A coach in waiting: Is Larry lurking in Philly?
PHILADELPHIA -- Pay no attention to that Hall of Famer behind the curtain upstairs with 1,010 career victories.
He is not the coach in waiting. He is not the man who will eventually replace Maurice Cheeks on the bench and Billy King in the front-office suite.
Larry Brown is not lurking. That's not with a capital N.
Who says so?
Despite the way things look from the outside, all those nots represent the view of Comcast-Spectacor chairman and 76ers owner Ed Snider.
"I don't think he's a 900-pound elephant in the corner," Snider told ESPN.com. "He's a good basketball man, and we're glad to have him in the organization."
Brown is entering his second season as the Sixers' executive vice president, a job in which he gathers in boardrooms and offices with members of the Sixers' scouting and coaching departments, provides his input and then heads home -- no doubt wondering on the drive home from time to time where and when he'll land his next head coaching job.
He interviewed with Memphis after last season and was on the periphery for the Sacramento Kings job, though he later said he believed Kings president Geoff Petrie already had his mind made up to hire Reggie Theus by the time the call to Brown was placed. There was an opportunity for an assistant's position behind Doc Rivers in Boston, another situation in which he would have seemed to be lurking, and he also reportedly turned down the head coaching spot at Princeton.
So when the summer ended and every NBA and college head coaching position was filled, Brown stayed tucked quietly away in Philadelphia with his wife, son and daughter and set upon beginning his second straight season without a whistle around his neck.
The perception for many inside and outside Philadelphia was that when Brown came aboard, he had his sights set on Cheeks' job. Less than a year later, Cheeks and King are both entering the final year of their contracts.
"I don't care how people see him, it's not true. We don't need a coach in waiting," Snider said. "The bottom line is, we don't have to have Larry working for us to be a coach in waiting. We could call him on the phone any time we wanted if he were sitting at home."
After Snider's failed attempt to sell the franchise was followed by last season's midseason trade of Allen Iverson to Denver, he is now entering Year 1 of what he calls a three-year plan to rebuild the 76ers into championship contenders.
Philadelphia is one of the most popular picks to finish with the NBA's worst record, and Snider concedes it is "very difficult" to market a three-year plan to a fan base that often seems to treat King's eventual firing as the next big step forward for the franchise.
Snider, however, is one of the league's most loyal owners (heck, Snider remained friendly enough with Brown to rehire him after their less-than-amicable breakup in 2003), and King says he has absolutely no worries about whether he'll be around next fall.
"If I felt that way [in job jeopardy], we would have drafted differently and done other things differently," King said. "We've put a plan in place, so we know it's not going to happen overnight, and we're building. I've acknowledged that I've made mistakes, but I've learned from them. But when you're in the position I am, you're going to be criticized."
The No. 1 mistake still sitting on King's ledger is center Samuel Dalembert, whose potential was rewarded with a six-year, $64 million contract (which still has four years remaining, and includes a 7.5 percent trade kicker) that he has not lived up to.
Negotiations on a contract extension for Andre Iguodala have been ongoing since summer, and progress either has or has not been made, depending on who you believe.
Iguodala's agent said there has been a steady progression over the course of three face-to-face negotiating sessions, whereas Snider said, "I don't know that any progress is being made, but we're hoping we can make progress. We've made our offer, they've made their counteroffer, and so far they don't match."
Philadelphia was one of the league's little-noticed surprises late last season, going 18-11 after the All-Star break to finish with 35 victories, securing for Cheeks the chance to go into the final year of his coaching contract with a fair shot to earn himself a new deal. With expectations low, a .500 season might do it for him.
"I go out and try to do the best I can, and then look at the results. That's the best I can do," said Cheeks, who said he regularly solicits advice from Brown, but has not had his territory infringed upon by Brown.
In fact, Cheeks said Brown has not once stepped onto the court to offer a pointer to either a coach or a player, instead staying behind the scenes and in the background.
"He's a very respectful guy, understands about a coach's authority, and he's very respectful of that," Cheeks said.
Said Iguodala: "I really don't talk to him much. I say, 'Hi, coach, how ya doing?' That's pretty much it. I don't pay him any mind, so if he is doing anything, I don't see it, so I don't know."
Nobody who knows Brown expects him to stay in a front-office job for the rest of this career, but what his coaching future holds remains a mystery. Brown declined to be interviewed for this article.
Brown's reputation has been tarnished by his less-than-amicable departures from Detroit and New York, but the interest from Sacramento -- where Brown believed the Kings were well-enough equipped as presently constituted to compete for the West title this season -- and Memphis showed that potential employers are still willing to kick his tires. The book on Brown is that he remains best-suited to take over an underachieving veteran team, which lends further credence to Snider's insistence that Brown is not the coach in waiting for a Sixers team going into a youth movement.
"He's a regular employee of the organization, just like any other executive would be. He's very active. He works with Billy, talks with Mo, he's part of our organization, and yes, I think he'll be more visible this season -- although he hasn't been invisible to me," Snider said.
"I talk to him all the time. When we had our draft he was sitting in the room with us, he was a part of the process, and he was a major part of the process when we made the Allen Iverson trade. He's a part of our organization. Obviously he'd be more visible as a coach, but he's an executive in the organization. No question he's a famous man, but he's in a different capacity."
But how long will he stay in that capacity in Philly? Could he stand two more years before a possible move downstairs for Year 3 of the three-year plan?
Or is he just waiting and hoping for the next open NBA coaching job? He isn't a coach now, and they say he won't be a coach in Philly, but given his history, you have to imagine he'll end up on a sideline somewhere.
Larry Brown, after all, is a coach. A silent coach for now, but a coach nonetheless.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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