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Pistons coach Larry Brown has been called nomadic. He's been called mercenary.
The truth is, Brown has been more the wondering man than the wandering man.
He never has stopped searching for the past. He has chased this thing to New Orleans, North Carolina, Denver, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Kansas, San Antonio, Los Angeles again, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Detroit, virtually any place that offered hope.
He has searched for some kind of indicator that the game of basketball — and more significantly, its players — would return to a time when CDs were where you kept your money, pub was where you rehashed the night's game and bounce was a pass, not a showboating strut upcourt after a dunk.
I once asked Brown why he never wrote a basketball book like so many other coaches, the majority of whose stories would pale in comparison to the thousands Brown knows.
"No one would buy it," Brown said. "It wouldn't be a tell-all. It would be a how-to."
From summit to letdown
His life's work has been more instruction manual than tabloid. Brown endlessly scribbles on the backs of restaurant napkins in search of the inbounds pass or post-up play that will unlock all the secrets.
He calls coaching friends almost every day to vent, complain and wonder what happened to the players he knew.
He can walk into a gym — any gym — and help players cut better, set screens better and move without the ball better. If only they'll listen.
Last spring, the Pistons did, and it was a beautiful thing to watch as they danced around Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant on the way to the NBA championship. But that may well have been as close to basketball bliss as Brown will ever get.
Just weeks after winning the NBA title, Brown took on the so-called U.S. Olympic Dream Team, and it became a nightmare. Everyone was on his own, with personalities and egos trumping everything Brown tried to teach. Beautiful basketball usually was played only by the opposition. Throughout the Athens Games, stories of Brown's frustration and player bickering abounded.
Palace episode repulsive
Then came the staggering scene at the Palace of Auburn Hills 11 days ago, when the Pistons' Ben Wallace and Indiana's Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal were at the epicenter of possibly the lowest moment in NBA history.
That it all unfolded in front of Brown should not be lost on anyone who cares about the game and knows what it has meant to Brown for more than four decades.
The chase finally may have ended that night in Michigan.
Brown may well call it a career soon, walking away shaking his head, aghast as he is wont to be, successful in so many ways but falling short in his mission to reconnect players to the past.
Sure, Brown spends the majority of his time talking about cups that are half-empty. Calling Brown despondent is somewhat redundant. It's his way to whine for fear of coming across boastful, so it might be easy to figure his moaning over the Pistons-Pacers debacle will pass.
But the Palace fight was not so much the beginning of the end of Brown's coaching career as much as it was perhaps the last straw.
In the wake of the Athens Games, Brown, 64, hoped to return to a Pistons squad that would re-energize his faith in team-first basketball. Instead, the Pistons were crumbling long before Artest leaped into the stands.
Coming into tonight's game at Toyota Center against the Rockets — Brown's first road game since he underwent his second hip-replacement operation, which could be another factor in his contemplating retirement — the Pistons are 6-7.
Worse, even before they were hit with the suspensions resulting from the Palace melee, the Pistons were a shell of the team that won the title. The selfless, defensive-minded machine that once was Detroit began disintegrating from the start. The suspensions only made it worse.
Cleveland's LeBron James torched the Pistons for 43 points, which is bad enough. Denver's Earl Boykins hit for a career-high 32 before that. Carmelo Anthony scored 34.
Brown recently has spoken about the game's no longer being fun for him and his discouragement over the sense of entitlement players have. Coming from Brown, who says "I can't coach these guys" the way most say "good morning," the words might not seem so significant.
But he has just about had it.
Who knows if Brown will ever write that book? But I know the title if he does: The Extra Pass.
He has chased this ultimate sign of giving it up for the team until, perhaps, he has no chase left in him. He has preached of walking away from scrapes and avoiding trouble because players must behave for the sake of the game.
He's been ridiculed in arenas from coast to coast. He's had beer spilled on him and guacamole dumped on his head. He's been shoved and punched on the court. He's gone nose to nose with opposing coaches and his own players. And now, after the incident at the Palace, he's seen everything.
A nomad? No. Brown just never found the pure and selfless players he once knew. He could finally be realizing that he never will.
