Basketball’s Benedict Arnold could be on the move again
By Adam Hoff
For years, Larry Brown was viewed in the same light as a pet rattlesnake: handle with caution. Always a good game coach, Brown found a way to burn one bridge after another thanks to his incredible abilities to alienate people and change addresses. Calling it wanderlust is treating the situation with kid gloves. Saying that he’s abrasive and stubborn is like calling George Steinbrenner “controlling.” It doesn’t quite do it justice. Brown has always made his new teams better through solid coaching and teaching, but just as often, he leaves them in ruins – a smoldering ash heap of severed relationships, muddied goals, and burdensome contracts. While the old team tries to pick up the pieces, Brown is skating off to a new and improved roster. Always chasing the greener grass.
Then his Detroit Pistons won the NBA title and all we heard about was “playing the right way.” Even the debacle in Athens didn’t take the luster off of Larry Brown’s star. Now though, the old Larry is back. He made a comment earlier this year that he wanted to coach in New York. He was involved in speculation that he’d be a candidate in LA. Now he’s spoken with the Cleveland Cavaliers about the possibility of taking a job as their team president. He has been reported to have accepted that position. It is a mistake for Brown to be doing this while his team is in the middle of a playoff run. It is a bigger mistake for the Cavs to be interested at all.
I know that he acted mad today and took a few shots at reporters, but that was just – as my old boss used to say – a “dog and pony show.” If Larry Brown really wanted to get righteous and make everyone feel bad for jumping the gun, there was just one thing he needed to say. One thing to make Chad Ford retract his report. That one thing is: “I’m not going to Cleveland.” But alas, he didn’t say that, which leads one to consider that the reports are quite possibly true. So I’m ignoring the sanctimonious pre-game comments and going ahead with my column as planned.
The most puzzling thing about all of this drama is that the Cavs want to hire this guy to be their team president. The vagabond without a single loyal bone in his body and that’s the guy they pick to build a franchise. Nice call, Dan Gilbert, I’m sure this is going to work out very well. Brown is proven to dine-and-dash at every stop, which makes him a gamble as an employee at any level, but in particular, he is a horrible choice as a team president. He gives up on players, refuses to embrace styles in opposition to his own, and he simply cannot look at things from a long term perspective. Not only that, but he treated LeBron James like a dog at the Olympics last year; subjecting the NBA’s new best player to Brown’s favorite head games and cold shoulder routines. So you can get even more specific and add in the fact that he’s a horrible choice to be the Cavs’ president.
And all of that doesn’t even consider the other team in the equation. I won’t spend much time here, because plenty of people are piling on for his abandon ship routine, but this is important because it should serve as a huge red flag to the Cavs. I can understand Brown wanting to move away from coaching for health reasons. He not only has that right, but almost the obligation to his family and friends to keep himself healthy. However, he has to do that after the season. If he can’t coach now, he needs to step aside. But if he can, then he needs to stick to the script and keep his eyes on the road. I mean, we are taking about his supposedly beloved Pistons. The team that “played the right way” to the tune of Brown’s first NBA title last summer. Where is his loyalty? Where is the commitment to the 12 players trying to defend their title? For anyone to even talk about skipping out on their contract in the middle of the playoffs is shaky at best. To actually agree to accept another position (as has been reported) is a sham. Again, I don’t mind if he wants to walk after the season, but he’s got to put his own desires aside until his team’s run is over. Whether this major distraction affects his coaching or his team’s focus remains to be seen, but we shouldn’t even be having this conversation.
Okay, enough about that. Again, the more compelling story here is how brutal this choice is from a purely basketball perspective. Set aside the 99% certainty that he will bail out in midstream and leave you holding the bag, just consider what an awful executive he is going to make. Let me count the ways.
