Special to Page 2
SAN ANTONIO Here, at the NBA Finals, Larry Brown garners about as much respect from members of the media as Darko Milicic, the youngster driving the wedge between Brown and the Pistons organization.
Yes, it's true. Darko, the 7-foot teenager Joe Dumars fell in love with before the 2003 draft, will go down in history as the boy who cost Detroit three potential Hall of Famers Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Larry Brown.
Here, at the NBA Finals, my peers in the media are reluctant to draw the obvious connection. Brown has the Pistons on the brink of a second straight championship, and no one thinks it's odd that Dumars and Pistons owner Bill Davidson aren't willing to do everything within their power to retain the game's greatest mind and keep this budding dynasty together. No one thinks the Pistons were foolish for granting the Cavs permission to talk to Brown.
It's easier to just assume, given Brown's history of constant movement, that Larry Brown would much rather be president of the Cavaliers or Isiah Thomas' $10-million-a-year savior in New York. To assume that Larry really wants to be president of the Cavs is downright silly. He's a coach. The flirtation with Dan Gilbert is nothing more than an emergency health plan and, more important, a push for additional leverage.
Leverage with whom is the only question.
Here, at the NBA Finals, it seems quite plausible that Brown wanted the leverage to use in his Dumars wrestling match, a scrum that revolves around the little-used, constantly confused and butt-of-joke-abused Milicic.
Darko, the new millennium Sam Bowie, is the lone blemish on Dumars' otherwise spotless résumé as an NBA executive. Dumars wants the blemish removed, and he wants it erased immediately Dumars wants Darko on the court. Brown, who loathes young players, is standing in the way of popping the Darko pimple. Brown, therefore, must be squeezed, popped and eradicated too.
To that end, Dumars, his front-office henchmen and media puppets have systematically used Brown's history of moves, visible insecurities and high-maintenance tendencies as handy tools to paint Larry, first, as an impediment to this year's championship, and now, in obvious desperation after the Pistons dug out from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits, as a stumbling block in a potential threepeat.
|I realize Brown hasn't been the most loyal coach, so he makes it difficult for an organization to show him loyalty. But sports, particularly professional sports, are all about results. Brown's results should buy him loyalty. The Pistons are not going to find a better coach.|
Brown has been getting creamed by the Detroit media all season. When he was slow to come back from midseason hip surgery, rumors swirled that the Pistons wanted to replace him.
"I actually heard I was going to be fired," Brown told me.
A column in the Detroit Free Press that dealt with the Cleveland affair called Brown "a liar" and never even attempted to back up the allegation. When it looked as though the Pistons were going to lose to the Heat, members of the media claimed that Brown's "negotiations" with the Cavaliers caused the Detroit players to tune him out. When the Pistons fell behind 0-2 in the Finals largely because Ben Wallace was a no-show, Sports Illustrated reported that a "source" within the Pistons organization said Ben-zilla's play was affected by the Brown distraction.