Pistons' crown slipping
Champs cover early mediocrity with excuses
By FRAN BLINEBURY
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
A little more than five months ago, they were the guests of honor at a joyous victory celebration.
Now, the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons are offering a parade of excuses during an early-season march toward mediocrity.
In June, the Pistons were being praised for returning the concept of team play in their stunning upset of the star-laden Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. At a time when the league was threatening to be swallowed up by the tabloid squabbling of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and their entourages, the Pistons were a breath of fresh air with their gritty defense and unselfish attitude.
Today, the Pistons are linked in infamy to the Nov. 19 affair on their home court that saw several members of the Indiana Pacers charge into the stands to engage in an ugly brawl with fans that has scarred the league and jarred the American sports landscape.
"Nobody is happy about all of that," guard Chauncey Billups told the Detroit Free Press. "Every time you turn on the TV, it's that. They're beating us down, and we didn't even fight.
"When something bad like that happens, it makes you put things into perspective, and it takes the fun away from all of this."
Not that the Pistons had been having a barrel of laughs before the malice at the Palace began replaying like an endless, shameful loop of bad behavior.
The Pistons opened the regular season by receiving championship rings in a feel-good ceremony, then went out onto the floor and beat the Rockets.
That may have been the last time the Pistons looked — or felt — like champions.
Detroit arrives in town tonight with a less-than-regal 6-7 record.
Blame the absence of Ben Wallace, the fearsome anchor in the middle of the Detroit lineup, for over half of the first 13 games. He missed two games to attend the funeral of his brother, and tonight's game marks the end of his six-game suspension for shoving Indiana's Ron Artest to start all the fireworks.
Blame the absence of persnickety head coach Larry Brown — the Pistons' teacher and conscience — for three games for hip-replacement surgery.
Blame the powers-that-be in the NBA office who have mandated a crackdown on hand-checking on the perimeter, which the Pistons have interpreted as being directed at them.
"The way the referees are calling it is influencing us," Brown told the Free Press. "It's not going to be something that's going away. I just don't like the whole atmosphere.
"To legislate against us because you want to change the style of play in the league. Just make guys improve fundamentally. Rip Hamilton has fouled out of five games this year already. C'mon."
A shortage of blocks
The Pistons are a less-imposing defensive team without "Big Ben" lurking in the lane to challenge every drive and swat down shot attempts with disdain. A year ago, with Wallace in the lineup full-time, they were averaging 7.0 blocks per game. Now they are rejecting only 5.4. There is no fear factor.
On the their drive to the title, the Pistons surrendered 100 points in only four games. Opponents have already scored 100 or more four times this season. They are allowing an average of 11 more points a game than last year, and their opponents' field-goal percentage has risen from 41.3 to 45.2. In back-to-back losses on a West Coast trip, the Pistons gave up 225 points at Denver and Utah. They are 1-6 on the road.
The Pistons have become the Red Cross team of the early NBA season, making the lame and wounded feel better. On Saturday night in Milwaukee, the Pistons allowed the Bucks to snap a six-game losing streak.
Lighting 'em up
Denver's Carmelo Anthony burned the Pistons' defense for 34 points. What's more, his tiny teammate Earl Boykins bopped them for a career-high 32 points. Just last week, Cleveland's LeBron James dropped 43 points — the individual high game in the league so far this season — on Detroit. The underachieving Loren Woods of underachieving Toronto hit them for 17 points and 14 rebounds.
First, the Pistons struggled to beat the expansion Charlotte Bobcats by just one point in two overtimes. In the next game, also against the Bobcats, Detroit became the first defending champ to lose to an expansion team since the 1970-71 season.
The Pistons have had the gall to blame a post-brawl "hangover" for the reason they've gone 2-3 since the riot. What they don't mention is that Indiana was hammering them before the fight broke out, and the fragments that remain of the Pacers are 3-2 in the aftermath and still have the best record in the Eastern Conference.
"I just keep bringing it up," Brown said. "I know Ben's missing, but we've had games like this with Ben here. Right now, it doesn't look to me like we're hungry."
The irony of the entire fight is that it happens to two teams who are led by people who are extremly imgage conscious. Both Larry Brown & Donnie Walsh are both old school & to have what is even in this article being called "the low point of the NBA" has just got to be eating away at both of them.