LeBron's future would be shaky in Larry's hands

Updated: June 6, 2005, 11:13 AM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Mr. Play The Right Way should be absolutely ashamed.

Ashamed of himself for letting his latest bout of wanderlust encroach on the Detroit Pistons' attempt to repeat as NBA champions, in the heart of a playoff run.

Larry Brown
While Brown is just three wins away from a return to the Finals, his thoughts seem a million miles away.

As for the Cleveland Cavaliers ...

They should simply be mortified.

Flat-out freaked out by the path they're apparently choosing.

Dan Gilbert has endured considerable criticism since buying the Cavaliers from Gordon Gund, some of it unwarranted.

But this?

Gilbert's obsessive pursuit of Larry Brown as the man to run the Cavs' front office and assemble a title-contending team around LeBron James – and not coach it – warrants the loudest possible criticism.

For it's one of the most ridiculous ideas I've ever heard ... and that's excluding all the issues of propriety.

Larry Brown cannot be an effective personnel chief in the NBA. He can't be. He won't be. He sours on players far too quickly to be a levelheaded talent evaluator. He is chronically, famously fickle.

Clevelanders are concerned that LeBron might bolt in free agency in a few years?

If Larry is their general manager, Gilbert and the locals are advised to be far more concerned that Brown might try to ship LeBron somewhere before next February's trade deadline.

That's no joke. That's Larry. That's how he is.

As a strategist, he's one of the best ever. He's bettered every team he's ever coached, and many of those teams nose-dived as soon as he left. The Hall of Famer didn't need that NBA championship last spring to be regarded as one of the all-time X-and-O greats. He already had an NCAA title, remember.

Yet there are reasons Brown never won a title until he got to Detroit, and the list of reasons is not limited to tough competition and Brown's penchant for grating on even his stars. In just about every stop except Indiana, where the ever-shrewd Donnie Walsh maintained control of personnel matters, Brown has had too much front-office input.

It's bad enough that his daily demands have worn down some of the most coachable stars in recent memory: David Robinson, Reggie Miller and Danny Manning, to name three. Yet it only adds to the negativity swirling around Brown's teams that he's always pushing harder for trades than any of his bench brethren. Once wind of that gets back to the players ...

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

In Detroit, though, Joe Dumars is too smart to let Larry have that kind of sway. Dumars invited Larry to coach the Pistons, for good money, and told him that coaching is all he'd be doing. Brown has been successful with the Pistons largely because Dumars – like Walsh was in Indy – is strong and smart enough to make the right roster moves while defusing Brown's moodiness.

Even so, Dumars has been forced to undertake considerable refereeing this season. Brown has been linked with new jobs all season – Knicks, Lakers and now Cavs – and insiders say the constant speculation cost Brown the support of his veterans months ago. When the Pistons win now, team sources say that it's often in spite of Brown. The vets are fed up with the speculation and have been known to use it as fuel.

At this stage, though, daily rumors of Brown's supposed deal with the Cavs threaten to become more distraction than fuel source. Now, when the Pistons need desperately to pull together against surging Miami, they're inevitably wondering instead whether the coach has already mentally left them for Lake Erie.

I say let him go. I say let Brown go right now if he wants to leave. I say Dumars should plead with Chuck Daly to take over as interim coach for the rest of the playoffs, and then bring in Flip Saunders to start developing Darko Milicic as a contributor to support the best starting five in the East.

Let Larry go to Cleveland and start mucking up a divisional rival that has the potential to be scary someday, just because LeBron is there. Let Larry go to Cleveland and hover over poor Mike Brown, the new coach-elect. And he will, which is yet another aspect of the Larry hire that makes such little sense for the Cavs.

They've just committed to Mike Brown, a promising 35-year-old getting his first head-coaching opportunity, to succeed the veteran Paul Silas as LeBron's second full-time coach. Problem is, if the Cavs start slowly, how long do you think it'll take before fans or media types or Larry himself starts wondering – loudly – why the elder Brown isn't doing what he does best? Coaching.

It's probably bad enough for Mike Brown to know that, at the very least, he can expect constant second-guessing from his boss.

All of the above, incidentally, doesn't even account for the fact that Larry and LeBron didn't have the best time together last summer at the Athens Olympics and thus have a relationship to repair.

It doesn't feel good at all to be so critical of a man who does have legitimate health issues. The complications stemming from Brown's recent hip surgeries are sufficiently real and serious enough to force him out of the coaching business after this season, at least for a while.

Yet Larry has no business working in the team-building business, now or later, in Cleveland or anywhere else. Not when the Pistons are still in the playoffs, and not after.

So...

Brown owes a string of apologies to Pistons players, coaches and staffers – and fans.

As for Gilbert? If Larry is his team prez, trust me. You'll see.

Bank on a zillion regrets for the billionaire.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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