Knicks fire Brown, name Thomas new coach

Updated: June 23, 2006, 9:33 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Larry Brown is no longer the NBA's dead man walking. His "dream job" as coach of the New York Knicks is over, finally ending what may have been the most drawn-out firing in sports history.

Sheridan: It's Zeke's team now
Going into this morning's meeting, James Dolan was actually prepared to retain Larry Brown as coach despite the organization's silence over the past month after it was first reported that Brown was on his way out and Isiah Thomas would replace him, but the owner did not receive the assurances he wanted from Brown that he would change his ways in the upcoming season.

One of the unreported details of how the rift between Thomas and Brown grew last season was that Thomas felt he was being undermined by Brown in trade talks when the coach would call people he knew on teams the Knicks were speaking with and would propose trades of his own.

For more of Chris Sheridan's analysis on the Larry Brown firing, click here .

Now Isiah Thomas gets the job of coaching the overpriced, underachieving roster he created.

The Knicks put Brown out of his coaching misery Thursday, ending weeks of uncertainty by firing the Hall of Fame coach and replacing him with Thomas, the team president and general manager.

"I'm disappointed, I love this franchise, but I didn't do what I was paid to do," Brown told The New York Post. "I didn't do the job. I wish them well and I move on.

"I had a great opportunity, I love this franchise, they feel I didn't do what I came to do," Brown said. "I mean, I won 23 games."

Brown has four years and a reported $40 million left on his deal and told the Post he thinks he deserves the balance, but he may have to fight to see all of it. The Knicks are expected to claim they're not obligated to pay the full contract.

"I won't discuss the contract terms with anybody," said Joe Glass, Brown's longtime agent. "The contract stands on its own two feet."

With no financial settlement reached, ESPN.com has learned that a clause in Brown's contract designates NBA commissioner David Stern as the arbitrator of any financial dispute between the sides, meaning the final chapter of this drama has yet to play out.

In Brown's lone season in New York, the Knicks stumbled to a 23-59 record -- second worst in the NBA and matching the most losses in club history. But Brown's public feud with Stephon Marbury and criticism of other players may have angered owner James Dolan more than the losing.

"Larry has had a long and storied career. We hired him last summer with the expectation that he would be with the Knicks for a long time," Dolan said in a statement. "Sometimes decisions work and sometimes they don't.

"After careful consideration, despite the best intentions from everyone involved, this current structure did not work for us last season and I did not think it was going to improve next season."

The day after the season ended, Thomas said Brown would return next season. But less than a month later, reports surfaced that Dolan was looking to buy out Brown's contract.

Glass had said he wouldn't accept a buyout, so the Knicks began biding their time. That created an awkward situation in which Brown -- who called himself a "dead man walking" because of the uncertainty -- was running the Knicks' workouts of draft prospects without knowing his ultimate role.

Larry Brown timeline
Years Team Record
'72-74 Carolina Cougars 104-64
'74-79 Denver Nuggets 251-134
'79-81 UCLA Bruins 42-17
'81-83 New Jersey Nets 91-67
'83-88 Kansas Jayhawks 135-44
'88-91 San Antonio Spurs 153-131
'91-93 Los Angeles Clippers 64-53
'93-97 Indiana Pacers 190-138
'97-03 Philadelphia 76ers 255-205
'03-05 Detroit Pistons 108-56
'05-06 New York Knicks 23-59

"No one in our organization is happy with last season and we all accept responsibility for our performance," Thomas said in the statement. "This has been a difficult time for the entire organization and our fans.

"Larry Brown is a great coach, but for various reasons, bringing him to the Knicks did not turn out the way we had hoped and we wish him the best in the future."

It's the second straight ugly ending for Brown, who was bought out by the Pistons last season despite leading Detroit to the finals in both seasons there, winning the title in 2004.

The Knicks then gave the Brooklyn native what he called his "dream job" with hopes that he could return his hometown team to the playoffs. Instead, New York had one of the most embarrassing seasons in franchise history, and Brown barely surpassed the 21-61 mark he had with the San Antonio Spurs in 1988-89 that is his worst as an NBA coach.

The bickering with Marbury -- a favorite of Thomas and Dolan -- just added to the chaos. Brown and Marbury clashed when Brown coached the U.S. team in the 2004 Olympics, and the relationship was closely watched from the moment Brown arrived in New York.

Their next public feud, played out almost entirely in the media, began in March.

Brown's worst seasons as NBA coach
Team Record Season w/team Next season with team
'88-89 Spurs 21-61 First 56-26*
'05-06 Knicks 23-59 First Fired
'97-98 76ers 31-51 First 28-22*
*Made playoffs

Marbury vowed to shoot more freely next season, saying Brown's team-oriented offense wasn't leading to enough wins. Brown fired back that Marbury already had enough freedom and should do what was best for the team, and the back-and-forth continued for four days before Brown pulled Marbury aside to settle it.

Marbury did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone.

And one New York player, who did not want his name used for fear of reprisal, said members of the team were instructed that all comments on the matter were to come through the Knicks' public relations department.

Throughout last season, Knicks players said they were confused about their roles with the team, as Brown used more than 40 different starting lineups, easily the most in the league. Thomas acquired Steve Francis and Jalen Rose during the season, but neither made much impact.

The use of Francis was particularly questionable, because it was expected that he would start alongside Marbury in the backcourt. Instead, he frequently came off the bench while Brown tried to decide if he was better suited to being the point guard or shooting guard.

Still, Thomas said he would try to get Brown the kind of players he wanted to improve the team next season. Instead, the Knicks decided it would be easier to change the coach than overhaul the roster.

Isiah Thomas Coaching Record
Season Team Record Playoffs
'00-01 Pacers 41-41 1-3
'01-02 Pacers 42-40 2-3
'02-03 Pacers 48-34 2-4
TOTAL 131-115 5-10

That role now falls to Thomas, who has a winning record as an NBA coach but has been ridiculed for his performance since joining the Knicks' front office in December 2003.

Despite a payroll that soared well past $120 million this season, the Knicks missed the playoffs for the second straight year. They haven't won a postseason game since 2001 and don't even have what would have been the No. 2 pick in Wednesday's draft because Thomas included it in the trade with Chicago for center Eddy Curry.

Thomas was coach of the Indiana Pacers for three seasons through 2002-03, compiling a 131-115 record and leading them to the playoffs in each season before he was fired when Larry Bird took control of the basketball decisions.

Thomas becomes the Knicks' fifth coach in the last three years. Don Chaney left during the 2003-04 season, and was followed by Lenny Wilkens and Herb Williams before Brown.

Brown coached the Pistons to the NBA title in the 2003-04 season. He missed 17 games the following year with the Pistons because of hip replacement surgery. That led to a bladder problem that required surgery.

Brown is 1,010-800 in 23 seasons as an NBA coach, making previous stops in Denver, New Jersey, San Antonio, the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana, Philadelphia and Detroit. He also coached four seasons in the ABA and won a national championship with Kansas in 1988.

Will he add another team? He told the Post he's not going to coach next year.

"We haven't discussed that," Glass said. "This just happened today. It's been rumored by sources, by the Knicks organization, for 40 days."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.