First of all, he has no patience and no flexibility. Last time I checked, these were pretty much the keys to being a good GM or president in the NBA. There are so many young players and so many disparate styles that it takes time to find the right mix, to let things grow. Just look at the way that things came together for the Wizards this year. Arenas and Jamison were added each of the last two seasons to team with Larry Hughes and it paid off with a trip to the playoffs. Under Larry Brown, Hughes would have never have been around to make that happen. Brendan Haywood would have been discarded. Juan Dixon would never have made the roster due to his inability to dominate defensively. In short, Washington would just have kept turning the roster over and over, remaining somewhere between terrible and mediocre. Brown’s complete lack of patience will not allow a team to grow in this day and age. Not only that, but we’ve already seen that Gilbert has no patience whatsoever. I feel awful for any player or coach that has the misfortune to work for that duo. They might as well sit on chopping blocks instead of chairs while on the bench.
The next area of Brown’s personality that is a complete mismatch for the position is his stubbornness. Look, the Sixers are my favorite team, so I can safely announce that Brown is the most stubborn man in the NBA. For four years he had the game’s most unstoppable one-on-one player and the freedom to make all the personnel moves … yet he never brought in one single outside shooter. How hard was that to figure out? Just look at the success that Kyle Korver had playing with Iverson this year – pairing a pure shooter with AI was probably the easiest personnel move to identify in recent history. Instead, Brown loaded the roster with guys like Eric Snow – players that supposedly “played the right way.” As long as your version of “the right way” doesn’t include knocking down jump shots. Brown has always been an opponent of the three-point shot because it’s not old school enough for him. So rather than adapt to the times and improve his team with some shooting, he stubbornly refused to make the Sixers better. In essence, he sacrificed the success of his team in favor of his own agenda and ego.
I know that you are thinking of the Pistons right now and noting that they have a few solid threats from beyond the arch, but remember that Brown had (and has) nothing to do with the composition of that team. This is Joe Dumars’ team. Brown had the good fortune to join a well-rounded roster thanks to Pistons management that had been molded into a disciplined, hard-working group of professionals thanks to Rick Carlisle. I repeat, Brown had nothing to do with the makeup of the Pistons roster, so it doesn’t cut one way or the other in regard to his ability to build a team.
One team that he did have some influence on was the Olympic team. You remember that group, right? The one with LeBron on the bench. With Amare playing mop-up minutes. I’m having a hard time remembering, what was the biggest problem with that roster again? Oh yeah, no shooting! When Marbury is playing the 2 and Iverson is your best pure shooter, you know you are in trouble. There were rumors flying around about guys that would have played for another coach, guys that could shoot. There were other rumors that shooters were to set to be added to the roster, only to have Brown put a stop to that. But those are just rumors. One story that isn’t a rumor is the fact that the basketball committee wanted to include Brad Miller on the team, wisely thinking it would be a good idea to add a big body and a guy that is automatic from 15-feet. Brown refused to allow him on the roster, claiming that he “didn’t like his game.” I think that tells you all you need to know about how stubborn this guy is. He wouldn’t even adapt his personal preferences for the good of his own country’s national team.
It seems clear to me that for all of Brown’s ability as a coach, for all his good work teaching the game, he absolutely has the worst possible makeup and outlook for an executive. If he had control of the Pistons, he would have traded Darko for Eric Snow and Carlos Delfino and a draft pick for Antonio Davis by now. Doesn’t sound like much? There goes your future. He has no incentive to think long term, because he’ll be out the door long before any shortsighted moves come home to roost.
If you are the Cavs, you simply cannot put the dream player, your ultimate investment, in the hands of someone like Brown. He’s bound to get mad one day and trade him, sending the Cavs back into basketball hell. Cleveland’s new coach, Mike Brown, will get the blame, the fans will get the raw end of the deal, and Brown will wander on to the next, better job. My advice to the Clearly Insane Dan Gilbert is to find someone who wants to be part of something special. Find someone that displays a commitment to LeBron’s future taking place in Cleveland. Find someone who wants to be the President of Basketball Operations for 10 years, not 10 months. Find someone that understands today’s game and isn’t living in the past. That doesn’t have a prejudice against international players. That will sign a guy like Kyle Korver because it makes perfect sense. That can look beyond his own egotistical view of how the game should be played.
In short, find somebody else. Anybody else.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning website WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.