Knicks buying out Larry? Dolan may be mulling move
BY FRANK ISOLA
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/st...p-352779c.html
Garden chairman James Dolan apparently has started the process of ending Larry Brown's dream job after one season.
According to sources, Dolan, upset over Brown's record and the coach's public criticism of his players, is considering buying out the final four years of Brown's contract, worth at least $40 million.
The Knicks declined to comment, and would neither confirm nor deny one published report that already is naming Knicks president Isiah Thomas as Brown's successor. Brown has indicated that he will not resign, but if Thomas takes over, the Knicks would avoid having to pay another coach upwards of $5 million annually.
Thomas, who coached the Pacers from 2000-2003 but never got them out of the first round of the playoffs, is said to be amenable to coaching the Knicks, one source told the Daily News.
Knicks brass has not met with Brown since the end of the 23-59 season, according to sources, perhaps another indication of Dolan's dissatisfaction with the Hall of Fame coach. According to a team official, Brown has requested a meeting with Dolan but Thomas has told Brown there is no reason for him to meet with the club's owner.
Last month, The News reported that a majority of the players blamed the Knicks' worst season in 20 years on Brown, whose hiring last July was looked upon as a way to return the struggling franchise to prominence.
Brown, one of the most successful coaches in basketball history, ended the season with 1,010 NBA victories (he is fourth on the all-time list) but was never happy with the roster that the embattled Thomas had assembled. The Knicks played and acted like the league's most undisciplined team, which reflected poorly on the players and Brown. The coach talked often about a wish list of players more suited to his team-first, defense-oriented style, but sources say Brown has been told the team cannot be changed significantly.
After joining the Knicks following a messy divorce from the Pistons, Brown quickly reignited his feud with point guard Stephon Marbury, which began during the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Within a few months, Brown had publicly criticized several players, which was an indictment of Thomas, who put together the league's most expensive roster at $125 million.
According to sources, Thomas also was upset that Brown chose to publicly air his complaints about the Knicks' flawed roster. A turning point came in late February, when Dolan and Thomas joined the Knicks for a three-day road trip to San Antonio and Memphis. The News reported that during that trip, Dolan told Brown to focus on coaching the players. The following day, Dolan gave Thomas a strong endorsement, while giving Brown a lukewarm review.
It was during that trip that Brown entered a Memphis hospital after complaining of chest pains. Six weeks later, Brown took ill and left a game in Cleveland in the third quarter, and was later taken on a stretcher to a hospital, complaining of an acid reflux problem. He missed the next three games, but returned for the finale against the Nets at Meadowlands Arena, where he let assistant Herb Williams run the team. During his farewell address to the media after the season, Brown shocked Garden brass by saying he had been suffering from the flu and that Thomas and team doctors had advised him not to coach that game.
According to two player agents with clients on the Knicks, the players staged a palace coup in front of Thomas during their exit interviews. Players never blame themselves, and they weren't about to cast aspersions on Thomas, the man responsible for bringing them to New York.
Instead, approximately eight of the Knicks' 15 players blamed Brown for arguably the worst season in franchise history. The most common complaints were Brown's failure to define roles and his penchant for publicly criticizing his players. "The Knicks are going to have to make changes because there is no way Larry can walk into the locker room with this same group," one source said then. "He lost a lot of those guys and he's not going to win them back."
Brown could not have been surprised by the feedback Thomas was getting. Two weeks earlier, Brown admitted that several Knicks had long since tuned him out, and said that the season had been reduced to "begging guys to play."
After the exit interviews, Thomas said: "We do have a group that, for everything that I've heard today, like each other, want to stay together and want to play together, and believe that they can get it done."