Posted: Thursday June 2, 2005 2:06PM; Updated: Thursday June 2, 2005 6:21PM
Don't fault Larry Brown for seeking a better opportunity -- and more money.
Since we now know that former FBI agent W. Mark Felt was the infamous "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame, it's time to put our investigative minds to an even greater mystery, one that is plaguing the NBA. No, it's not the identity of "Deep Threat." That's Reggie Miller. And it's not "Dope Threat." That's, well, it could be a bunch of people, now, couldn't it?
Nope, if the NBA playoffs are going to proceed in relative harmony, we must hunt down and expose those "league sources" who are spreading nasty rumors about Pistons coach Larry Brown and his alleged deal to become president of the Cleveland Cavaliers once the postseason is through. At Tuesday's shootaround before Detroit's win over Miami, Brown sounded the call for sleuths to take up the challenge of finding and exposing said informants. "Who are the league sources?" he asked. "Why would somebody write that instead of being up front and saying who it is? Why would you do that?"
Yeah, why? Why would anybody report that Brown has a deal in place with the LeBrons, who asked for and were granted permission by Detroit to speak with his reps? Why would they write he has already recommended a new head coach for the club (Mike Brown)? That a former Brown player at Kansas (Milt Newton) has interviewed for the general manager's spot? It couldn't be that Brown has yet to issue a flat, one-sentence denial, assuring us that he is not going to be Cleveland's president next year. It couldn't be that every time he's asked about the move, he turns into Bush spokesman Scott McClellan and demands to know where everybody's getting their information, before going Mike Wallace on us and squeezing off round after round of questions.
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"Why should I even think about alternatives?"
"Why should I worry about Plan B when I'm worried about being healthy? (Brown developed an unspecified bladder condition after undergoing hip surgery earlier this season.) Why should I even be thinking about that?
"I heard about compensation from some guy who said we're seeking compensation. Where would you get that? Where would you get that? Why wouldn't you just say who said we're going to seek compensation?"
It looks like L.B. is a little upset. Here, he's trying to join the elite fraternity of 11 coaches who have won two or more NBA titles, and all anybody can talk about is his next job. (Insert generic Larry Brown Happy Wanderer joke here.) For a head coach, distractions like that are deadly.
For an NBA player, however, they mean nothing.
That's because every player in the league would love to be in Brown's position. They would love to have his options. Jump ship for more money? Perfect. Take a job that's more attractive for said performer's health and family? Even better, just as long as the money is there, too. Stick around for $5 million a year? Not a bad last resort. El Hombre has spoken to dozens of NBA players over the past decade, and every time he brings up someone's pending free agency or the possibility that a teammate could be gone after a season, he gets the same answer: "He has to do what's best for him." That's the league credo, period. NBA players have finite time periods in which to make their money, so they maximize their opportunities. And unlike fans, who are ready to pillory anybody who dares leave town for more dough or increased playing time, all the while wishing they could do the same thing in their jobs, the players understand the business. Rip Hamilton may play for the Pistons, but his business card would read, "Richard Hamilton, Basketball Entrepreneur." He's not disloyal, rather committed to making the most of his talents. Right now, that commitment happens to be to Detroit, for which he wants to win another title. In two years, it could be to Atlanta. (God forbid.)
And so it is with Brown, only he won't adopt the 21st century baller's mantra. That's because he's a coach, and part of his job is to foster (or at least try to foster) team harmony. But this isn't high school. It's not college. The NBA is a stone cold business, and Brown is needed less to bring everybody together than he is to figure out how to keep Shaq from rampaging down low. While he battles with Woodward and Bernstein, or at least Stephen A. and Jack McCallum, his players are making sure their bottom lines are fat and attractive. They want to win, sure, and they're focusing on the moment. They also want to get theirs, before the window of opportunity closes.
And what if Brown leaves? Have you checked out the shelf life of NBA coaches these days? Other than Utah's Jerry Sloan, the average NBA bench jockey has the staying power of a UPN sitcom. The Sixers have hired four coaches in the last two years. New Jersey's Larry Frank is now the "dean" of Eastern Conference coaches, and he doesn't even shave yet. Brown isn't a vagabond. He just knows when to get out. And if his health won't allow him to coach next year (he has said that if he is healthy, he'll coach in Detroit in '05-06) then he should go to Cleveland and enjoy trying to trade all of his players every two weeks, or whenever he gets angry at them.
The Cavaliers will love him.
Until those "sources" start talking again.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: At last weekend's NCAA lacrosse championships in Philadelphia, fans were allowed to bring thousands of lacrosse sticks into Lincoln Financial Field but couldn't carry in a bottle of water. Safety concern? Maybe, although what's more dangerous, a 12-ounce bottle of Aquafina or a four-foot stick? It's more like the Philadelphia Eagles, the stadium landlord, wanted to make $3.50 a bottle on a hot, sunny day. Fan-gouging at its finest. ... That Robby Gordon is a real pip. First he says he wouldn't race against Danica Patrick, because she's too "light." Then, he recants his story. Couldn't be that he doesn't think women should be racing, could it? Sounds like he needs a couple weeks at the Kirk Reynolds Sensitivity Training Institute.
AND ANOTHER THING: Here's hoping David Cutcliffe makes a swift and complete recovery from triple bypass surgery and is back coaching next season. Cutcliffe, who was fired by Mississippi in a classless move one year after leading the Rebels to their first double-digit win total in 32 years and posting a 44-29 record, was hired by new Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis to assist with the offense. Cutcliffe was expected to help turn quarterback Brady Quinn and his successors into standouts, as he had done with Peyton Manning at Tennessee and his brother, Eli, at Mississippi. But Cutcliffe announced Wednesday that he has not completed the rehabilitation process after surgery and won't be able to coach in '05. It's another tough break for a great coach and first-class person. Get well soon, David. We look forward to seeing you back on a staff in '06.