Larry Brown, the vagabond coach whose next building project never seems far away, landed in a strange spot on the latest stop in his tour of basketball jobs across America.
He found a ready-made team.
Brown's history is to take a downtrodden team and build it into a winner. Be it the Nuggets, the Nets, the Spurs or most of the other teams Brown, 63, has taken command of, the pattern is a losing record before Brown and a good bit of winning with him.
Detroit is different.
The Pistons went 50-32, won the Central Division and reached the Eastern Conference final before getting swept by New Jersey last season.
"He took over a winning team for the first time," said Joe Dumars, Detroit's president of basketball operations. "That makes it a unique situation in itself."
It was an unexpected marriage.
The departure after six seasons in Philadelphia, an eternity for any coach these days, was well-telegraphed among inner circles.
Brown thought all along he would end up in Cleveland or Houston. Both teams had promising young players in place as the foundation for a successful future, and he is a coach who lives for teaching. He also talked with Washington, which had an appeal since the Wizards were offering the chance to be head of basketball operations.
Then he had a 20-minute conversation with Dumars, and everything changed. The Pistons became the choice on the spot. But he didn't become the coach on the spot. Detroit already had one.
"A very tough spot," said Dumars, who proceeded to fire Rick Carlisle and hire Brown.
HEAT'S COLD REALITY: When Pat Riley stepped down as Miami's coach four days before the start of the season, he handed his replacement, Stan Van Gundy, a mess. And all fingers point at Riley for creating it.
It was Riley, who has stayed on as team president, who gave maximum contracts in the summer of 2000 to two players - Brian Grant and Eddie Jones - unworthy of such money. When the Heat finally got some salary-cap room last summer, Riley blew it again, giving Lamar Odom a cap-strangling six-year, $65-million contract. Odom is averaging 11.4 points and shooting .337, and the Heat is off to a 2-7 start. "You could assemble a staff of Red Auerbach, Red Holzman and Phil Jackson and you can talk all you want, but that's a small, small team," said Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy, who led his Rockets to a 90-70 win Tuesday against his brother's team. "They don't have much size, they have no true point guard, and they don't have enough shooting. If they don't get some size or improve their shooting, it's going to be tough for them."
It doesn't figure to be Riley's problem for much longer. It's unlikely he'll stay after his contract expires in the summer of 2005.
MAVERICK VIEW: Dallas has become one of the league's television darlings the past few seasons, and although the exposure is a positive for the franchise, the extra publicity doesn't exactly excite coach Don Nelson.
"You can't swear as much because they've got you (microphoned) on the bench," he said.
AROUND THE RIM: The Hornets tried to connect with New Orleans, retiring Pete Maravich's No. 7 and giving out Maravich bobbleheads even though the former Louisiana State and New Orleans Jazz star died before the Hornets franchise began. ... Lakers coach Phil Jackson has decided to abandon the scheme of having Kobe Bryant defend opponents' primary ballhandler. Gary Payton now has that assignment, with Bryant going back to defending shooting guards. ... After picking up a technical foul in Portland's 112-110 comeback overtime win against Sacramento on Thursday night, Rasheed Wallace yanked his headband down in frustration. He played the rest of the night with his headband around his neck and had one of his best games of the season with 26 points.
- Information from the Sacramento Bee, Rocky Mountain News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Associated Press was used in this report.