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Can Brown save the Knicks?

Vagabond coach has work cut out for him in the Big Apple

New York Knicks head coach Larry Brown urges his team on against the Los Angeles Lakers during their game Wednesday.
New York Knicks head coach Larry Brown urges his team on against the Los Angeles Lakers during their game Wednesday.
Kevork Djansezian, Associated Press

Larry Brown, depending on who you talk to in the NBA, is a genius or a vagabond.

Or both.

Frankly, most people think he's both.

The 65-year-old New York Knicks coach wins everywhere he goes. That much can't be disputed.

But Brown can't seem to stay put very long. That is also public record.

The Knicks are the eighth NBA team to have Brown as a head coach. And that doesn't count his college coaching days at two of the most prestigious basketball schools in the nation — UCLA and Kansas, where he and Danny Manning led the Jayhawks to the 1988 NCAA title. And it doesn't count the two ABA teams he was the head coach of during the 1970s.

Consider this: Jerry Sloan first became a Jazz employee in 1983, first as a scout, then as an assistant coach and finally, since 1988, as the team's head coach. Brown, on the other hand, has been with the Nets, the University of Kansas, the Spurs, the Clippers, the Pacers, the 76ers, the Pistons and the Knicks during that same time.

Brown's penchant for always looking for his next job — while still holding down a current job — became a distraction of almost Terrell Owens proportions at the end of last season with Detroit. Speculation about where Brown would coach next was a constant topic during the Pistons' run to the NBA Finals.

Despite the fact he led the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title and just missed out on a second straight championship in a seven-game loss to the Spurs last June, he had worn out his welcome in the Motor City.

And the Knicks were more than happy to gobble him up.

"Larry Brown is not just one of the best coaches in the NBA today but in its history," Knicks president of basketball operations Isiah Thomas is quoted as saying in the team's media guide. "He has made every team he has ever coached a winner, with a legendary approach to teaching and motivating his players. His value to us as a franchise at this time is immeasurable."

Brown certainly has his work cut out for him in the basketball shrine known as Madison Square Garden. The Knicks, frankly, are not a particularly talented team by NBA standards. They started the season 0-5 and may be hard-pressed to even equal last year's 33-49 mark.

Then again, Brown has partially developed his legend in making teams instantly better. Six of the seven different NBA teams Brown coached prior to coming to New York showed marked improvement in wins over the season prior to his arrival. The lone exception was with the Spurs, when his first team lost 10 more games than the previous season. He more than made up for it, however, as the Spurs went from 21 wins in his first year to 56 in his second. He even got the Clippers to the playoffs both years he was with that usually struggling franchise.

Three of the past five Eastern Conference champions have been coached by Brown — two with the Pistons and the 2001 76ers. Whether he can have similarly successful results in New York is open to debate. He certainly doesn't inherit nearly as talented a team in New York as he did in Detroit — which was already a 50-game winner under Rick Carlisle before his two-year stint.

Then again, he's given the Knicks and their fans some reason for optimism

"A good coach to me is a guy who is not going to let you do it the wrong way," said Knicks veteran forward Antonio Davis, who also played for Brown for four seasons in Indiana. "It takes effort for a coach to stand up to NBA guys and say 'I'm not going to let you do it any way but the right way.' Larry Brown insists on making his players do things the right way."

Added rookie forward Channing Frye, "Playing for him is a serious blessing. He is definitely a great leader and is a great teacher. He believes in us and he's a guy that is going to lead you the right way."

Rumors are that Brown is not a huge fan of his new team's top player, Stephon Marbury. But Brown has had to deal with temperamental guards before — notably five seasons with Allen Iverson — and gotten some good results.

Brown, who grew up in Brooklyn and says he's come home now with the Knicks, had nothing but praise for Marbury after his team beat the Jazz last Monday in the Delta Center.

"Steph's play at both ends of the court was great," said Brown. "I'm proud of the way we're playing and, hopefully, we'll keep getting better."

If the past is any indication, the Knicks will get better under Brown.

They just shouldn't expect him to be there very long.

What can Brown do for you?

Larry Brown-coached teams usually show improvement in his first year compared to before his arrival:

Team Before Brown Brown's 1st year

Denver Nuggets 37-47 (1973-74) 65-19 (1974-75)

New Jersey Nets 24-58 (1980-81) 44-38 (1981-82)

San Antonio Spurs 31-51 (1987-88) 21-61 (1988-89)

Los Angeles Clippers 31-51 (1990-91) 45-37 (1991-92)

Indiana Pacers 41-41 (1992-93) 47-35 (1193-94)

Philadelphia 76ers 22-60 (1996-97) 31-51 (1997-98)

Detroit Pistons 50-32 (2002-2003) 54-28 (2003-04)

New York Knicks 33-49 (2004-05) ????? (2005-06)