Only between the ears of Larry Brown does it make sense to demote oneself from head coach of the Eastern Conference champion Pistons to a spot with the rudderless Knicks. That is like trading a week on the QE2 for a three-hour tour on the S.S. Minnow.
Eventually, Brown will take over in New York. Given his knack for the quick fix, that could mean 45 wins next season, a playoff spot and a healthy dose of job security for Brown's boss-to-be, Isiah Thomas.
But 45 wins likely will mean the East's sixth or seventh seed and a first-round playoff exit. Brown won't be able to fix the fact that the Knicks simply are not elite material.
Unless they take a drastic step, one that looks simple--and even obvious--to veteran Knicks-watchers. If New York wants to succeed with Larry Brown, it will have to get rid of another hometown hero, Stephon Marbury.
Marbury isn't Brown's kind of point guard. He's a scorer. He doesn't shoot well. He holds the ball for ungodly lengths of time. He doesn't do defense. All of these things are true despite the fact that Marbury is coming off the best season of his career, one in which he averaged a career-low 2.8 turnovers and had career-best shooting percentages from the field (.462), foul line (.834) and 3-point line (.354).
They're true despite Brown's track record. In Detroit, Brown took another point guard who wasn't his type--Chauncey Billups--and changed him. He taught Billups to attack immediately on defense to get the ball out of the opposing point guard's hands. He taught Billups to eschew his own offense, and to give up popping 3-pointers on fast breaks. Billups averaged 5.2 assists under Brown after averaging 4.2 before Brown.
But Billups was a midlevel signee for the Pistons, a guy who had been a sixth man in Minnesota and a forgotten man in four other places. He was open to Brown's nagging (er, teaching). It's nearly impossible to imagine Marbury being that open to Brown's philosophy--it didn't happen at the Olympics in Athens, when Brown was coach and Marbury was his only point guard. Marbury struggled before getting hot late. Even when his shot was falling, he clearly was not playing the way Brown wanted, offensively or defensively.
Perhaps Marbury will be open to change--he made a token effort to share the ball more last season. But at his core, Marbury is accustomed to being the show, a big-time star who knows a lot about scoring but not so much about winning. He has a maximum-dollar contract, a tight relationship with Thomas and a high opinion of himself--remember that "I know I'm the best point guard in the NBA" comment? Does anyone really think Marbury suddenly will submit himself to Brown's "play the right way" doctrine?
Brown is 64. His health has been dodgy. He will do a great favor to Thomas by being crazy enough to coach the Knicks. Thomas should do Brown's health a favor first and trade Marbury, the one player on the roster who will drive Brown even crazier than he already seems.