Anyone following this past season for the New York Knicks is bound to be suffering from an upset stomach right about now. It’s a wonder that head coach Larry Brown has survived as long as he has.
Brown has not been on the Knicks' sideline since late in the third quarter of a loss at Cleveland last week. He left the arena on a gurney, looking pale, after a bout of acid reflux. Brown has not been with the team since, and Knicks officials have given no update on his health. Brown has given no indication as to whether he will return to the bench for the season finale against New Jersey, or next season.
Knicks coach Larry Brown has missed three straight games after being hospitalized for a stomach ailment. (AP Photo)
Sound familiar, Pistons fans?
Larry Brown has certainly been something of an enigma over his coaching career. He is the fourth-winningest coach in NBA history, and generally considered to be one of the game’s best teachers ever. Brown was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. However, he has been a vagabond throughout his career. Brown has coached for eight NBA teams, two ABA teams, and two NCAA teams in the past 33 years.
Rumor has it that he keeps a suitcase packed in his office at all times – ready to move on to the next city… always keeping an eye out for that next great job to open up.
Last season with the Pistons, Brown missed 17 games after having hip surgery and later developing a bladder condition. These mounting health problems, as well as swirling rumors of continued wanderlust by Brown, prompted the Pistons to release Brown from his contract.
As yes… the constant rumors…
First, there was the discussions with Cleveland, who offered Brown the opportunity to take over as the Cavaliers’ team president if his health became an issue with coaching.
Then the Knicks entered the picture. Isiah Thomas made no secret that he was very interested in bringing Brown to New York. Brown certainly did nothing to dispute the rumors. In a press conference during the Pistons’ playoff run, Brown called the Knicks head coaching position “a dream job.”
There were many who followed the saga as it unfolded last season for Brown and the Pistons who felt that Brown’s personal agenda and ego loomed larger on the Pistons’ minds than anyone on the Spurs ever could have. Despite what he constantly preached to the players, it was Brown who acted selfishly, instead of fitting himself into a role for the team. Many felt it was these public distractions that ultimately led to Detroit’s inability to repeat as NBA champs.
Brown is in the first season of a five-year, $50 million contract. However, the Knicks are protected financially if Brown is forced to resign for medical reasons. Brown would receive a large payout, but nothing near the $40 million he still is owed. Brown also would be free to coach somewhere else next season.
Before being hospitalized, Brown said on several occasions that he has every intention of returning. Garden chairman James Dolan and team president Isiah Thomas have voiced similar feelings about Brown, but their thinking could change when they factor in the Knicks' record, Brown's public criticisms of several players and Brown's health concerns. This wasn’t Brown’s first trip to the hospital this season, however. He has hospitalized in February, before a game at Memphis because of chest pains. The issue turned out to be indigestion and Brown recovered in time to coach.
Before he took ill, Brown promised the roster will change this summer as he attempts to bring in more players with a defensive mindset and a willingness to accept roles. He knows that the Knicks need to eliminate a “me-first” mentality which currently permeates the team’s roster and play more united as a team.
All eyes this summer will be on Stephon Marbury - just as they were from the moment Brown got the job.
Though Brown praised his point guard's play earlier in the season, their bickering in the media almost seemed inevitable. Marbury's score-first mentality is a style that Brown has never liked, going all the way back to when they were together on the U.S. Olympic team in 2004. Many feel that if the Knicks are to succeed, “Starbury” needs to be eliminated from the roster.
Brown feels that there are some strong pieces on the Knicks’ roster. Jamal Crawford and rookie Channing Frye give the team a nucleus that he believes management will grow the team around.
"I've got an owner who is committed to do what's right and a general manager committed to do what he thinks is right, so we'll figure it out," Brown said. "We've already made a lot of progress in that regard."
However, the prospect of trying to rebuild a severely-fractured team may turn out to be more than Brown can stomach.
Don’t be too surprised if he turns up in another city next season.