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Brown, Pistons part ways; Saunders next in line

Posted: Monday July 18, 2005 3:54PM; Updated: Wednesday July 20, 2005 1:48PM
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Larry Brown
In two years in Motown, Larry Brown led the Pistons to a 104-56 regular-season record and two appearances in the Finals.
Brian Bahr/NBAE via Getty Images
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Larry Brown and the Detroit Pistons have decided to part ways, SI.com learned Monday. The announcement will become official in the next 24 hours as the two sides haggle over the final terms, but it appears that the terms of Brown's buyout will prevent him from coaching another team for the next year.

If he is desperate to coach the Knicks, then they would have to negotiate terms of compensation with the Pistons. But if he were to move to the Knicks within the next year, I'm told that Brown would also relieve the Pistons of their remaining financial obligations to him. The exact terms of the buyout aren't known, although Brown had three years and $21 million remaining on his contract.

The Pistons will almost surely announce, in short order, that they are hiring former Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders. There are some within the Pistons organization who worry that Saunders will face inordinate pressure by stepping in for Brown, who in two years won a championship and made it to Game 7 of this season's NBA Finals.

But I think just the opposite will be true. The Pistons will be the most motivated team in the league next season, determined to prove that Brown received far too much credit for the players' success. If his history is a guide, Saunders will feed his new team's ambition from the first day of his tenure by giving all the credit to his new players, and in return they will be invested in making Saunders look good. Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and their teammates can be expected to do everything they can to show that the organization can perform better without Brown. In the end, Brown will endow the Pistons with more motivation by leaving than he ever could have provided by staying next season.

The other reason Saunders will succeed is that he will understand the dynamics of this well-balanced team. A lot of coaches who are used to the NBA star system might have trouble adapting to the Pistons, who are the only team in the last 25 years to win a championship without a first-team All-NBA player. But Saunders, who spent seven years in the CBA, crafted a track record at Minnesota of mixing and matching individuals by exploiting their strengths and hiding their weaknesses while putting a balanced winner on the floor. He is, arguably, the best of all possible fits for this team.

One of Brown's options now is to explore a move to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who held their team presidency open for two months for him before hiring Danny Ferry as GM. Perhaps he could return to Cleveland as a consultant, but it's hard to imagine that the Cavaliers would be willing to upset their relationship with Ferry, who has been doing a terrific job on short notice.

Brown's other known option is in New York, where the clock is now running on the tenure of Knicks coach Herb Williams. The Knicks' current coach will need a strong start next season with his revamped roster to snuff out speculation that Brown will eventually replace him.

So here's a prediction: Brown spends the next year recuperating physically, advising the Cavaliers informally and investigating future jobs -- either as the Knicks' head coach or as a team president for another franchise. But where he ends up is anyone's guess.