News conference planned for Thursday
The waiting game paid off for Flip Saunders, who kept hearing throughout the spring and summer that Larry Brown might not be coming back to coach the Detroit Pistons.
Saunders and the Pistons reached agreement Wednesday on a four-year, $20 million contract, making him head coach of the team that Brown took to the NBA Finals each of the past two seasons.
Roughly 24 hours after finalizing the terms of Brown's $7 million severance package, the Pistons agreed to terms with Saunders, the former Timberwolves coach who was fired by Minnesota in February after 9½ seasons.
The hiring of Saunders and the terms of his contract were confirmed by three league sources who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the financial information and the team's plans to announce the hiring at a news conference Thursday.
Saunders, a candidate in recent weeks for vacant NBA coaching jobs in New York, Cleveland and Milwaukee, will presumably explain how much he knew, and when, about the likelihood of Brown's departure.
For certain, there were financial factors at play that allowed Saunders to be patient -- namely the Timberwolves' obligation to pay him more than $5 million for the upcoming season. His deal with Detroit will be worth four times that amount at a minimum, with incentives that could add more than $6 million.
The Pistons also had an interest in former Seattle coach Nate McMillan, who decided not to wait out the protracted proceedings between Brown and the Pistons and chose instead to take the head coaching job with the Portland Trail Blazers.
|“||There was too much Larry Brown and not enough Pistons. I wasn't happy with that. ”|
|— Pistons owner Bill Davidson|
Brown, meanwhile, spoke with Knicks president Isiah Thomas as the first step in New York's courtship of the well-traveled 64-year-old coach. Brown's agent, Joe Glass, said he expected his client to choose his next career move in a couple of weeks.
The New York Daily News reported the Knicks were prepared to offer Brown as much as $60 million over five years.
"It's too soon to have any discussions along those lines. The ink hasn't even dried yet [on his severance package from the Pistons]," Glass said. "I'm hoping he'll take advantage of the time off, relax, refresh and revitalize."
The Knicks' pursuit of Brown will result in a longer period of limbo for interim coach Herb Williams, who guided the team over the final 43 games of the 2004-05 season after Lenny Wilkens was fired. Williams' head coaching contract expires July 31, though he remains under contract to the Knicks as an assistant coach for the upcoming season.
Saunders had the second-longest tenure among NBA coaches before he was fired, second to Jerry Sloan, who has coached the Utah Jazz since 1988.
Saunders had a record of 411-326 with the Timberwolves and helped turn one of the NBA's most lackluster franchises into a contender.
He led the Timberwolves to eight straight postseason appearances, but that included seven first-round exits before the breakthrough to the Western Conference finals two seasons ago.
Last season, the Timberwolves struggled over the first three months of the season under Saunders and ended up missing the playoffs under interim coach Kevin McHale.
Brown guided the Pistons to the NBA championship in 2004 and came within one victory of repeating this year. Throughout the season, Brown -- who underwent hip replacement surgery that led to a problem with his bladder -- insisted he would return to the Pistons if doctors deemed him healthy enough.
Pistons owner Bill Davidson provided some insight into Brown's departure in an interview with WDIV-TV.
Brown had spoken during the spring with the Cleveland Cavaliers about possibly becoming team president, and he also told the New York Post in the middle of last season that coaching the Knicks would be a "dream job."
Asked whether Brown's actions angered him, Davidson said: "I think a better word is peeved. You're certainly not happy when something like that happens."
Parting ways with Brown "was kind of easy," Davidson said. "There was too much Larry Brown and not enough Pistons. I wasn't happy with that. You've got to understand that whoever coaches the Pistons represents me. And I'm not going to give [the team and their fans] somebody that's not a good person."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press