Larry Brown has a reputation of turning losers into winners. He may face one of his biggest challenges yet with the New York Knicks.
The Knicks begin the Brown era when they visit the defending Atlantic Division champion Boston Celtics in the teams’ season opener.
After a short but relentless pursuit, Knicks president Isiah Thomas landed Brown in late July and inked him to a four-year contract worth an estimated $8 million annually.
“I can’t promise wins and losses, but I promise every single day, as a staff, we’ll do our very best to make people proud of our franchise and our players and the way we play,” Brown said.
Brown, coaching his eighth NBA team, went through another bitter divorce after two years with the Detroit Pistons—who he took to the Finals both seasons and won his first NBA championship with in 2004. He flirted with Cleveland before choosing the “dream job” of coaching his hometown Knicks.
“When I was announced as the Olympics coach, I thought that was the single greatest honor I could ever have, but I think standing here in Madison Square Garden with Isiah and my family here, this tops it all,” Brown said in July.
Brown joins a long list of distinguished coaches, including Joe Lapchick, Red Holzman, Pat Riley and Lenny Wilkens, who have guided one of the NBA’s charter franchises.
Bringing credibility back to the Knicks is one thing, but Brown certainly has his work cut out for him if he’s to make them a contender again.
Allan Houston, the last remaining connection to the Patrick Ewing era, couldn’t overcome several knee injuries and retired in October after a 12-year NBA career—the last nine spent in New York.
“I did everything I possibly could to get back and finish my career the way I would have liked to,” said Houston, who averaged 17.3 points in his career. “My injuries just wouldn’t let me do it.”
Richardson, picked up in a trade with Phoenix that sent forward Kurt Thomas to the Suns, was one of several acquisitions for the Knicks.
Curry’s health came into question last season when he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, but he played an integral part in getting the Bulls back to the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
“I’m more worried about breaking a finger,” said Curry, who has been handed a clean bill of health. “I’m not worried about my heart.”
A concern for the Knicks is how Brown and point guard Stephon Marbury will coexist after they didn’t get along during USA Basketball’s poor showing at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Marbury, though, has stated his priority is winning and he has publicly endorsed Brown, who said he will have no problem coaching the enigmatic guard.
“My feeling is, this group wants to win so badly, they’ll do almost anything,” Brown said.
In his first season as Celtics coach in 2004-05, Doc Rivers led the team to its first division title since the ’91-92 season. Boston made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, where it lost a tough first-round series with Indiana in seven games.
“It’s a role I’m enjoying so far,” Pierce said. “I’m just here to lend my expertise and show what it’s going to take to be a team. Losing teams carry themselves a certain way, and winning teams carry themselves a different way.
“I’m just going to show what I’ve learned from being on a winning team.”
Ricky Davis showed at times last season that he can step into a supporting role but will be called upon to carry more of the offensive burden this season.
Dan Dickau was acquired in a trade with New Orleans and gives Rivers the type of pass-first point guard the team will need to complement the scoring of both Pierce and Davis.
With Raef LaFrentz back at full strength after missing most of last season with injuries and the continuing emergence of 20-year-old forward Al Jefferson, Boston has a chance to compete for the division crown again this season.
“I like our chances,” Rivers said.
2004-05 STANDINGS: Knicks - 4th place (tied), 12 GB, Atlantic Division. Celtics - 1st place, Atlantic Division.
2004-05 TEAM LEADERS: Knicks - Marbury, 21.7 ppg and 8.1 apg; Thomas, 10.4 rpg. Celtics - Pierce, 21.6 ppg; Walker, 8.3 rpg; Payton, 6.1 apg.
2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Celtics, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: March 23; Knicks, 107-82. At New York, Crawford scored 21 points and the Knicks limited the Celtics to 38 percent shooting from the field.
2004-05 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Knicks - 11-30 on the road; Celtics - 27-14 at home.