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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pistons’ owner made call on coach

Not all management types end up loving vagabond mentor Brown

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— Larry Brown is leaving town. Fired. Splitting. Cut loose. Let go. Bought out. Paid off. Came to an agreement. Pick your phrase. Who cares? Coaching in the NBA is about doors opening and closing. Words don't matter. Hinges do.

Larry Brown is leaving town. It was as inevitable as a thunderstorm in the summertime. After one championship, one near-miss and three years left on his five-year contract, the Pistons are cutting the cord. That's the What.

Now to the Who, When, Where and Why.

First the Who. That's simple. Bill Davidson, the Pistons' owner. Every few years I have to write this as if it's news because the rich man with the white hair and the perpetual windbreaker does such a good job of staying under the radar, people forget he signs the checks. But this was, is and always will be his call.

And it should be, because it's his money.

Sure, maybe Larry, deep down, wanted out of Detroit, but he'd never say so loudly, because it could have cost him $18 million.

And sure, maybe deep down, Joe Dumars was tired of Larry's act. But know this: Dumars doesn't hire and fire when the cost is $18 million. That's the boss' job.

Davidson didn't reach the billionaire club by relying on uncertain assets. A coach who has gone under the knife several times in the last year, a coach who can't verbally commit to full-time attendance, a coach who is 64 years old and who openly flirts with other job opportunities--with or without permission--is not a reliable asset.

Now to the When. The actual parting is still in the works. A buyout of some kind will be the likely conclusion. Let's face it. Brown's early departure was always headed to the lawyers' desks; you don't just kiss good-bye and grab a suitcase full of money.

But the real When probably began when Brown told a New York newspaper earlier this year that coaching the Knicks was always his "dream job."

The When is not as important as the Why. And on that you can read a million columns and get a million different points of view. Nearly every sportswriter who deals with Larry Brown ends up playing armchair psychiatrist, because Larry's words say one thing but his actions often say another.

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.

This leaves the Where. As in "Where do the Pistons go next?" And "Where does Larry go next?"

To the former, I say: Flip Saunders. To the latter, I say: If you're a Detroiter, who cares?

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