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No one listens to Larry & Rick
Friday, April 7th, 2006
If they were buddies, Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle would undoubtedly make it a point to meet at the Garden tonight and compare notes on a dangerous problem they share. They're both coaching players who have tuned them out. You can imagine the conversation:
Brown: I got this kid Robinson, and I know he's trying, but the other night I had to get on him 'cause Iverson busts him for 47 and the kid is out there showboating. So what does he do? He pulls a Steph on me. Our next game, he takes one shot. You know me. I need veteran guys who want to be coached and want to win. That's not this group. So I'm thinkin', why even stick around?
Carlisle: You think you've got problems, Lar? My guys haven't been listening to me for weeks. If the East weren't so bad, we'd be out of the playoffs. I just wish I still had Mike Brown on my staff to ride herd on these guys. Because I just can't get through to 'em.
We know, that conversation could never, ever happen. If Brown and Carlisle pass each other in the hallway and make eye contact, it's an upset. They're tried-and-true adversaries, stemming from Carlisle's removal in Detroit after the 2003 season. Carlisle has always suspected that while he was still coaching Detroit, the Pistons and Brown were busy cutting a deal.
But even those differences aside, Brown and Carlisle share the one problem coaches wouldn't wish on their worst enemies. When players turn a deaf ear to coaches in practice, film sessions and games, the pink slip usually is not far off.
The way Brown talked the other night, it almost sounded as if he wouldn't mind that happening. Yes, he made sure to say, "I'm not jumping ship here," which was a funny line from one of the great ship-jumpers in coaching annals. But more importantly, he did not deny the growing speculation around the league that he will throw up his hands, say no mas, and skip town. Maybe sooner than later.
"You've got to always examine that," he said.
By making that statement, Brown could be planting the seeds on two fronts for his departure. One, it could get James Dolan and Isiah Thomas to bite and get rid of him. If the Garden's boss and the Knicks' team president think after one season that hiring Brown was a mistake, then you can also see, on a second front, why Brown is openly thinking of an exit strategy. That way, teams that already know they'll be making changes in the offseason have been alerted.
It's like he's saying, Don't go filling those vacancies so fast.
One of those teams could be Indiana, where Brown once coached. As successful as Carlisle has been in his three seasons with the Pacers, even putting up with Ron Artest, injuries to Jermaine O'Neal and the riot in Auburn Hills and all its fallout, it's not like he hasn't had players tune him out before. He's never been a people person. To this day, Pistons execs privately insist that if they had kept him on for a third season, there would have been a mutiny in 2004 instead of a championship.
Since March 1, the Pacers have fallen from fifth in the East, at 29-25, to 36-38 and only 1-1/2 games ahead of eighth-place Chicago and two games in front on ninth-place Philly. The knock on Carlisle is that he's too soft on his players, who are seen as some of the toughest guys in the league to manage.
But they're always toughest to deal with when they've stopped listening.