Posted: Thursday July 7, 2005 3:42PM; Updated: Friday July 8, 2005 12:25PM
Despite his public pleas to the contrary, Larry Brown's thoughts seemed to be anywhere but Detroit in the playoffs.
Ian Thomsen will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
Larry Brown will not be back in Detroit. Count on it. By saying that he wants to return as coach of the Pistons, pending his health concerns, Brown is essentially forcing the team to fire him so that he can continue to collect the three years and $15 million remaining on his contract. If Brown is fired he will be able to claim -- disingenuously -- that he didn't bail out on the Eastern champions. But Brown demonstrated earlier that he doesn't want to come back, and the Pistons need reliable leadership in order to win another championship while their team is still at peak form.
Brown turned the Pistons against him when he spent this past spring counseling the Cleveland Cavaliers, a division rival, on their front-office hires. (His health concerns are no small matter, but neither are they any excuse for his behavior.)
On the team bus to a shootaround the morning of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals last month in Miami, Brown was heard complaining that the Cavaliers were having second thoughts about the inexperience of Wizards player personnel director Milt Newton, who at the time was Brown's hand-picked choice to become Cleveland's GM. In order to demonstrate that Newton was worthy of the Cavs' job, Brown asked Joe Dumars how much front-office experience he had before the Pistons elevated him to his current post as president of basketball operations. You can imagine that Dumars would have preferred Brown to be focused solely on that night's game, which the Pistons lost 88-76 despite an injury to Dwyane Wade.
The next day during an optional workout in Auburn Hills, Mich., Brown spent 20 minutes on the sideline of the practice court berating Liz Robbins of The New York Times, who a week earlier had broken the news that Brown was close to joining the Cavaliers as team president. Several of Brown's players were on the court, putting in extra work in hope of overcoming their 3-2 deficit to the Miami, while point guard Chauncey Billups was in Dumars' office plotting a strategy to adapt the Pistons' pick-and-roll against Shaquille O'Neal. Everyone was focused on trying to beat the Heat except for Brown, who -- in full view of his players -- was acting as if he cared more about his next job than about leading the Pistons to a successful title defense. "It would be nice if he was in here with us," said Billups, glancing at Brown from the window of Dumars' office.
Brown has been in damage control mode ever since. His reputation has taken a beating because he isn't toying merely with UCLA or the New Jersey Nets; the Pistons are close to a sacred entity in the NBA, the only franchise in the past 25 years to win a title without a first-team All-NBA player. They are the closest thing we've seen to a true team in this league, and Brown's actions influenced their loss to San Antonio in the NBA Finals.