Brown saga has no villain

Does it always have to be about a villain? Doesn't always, no. Larry Brown could walk away from the Detroit Pistons in a scenario that actually lacks a bad guy. It sounds ludicrous, of course, and there's no way it would be allowed to be portrayed as such. But it happens as often as not.

As Brown meets with Pistons president Joe Dumars and owner Bill Davidson, it's a great time to get our necks up above the waterline and take a look around. Let's do it.

Larry Brown (a) is 64 years old, not 44; (b) has been sick; (c) has been hurting physically; and (d) already threw down his "I love you, guys" speech for the Pistons during their recently completed NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Brown may or may not actually care about doing anything with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but then again his serial wanderlust couldn't come as a surprise to anyone by now. This is a man who says he wants to coach only in Detroit and can't understand why nobody believes him. At the same time, Brown already had gotten far enough along in negotiations to become the Cavs's team president to have contract details -- such as the whole private-jet-to-Philly thing -- already locked into place.

And you know what? Brown still doesn't have to be the bad guy.

Oh, he's an easy caricature, and at this point in his career it's obvious he always will be. Larry can't get out of his own way on this stuff. He will forever remain one comment removed from a controversy that leaves him, frankly, bewildered and saddened and stunned.

But, look, there's a value in knowing when to go. There is a value on either side in knowing how far the road actually runs. The smart ones figure out that distance, even if it leaves them surprised it's so short. This just in: No one disputes that Larry Brown is smart.

Years back, a baseball manager for whom I had a high respect told me that, with a rare exception, most coaches and managers were probably good for four or five really productive years on a job, maybe six.

"That's a couple of years to ramp up and a couple more to run with it," the manager said. "After that, they've heard every speech you've got."

That may not be precisely true, but it's undeniable the good ones know when to go. The good coaches know when a thing has run its course. They may stay on beyond the expiration date, but it's usually stealing money at that point, coasting on what has already been accomplished. At some point, even with rosters that almost always include new faces annually, you're just played out.

I don't know if Brown's act is played out with the Pistons' regulars, although they sure appeared to shrug enough times on the subject of Brown during the NBA Finals. Two years seems like a short time. Then again, this is Larry Brown.

The Brown opera in Detroit hasn't been like his other stops, because none of them included the specter of the man's failing physically. Dumars, whatever his differences with Brown over who has control of the company jewels, certainly never counted on the fact that Brown might be too ill to coach, or too hurt -- or just too tired.

But it happens. It really does. Brown might go off for a year into a silly, ill-fitting front office job like the one in Cleveland for his health as much as anything. He looks incredibly weary -- not too weary to stop campaigning for himself, but weary all the same -- and this could be one of those cases in which, Brown's history notwithstanding, he makes a move because he simply needs the R and R.

And if he does? He's a man who leaves Detroit with years remaining on his contract, true. He's also the coach who leaves having taken the Pistons to back-to-back NBA Finals and seen his team win one of them. It's no black or white image with Brown; it's a little of both. Almost like life, really.

It's so much easier in a situation like this to turn Brown into a cartoon, paint a clown face on him and tie a target to his back. Heaven knows that Larry Brown has done enough, said enough, maneuvered enough, oil-slicked enough and plaintively wailed enough to have long ago exhausted his collective benefit of the doubt with the public and, especially, the media.

I'm not sure this is the case. I'm not persuaded this is the time. Larry Brown and political intrigue go hand in glove, it's true, and his differences with Dumars (over control) and Davidson (over Brown's constant flirtation with whatever job happens to come open elsewhere in the world) could make a détente impossible - none of which means he won't leave the Pistons simply because it is time to go. Every once in a while, that is exactly the right decision at exactly the right moment.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at mkreidler@sacbee.com