King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Larry Brown is reportedly off to Cleveland. Sniff, sniff. It smells true. If so: What a jerk. Plus: Waltonism of the Night.


Salon Staff
May 31, 2005 11:00PM (UTC)

It's being reported in more than one place that Detroit Pistons coach Larry Brown agreed Monday night to become the new president of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both Brown and the Cavs deny that a deal has been struck.

With rumors of a done deal already flying Sunday, Detroit executed a highly un-Pistons-like fourth-quarter swan dive and lost Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at home to the Miami Heat, 113-104. The collapse was highlighted and symbolized by technical fouls against Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups for arguing with the officials.

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As Brown put it, "We kind of lost our poise."

The loss gave Miami a 2-1 series lead, with Game 4 Tuesday night in Detroit.

So all of this leads to two questions, the first of which is being asked by a lot of people, and the second of which I'll ask. The first is: Did the speculation about Brown's future cause the Pistons to lose their poise, play poorly and give a playoff game away?

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The second is: If the reports are true, just how big a jerk is Larry Brown?

Here's what we know. ESPN.com's Chad Ford, citing two league sources, reported Monday night that Brown has agreed to run the Cavs' front office after the Pistons' season ends.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Branson Wright cited an anonymous Eastern Conference executive in a story headlined "Larry Brown to be Cavs' president."

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I have no inside knowledge of the situation, but the reports, despite the denials by the parties involved, pass the sniff test.

First, there is Brown's legendary wanderlust. The guy just can't stay put for very long. He's been saying for a while now that Detroit is his last coaching job, and lately that if he can get a serious health condition involving his bladder cleared up in the offseason, he'll be back on the Pistons' bench next season, period.

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And who believes him?

The longest he's ever stayed in one place is the six years he spent in Philadelphia before jumping to the Pistons. He's only been in Detroit two years, which even for him is a short stint -- longer than his stays with the Nets and Clippers, but still short.

But Brown will turn 65 before next season starts, so if he's going to fulfill his apparent goal of coaching every team in the league -- seven down, 23 to go -- he'd better get cracking. Or do you think he'll stay upstairs and resist the temptation to coach LeBron James? That's a good one.

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There are other odors in the air that say, "Cleveland, here I come." The Cavs over the weekend hired Pacers assistant Mike Brown, a protégé of Larry Brown protégé Gregg Popovich. Mike Brown has reportedly called former Larry Brown assistant Randy Ayers about an assistant coaching job.

Also, Pacers executive David Morway withdrew from consideration for the Cavs' top job Monday. He had been a front-runner, but Morway told ESPN.com the Cavaliers "indicated that they were exploring hiring a high-profile team president that would have full control of all basketball decisions. After talking with ownership, it appears that's the direction they are going."

Morway wouldn't comment on whether Larry Brown was that high-profile guy.

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I'd like to think all of this uncertainty wouldn't lead to an on-court meltdown by a team that's the defending champion and one of the best in the league, but I suspect it was a factor. As much as I think "team chemistry" is a lot of hoodoo and superstition in most sports, I think there's a place for it in basketball.

Aside from the type of chemistry that leads one player to just feel where a teammate is going to be at a certain moment -- which I think is unaffected by this sort of thing -- there is also the fact that basketball is such a unique combination of effort and touch that attitude and confidence play a huge roll.

Defense and rebounding, two things the Pistons are good at, are driven by effort. You need some physical skills and technique, obviously, but a large part of success in those areas is a matter of outworking the other guy.

We've all had days when we were pissed off about something and didn't feel like giving 100 percent on the job. It's not inconceivable that the Pistons, feeling betrayed by their coach despite his not-terribly-credible denials, collectively had one of those days Sunday.

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And once you're off your feed a little bit, things start snowballing. The shots stop falling, the passes start going to just-vacated areas. Then the usual array of nonsensical calls by the refs gets under your skin. Against a good team like the Heat, the loss of just that little edge can be the difference between winning a close one and looking bad while losing.

I don't think we'll ever know if that's what really happened to the Pistons Sunday or if they just had what Dwyane Wade called "one of those nights" after Detroit shut him down in Game 1. But it's a pretty good theory.

Which brings us to our second question: How big a jerk -- if these reports are true -- is Larry Brown?

And our answer: A very big jerk. If the reports are true.

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Because his team is in the Eastern Conference finals. The Pistons are seven wins away from back-to-back championships. That doesn't exactly happen every day. But instead of devoting every ounce of his waking energy to that goal, Brown -- if the reports are true -- is creating a distraction by playing footsie with another team.

In other words he's devoting himself to something that does happen every day, or at least it could happen every day: A plum job offer for a widely respected, Hall of Fame coach.

It's not as if the Cavs job is some kind of Holy Grail. Even with LeBron James, Cleveland is hardly the NBA's marquee franchise or market, and Brown, a New Yorker, doesn't even have any gushy emotional ties to the place.

And it's not as if Brown couldn't say, "I am Larry Freakin' Brown. If you want me to run your ballclub, you can wait three stinkin' weeks and we'll talk about it then. And if you don't want to wait, fine. There might just be other opportunities out there if I, Larry Brown, let it be known I were looking to run a team, don't you think?

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"Or I could just stay in Detroit and coach your division rivals to another championship. Call me after our last game if you want to talk."

Maybe that's what Brown said. Maybe the denials are true. Maybe the story is false, and the people who reported it and those of us who believed them will end up owing Brown an apology. That wouldn't be a first for me. I'm ready to apologize again.

Don't think I'll have to, but I'm ready.

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Waltonism of the Night [PERMALINK]

Monday night's Suns-Spurs Game 4 was on ABC, with Al Michaels and Hubie Brown mikeside. Bill Walton was relegated to the studio in New York, where he couldn't get a word in edgewise on Rick Fox and the extremely ... slow ... talking ... Bill Russell.

So our Waltonism of the Night (WoN) comes from Saturday's Game 3. Walton was teamed with Mike Breen, the TV voice of the New York Knicks, whose shtick is as nutty as anybody's: He's a solid play-by-play guy who knows a lot about basketball and offers opinions as interesting as any color man's. It's a revolutionary approach.

Of the network hoops announcers, only Marv Albert wouldn't have let Walton get away with the initial, light-as-air answer Walton gave to a question asked by Breen that led to the WoN. But Albert, no straight man, would only have made fun of the answer. Breen set Walton up nicely for a punch line that was not only funny, it revealed Walton's true feelings about Phoenix's chances. That is: nix.

The scene: Very early in the third quarter with the Spurs, up two games to none in the series, leading 56-41.

Breen: All right, Bill, what's the key for Phoenix to get back into this one?

Walton: Start having some fun. That's the way they play. Get out there and have a good time. Forget the fact that you're down 15 here. Forget the fact that you're down 2-0 and you're getting pounded in every aspect of the game.

Breen: Having fun is all well and good, but from a strategy standpoint, they've got to make some changes.

Walton: OK, how about signing some different free agents? Is Charles Barkley still available?

Breen: [Describing action] Stoudemire misses.

Walton: Is Kevin Johnson still available? How about Dan Majerle? Tom Chambers? Walter Davis?

Not for the Big Redhead the shilling of future ABC and ESPN games in a series that, as of that moment, still had a chance to be competitive if the Suns had been able to rally in the second half. Gotta love that.

The Suns did mount a mini-rally in the fourth quarter, closing to within six a few times, but lost 102-92. They won Game 4 Monday to stay alive, sending the series back to Phoenix Wednesday night.

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