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Knicks fire Brown, name Thomas new coach

6/23/2006 - NBA New York Knicks

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.

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.

"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.

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.

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.