Larry Brown: Destination Denver?
That was Larry Brown's record during his lone year as the Head Coach of the New York Knicks back in 2005-2006. A disaster of a season marred by public criticism on his part of particular Knick players, with similar return volleys from such overpaid, consistently losing ballers as Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury, that year was one Mr. Brown, the organization, and fans certainly want to forget. And while that ugly losing continues in Gotham under the dubious tutelage of a one Isiah Thomas, Mr. Brown has remained unemployed, and for the most part off the radar of certain NBA owners and GM's who are looking to make over their struggling organizations and start anew. That is, until recently.
Some rumors had surfaced last month that Brown could be headed to the Chicago Bulls. Those were quickly squashed by John Paxson, the general manager in Chi-town, once heralded and now highly questioned in a season gone awry. And that, along with Brown's historic tendency to get back into the game for his love of it if nothing else, has helped bring his name back to the forefront of those considered for any NBA head coaching vacancies coming season's end.
It was only a matter of time really. No great coach wants to go out at 23-59. No one who has led two different colleges to national title games, the second resulting in a championship at Kansas in 1988. No one who has led seven, yes seven, different NBA organizations to the postseason. No one who has led one of those recent teams, the Detroit Pistons, to an NBA title in his first season there in 2003-04 and just missed out on having back-to-back rings by losing a tightly contested game seven to the dynastical San Antonio Spurs.
As Christopher Plummer's character, 60 Minutes Mike Wallace, puts it in The Insider, the proud and aging often think, "How will I be regarded in the end?" And chances are, Larry Brown does not want to be remembered for his disastrous season in New York. No chance in hell. Chances also are that at his age, he doesn't want to walk into the Memphis Grizzlies of the world and start from scratch. Heck, let's be honest, okay? He probably just wants to win, win now, and leave in about three years like he's done just about everywhere he's gone. And to do that means he'd need to find a team who already has pieces to the puzzle, is fairly close to a ring, but not totally content with their current head coach. That list is not very long.
Mike Brown could easily be outdone in Cleveland. Avery Johnson's micromanagement, along with a horrendously bad trade to acquire Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitski's injury that's sending the Mavs' season into a tailspin, have the vultures circling overhead of Dallas as well. But no other place seems to make more sense because of their current situation than Denver.
The Denver Nuggets, a team who right now is on the outside looking in for the Western Conference playoffs, is a team in disarray. George Karl can't seem to reel in his players, buy into his philosophy, if he even knows what that is, and win consistently like they're capable of. And that's where Larry Brown comes in. Yes, they have some chuckers in AI and 'Melo and J.R. Smith who could give Brown headaches, or an ulcer, or shorten his life-span by five years. But they also have some of the same elements that Brown has won with before.
Marcus Camby is the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Built in the mold of those "long" Piston frontcourt players, Camby brings an excellent veteran, defensive presence inside which is tough to find in the NBA these days. They also have similar long and athletic bodies to put alongside Camby in Kenyon Martin and Nene. Yes, these guys need to stay healthy but they could make up the Prince/Wallace/Wallace trio that those Pistons teams had in their prime. At least, if they're willing to listen and learn that is. And that's where Allen Iverson comes in. Everyone knows that he and Larry Brown had their fair share of disagreements and problems in Philadelphia. It's no secret. But their mutual respect for one another has also always been out in the open. In 2005, Iverson publicly stated that Brown "'is the best coach in the world.'"
True, Brown acting as a consultant, helped to ship AI out of Philly when he was disgruntled. But that was nothing personal. That was in the best interests of both organizations and Brown was simply doing his job. And Iverson's huge admiration of the coach would be enough to get those Nuggets to listen. Let's face it. As good as Carmelo Anthony is, it's Iverson's alpha-male personality who still runs that team and can get their attention.
And if Larry Brown came to Denver, he along with Iverson (if he signed an extension), could get the job done and finish their careers going out in style. Iverson could still play the under-sized off-guard like he did in Philly when they went to the NBA finals, intercepting passes and dashing into the lane, doing all of the little things he does now that go unnoticed by most. Carmelo Anthony, as directed by AI and Brown, could take his play to the next level, refining his game, especially on defense, and become the great all-around player he can be. The aforementioned trio of Camby, Martin, and Nene could play shutdown defense on the interior, blocking shots and altering many others. J.R. Smith could be the lethal third option who drains the open three pointer after AI and 'Melo have diverted the defenses attention. If they fail to make the playoffs this year, they could add another great piece to their team (maybe Kevin Love) who could add something immediately. They could also sign someone to the mid-level exception. A Larry Brown type who fits what they need. And within a year or two, they could win it all. Yes win it all. The Spurs are aging fast and as good as the Lakers appear to be right now, they have major frontcourt injury issues that could always be there, leaving the door wide open for any team from the West.
And why not Larry Brown, Allen Iverson and the Denver Nuggets. It would be great. A legendary coach and player, each known for their grit and toughness and heart, hoisting the NBA trophy over their heads in their last year. Each going out in style. Each redeeming themselves and their careers to different degrees. And each doing so together. Like they were meant to.
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