kansas Jayhawks, for whom he bolted after leaving the New Jersey Nets, for whom he bolted after leaving the UCLA Bruins, for whom he bolted after leaving the Denver Nuggets, for whom he bolted after leaving the ABA's Carolina Cougars.

A nice biography of Larry Brown is here.

Whew! So, after reading all that, I'm left with the same question I have been asking for several days (including here and here): if there really is clear evidence, as countless reports suggest there are, that Larry Brown was talking to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and helping them put together a front office, while under contract with the Pistons, why would the Pistons need to negotiate anything? Surely he has violated his contract and can be fired for cause immediately. What's more, surely the Pistons can prove that the Cavaliers were tampering. An analagous case with Pat Riley and the Miami Heat resulted in the Knicks getting $1 million and a first-round pick from Florida.

So the question is: what do Larry Brown and Joe Glass hold over the Pistons? Why are the Pistons negotiating with them at all?

I'd like to figure that out.