Could the third time be the charm for Larry Brown and the Celtics?
|07.25.11 at 7:12 am ET|
Larry Brown is 70 years old. He’s the only coach in history to win an NCAA title and NBA title as a head coach. He’s the only coach in history to take eight teams to the NBA playoffs. He’s been in the Hall of Fame for nine years. There is literally nothing left to prove.
But Larry Brown still wants to coach. And it’s easy for you and me to wonder what it is exactly that makes a 70-year-old man with tens of millions of dollars and an already cemented place in history want to get on a plane and fly to Milwaukee on a Tuesday in February, but we see it all the time. It never ends — Don Nelson is 71 years old, lives about three yards from the ocean in Hawaii and is hoping to get back into the mix as the coach of the Timberwolves, who have won a total of 32 games in the last two seasons.
Since being resigned to resignation (pretty sure he wasn’t going to be offered an extension by MJ) last December after a mediocre two-plus years in Charlotte, which followed his bizarre one-year disaster with the Knicks, Brown hasn’t been seen a serious candidate for any NBA head-coaching gigs and has even been dismissed when trying to land a job in college (Brown was interested in UNLV, Missouri, Oklahoma and Penn State openings but was never viewed as a legitimate candidate for any of those jobs).
So now — with thanks to a report from the very great Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports — it appears that Brown would very much be happy to give up leading man status and take on a juicy character part as lead assistant coach and de facto defensive coordinator under Doc Rivers.
Assuming that Lawrence Frank is indeed going to get the Pistons job — which strikes me as a sure way to end up as a color analyst on NBA TV in 2013 — the Celtics are going to need to fill the Tom Thibodeau/Frank role. And why not Brown, universally recognized as one of the top defensive minds of his (or any, really) generation? And, hey, didn’t Larry Brown coach one Glenn Rivers with the Clippers in 1992? It almost makes too much sense not to happen, right?
Well, there’s this: For all his success as a coach — and he very much deserves that spot he has in Springfield — Brown always had a tricky habit of not just burning bridges but going River Kwai (the Bill Parcells comp — is often thrown out and it’s a good fit). Usually doesn’t end well at all. The three words you will almost always find in a profile of Brown? Nomadic, brilliant, ego. And that ego — and the guy is capable of going Full Diva when things don’t go his way — is the very last thing you want in an assistant coach. Oh, and he also has a not-insignificant history of clashes with veterans. Anyone see a problem?
But here’s where Doc Rivers could make a difference. With Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson (for now) out of the league — and armed with a new five-year deal — maybe only Gregg Popovich can match Doc in the job security department. If Brown had come here as an assistant after Doc’s, say, second season, it would be with some controversy. But now Doc is on the A-list, and has both the job security and trust of his players to bring in Brown if he feels that is the best move he could make for that lead assistant job (which — and I guess I could’ve mentioned this at the top — seems a longshot at this point. Current assistant Mike Longabardi sounds like the favorite to be moved into the second chair).
One would think — at 70 years old, turning 71 in September — this is Brown’s last chance to coach for the Celtics. There’s history with Brown and this organization, of course. Before the 2007-08 season there was discussion between Rivers and Brown about the same lead assistant job, but Brown decided to stay as a consultant with the 76ers and the Celtics instead hired Thibodeau. We can all agree it worked out OK for the Celtics, right?
But how about this one? In April 1997, Larry Bird — in his last days as a member of the Celtics organization before taking over as coach in Indiana — recommended Brown to owner Paul Gaston as the perfect choice to take over for M.L. Carr. Here’s Bird’s take on what happened next, from his 1999 book, Bird Watching: On Playing and Coaching the Game I Love:
I was getting the feeling that Brown was their man, and I was very happy about that. He is the perfect coach to bring in when you want to turn something around. If Larry Brown ended up as Celtics’ coach, there was no doubt in my mind he’d get them back on track. … Brown interviewed with the Celtics and called me after. He sounded excited. He told me, “I think I’ve got the job.” He said Gaston told him he needed just a couple of more days, and he’d get back to him with the details.
Those “couple of days” turned out to be Gaston just buying some more time to beg Rick Pitino to accept $50 million. Brown was out — he went to the 76ers — and so was Bird (and Red Auerbach, who had his seat at the table wiped out by Pitino, who turned out has an ego roughly the size of the plot holes in “The Departed.” ). We can all agree that one wasn’t such a success.
So, yes, there is history. But doesn’t that always seem to be the case with Larry Brown? And that’s not really the issue here, is it? The question, really, is this: Do the Celtics (meaning Doc and Danny) want to bring in a high-priced, high-ego Hall of Famer with one eye on his next job and no real history as an assistant coach?
Is Larry Brown worth the risk?
He’ll tell you that he is. We’ll see if the Celtics agree.