As the Charlotte Bobcats were being swept by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference playoffs, management abandoned most expectations that Larry Brown will return as coach next season and quietly has begun sorting through candidates to replace him, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Charlotte considers the chances of Brown staying as “minimal at this point,” one league source said. “They’re proceeding like they’ll be looking for a new coach.”
Brown is angling to take the Philadelphia 76ers' presidency, and has targeted Washington Wizards front office executive Milt Newton as his general manager and the Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Woodson as coach, sources said.
As they’ve known for months, Brown wants out and that’s the reason owner Michael Jordan understands there’s no use holding an unhappy Brown to his contract. Jordan has said that he wouldn't keep Brown to his contract based on the coach's expressed desire to be with his family in Philadelphia.
Perhaps this is why Brown feels that he’s within the boundaries of truthfulness when he recently insisted, “I’m not coaching for anyone but for Michael Jordan.”
Still, the possibility is strong that Brown will coach the 76ers, because Woodson wouldn’t leave an Eastern Conference contender unless the Hawks low-ball him in contract talks at season’s end. His deal is expiring with Atlanta, and several sources familiar with the Hawks’ plans predict an offer that Woodson could easily refuse. Nevertheless, Brown is angling for a position of power that will afford him multiple options with Philadelphia.
Brown has been working his Philadelphia escape valve for months. His wife and daughter live in Philadelphia and he’s used that to convince Jordan to let him out of the final year of his contract. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Monday that the Sixers still want to talk to Brown, 70, about a job.
Philadelphia GM Ed Stefanski has been conducting the preliminary stages of a 76ers coaching search – gathering information, reaching out to candidates – but hasn’t had any serious conversations with candidates. His top choice would be Jeff Van Gundy, but it’s becoming clearer that Van Gundy just isn’t interested in returning to coaching next season. One candidate that Stefanski has targeted is popular ex-76er Doug Collins, and the GM has reached out to Collins. After an unpopular hiring of Eddie Jordan, Stefanski could gain back some public footing with Collins, a successful coach and broadcaster.
After Stefanski fired Jordan at season’s end, sources say the GM was expecting some kind of public – even private – show of ownership support that still hasn’t come. How this plays out for Stefanski is unclear, but one thing’s for sure: “Larry will decide [his] fate,” one source said.
For now, nothing has much happened with the 76ers’ search for the simple reason that they were waiting on the Bobcats’ season to end. Brown has stayed in close contact with Comcast CEO Ed Snider, and sources say that while the ownership prefers that Brown return as coach, they’re willing to give him the executive power. Brown coached the 76ers from 1997 to 2003, including an NBA Finals appearance in 2001.
For Brown, this is a comparable circumstance to the job that he nearly took with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005. While coaching the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, Brown held serious talks with Cleveland about taking over as team president. Cleveland had just hired Mike Brown as coach, but Brown’s plan was somewhat similar: Hire his old Kansas guard, Milt Newton, as the day-to-day GM. Sources say that he’s going back to that playbook as part of his plan with the Sixers.
Nevertheless, the possibility of Brown coaching the 76ers could rest largely on how things play out with the Hawks. There’s been a cool relationship between management and Woodson, and sources say that the organization’s priority isn’t to reward him with an expensive contract extension. The Hawks are pooling resources to get maximum money available for Joe Johnson(notes). The message has been made clear to the Hawks: Offer Johnson a max contract extension on July 1, and they’re likely to keep him.
Sources say that this is the reason Atlanta is willing to sell its first-round pick for $3 million this summer, and the reason that they’ll likely offer no more than a three-year contract for $1.8 to $2 million a year to a possible Woodson successor. Woodson could expect a bigger offer to stay on the job, but perhaps not by much. For Woodson, the 76ers could offer leverage to leave, but he would have to weigh leaving a legitimate Eastern Conference contender for a flawed roster in Philadelphia.
Now that the Orlando Magic have eliminated the Bobcats, everything promises to set into motion with Brown. For now, one thing is for sure: Larry Brown appears to be on the move again, with his Philadelphia home calling him back for a second time.