The NBA's long-running Larry Brown saga finally reached a conclusion yesterday when the Detroit Pistons severed ties with the nomadic coach. The Pistons completed a buyout of Brown's contract, deciding that an NBA championship and coming within one victory of another were not enough to deal with the drama surrounding the Hall of Fame coach.
A statement released by the Pistons last night said that President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars had "relieved Larry Brown of his coaching duties."
"We appreciate the two tremendous seasons the team enjoyed with Larry as coach," Dumars said in a separate statement yesterday. "We wish him the best and good health going forward."
Brown, the only coach to win a championship in the NBA and the NCAA, was given the freedom to coach another team under the terms of the agreement. He led the Pistons to back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals and had three years and an estimated $18 million remaining on his contract. A message left for Brown's agent, Joe Glass, was not returned.
Former Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders has already emerged as the leading candidate and could soon be named Brown's replacement.
Dumars told the Associated Press and ESPN.com on Monday that he was trying to work out a buyout with Brown, the first public admission that Brown's time in Detroit was nearing an end. For the past few months, there had been speculation about Brown's future with the organization. He had been linked to the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers at different points during the regular season and the playoffs.
He told the New York Post in March that the Knicks would be his "dream job." Although his wife, Shelly, recently said Brown wasn't headed to New York, Knicks President Isiah Thomas is expected to make a lucrative contract offer.
Brown, 64, had no desire to be viewed as the villain in the proceedings and repeatedly expressed his desire to coach the Pistons next season -- but only after news of his flirtations with the Cavaliers for a position as team president reached a climax during the Eastern Conference playoffs. (The Cavaliers have since hired Danny Ferry as general manager.) During the NBA Finals, Brown said his health -- namely a bladder condition he developed following hip surgery during the season -- would be the only impediment to him retaining his duties as coach of the Pistons.
Brown visited the Mayo Clinic after the Pistons lost the NBA Finals in seven games against the San Antonio Spurs, but this week he couldn't assure Pistons owner Bill Davidson that he would be able to come back without further complications.
Glass said Brown's health would not prohibit him from coaching next season.
"Some are saying Larry is using his health as an excuse, but that's not the truth because he's more than willing to come back, even with his current condition," Glass told the Associated Press.
Brown appeared to have hastened his exit with his inability to deflate speculation of his possible departure. After coaching 10 teams in the ABA, NBA and NCAA in his career, Brown's reputation of engaging with suitors and jumping ship before the end of his contracts often made him a nomadic caricature, but the Pistons have been known to break away from successful coaches. Chuck Daly left two years after leading the Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles in 1989-90; Rick Carlisle led the team to back-to-back 50-win seasons and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals before he was fired for Brown.