Pistons Cut Ties With Brown; Knicks Could Be Next Stop

Times Staff Writer

Larry Brown won't return as coach of the Detroit Pistons next season, but that doesn't mean he won't be coaching elsewhere.

The New York Knicks were believed to be ready to pounce after Brown and the Pistons on Tuesday reached a settlement on the last three years of Brown's contract, leaving the Hall of Fame coach free to sign with another team.

The announcement by the Pistons, who provided few details about the deal, ended another bizarre chapter in Brown's often-brilliant, nomadic career.

After signing a five-year contract two years ago that was worth about $25 million, plus incentive bonuses, Brown guided the Pistons to the NBA championship last year and to within one victory of a repeat last month.

But last season was nightmarish for Brown and the Pistons, filled with distractions tied to the coach's medical problems and reports linking him to jobs with several teams, which he only inflamed through wistful comments. By the time he and the club parted ways there seemed little love lost between them.

Asked whether the Pistons had fired Brown, team spokesman Matt Dobek told Associated Press, "Say what you want."

Brown's agent, Joe Glass, told AP that the Pistons didn't want Brown back and had offered a payoff.

"I take umbrage with the Pistons, or sources, saying it's a buyout," Glass said before the announcement. "A buyout encompasses a mutual agreement, and that's not what is happening. Larry Brown is saying, 'I want to coach the Pistons,' and they want to pay him off for whatever reason."

The Pistons reportedly will offer the job to Flip Saunders, who was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves at midseason.

Nine NBA teams have made coaching changes since season's end, but Knick President Isiah Thomas put off hiring his next coach while reportedly waiting to see whether Brown would become available.

Brown's next job will be his 11th, including stints at UCLA and with the Clippers. He was at UCLA two seasons, guiding the Bruins to the NCAA championship game in 1980. He took over the Clippers halfway through the 1991-92 season and took them to the playoffs twice in 1 1/2 seasons.

Brown is the only coach to win NCAA (Kansas, 1988) and NBA (Detroit, 2004) titles.

He has won wherever he has gone, often while plotting his next move, but that doesn't always facilitate a loving or even graceful exit.

By the time the Pistons reached the NBA Finals for the second year in a row, fans in Motown had already written him off amid reports that he was negotiating with the Cleveland Cavaliers to take over as head of basketball operations.

The coach had hip surgery in November and another operation for a bladder infection in March. In between, he called the Knicks' coaching position "my dream job" after Lenny Wilkens left and expressed his unabashed admiration for Kobe Bryant, who reciprocated, after Rudy Tomjanovich left the Lakers.

Brown's players bristled, and owner Bill Davidson was said to be unhappy with the coach too. Brown said he "got real close" to quitting after his second surgery, but he came back and the Pistons closed the season on a high note.

They returned to the Finals, even as reports of Brown's flirtations with the Cavaliers surfaced. He denied it at first, but it was true. Piston President Joe Dumars had given him permission, the Cavaliers had offered Brown their presidency and Brown had put them on hold, infuriating the Pistons anew.

"Sometimes hindsight is something I wish I had," Brown said during the NBA Finals. "When Cleveland asked to talk to me and Joe gave me permission, I thought as long as it wasn't about coaching, what's the big deal?"

Brown, 64, insisted that he would return to the Pistons if doctors gave him the OK, denying that he would coach any other team.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, hired Danny Ferry as general manager, assuring him that Brown would not be his boss.

Brown checked into the Mayo Clinic last month, less than a week after the Pistons lost to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of the Finals.

"His medical condition isn't 100%, and it hasn't improved much," Glass said Tuesday. "But we're trusting God that it will, and Larry has represented that he is physically, spiritually and emotionally able to coach.

"I do not want myself or Larry to sound vindictive because this is a free country, but at the same token, facts are facts. 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."

Dumars in a statement said the Pistons appreciated their "two tremendous seasons" under Brown and wished him "the best and good health going forward."

He said the search for a new coach had already begun.

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