NEW YORK -- Larry Brown has coached eight teams over 23 seasons in the NBA, and hundreds of players, so it's not unusual for him to return to a city where he has worked before or to see history repeat itself in the way his relationships evolve.
As the New York Knicks head to Detroit for a game tonight against Brown's most recent former employer, the Pistons, the 65-year-old coach is trying to figure out a rotation with a team beset by early-season injuries and an approach to take with yet another troubled point guard.
Things have improved recently for both Stephon Marbury and the Knicks, who began the season with five straight defeats and dim prospects for success, but even Brown admits that what he envisioned in returning to his hometown last summer has not yet materialized.
"I think it's a lot steeper hill than I anticipated before the season," said Brown, whose team has won two of its past three games.
Not that Brown thought reviving the Knicks was going to be easy, considering that the team was 33-49 last season and had failed to make the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. It's just that some of the players he figured he'd be coaching are no longer here.
"When I got the job I thought I would have Tim Thomas and [Michael] Sweetney," Brown said of the players who were sent to the Chicago Bulls in a deal for Eddy Curry. "All of a sudden we make changes in training camp and I've got six players 22 or younger. And they're all playing."
Injuries to Quentin Richardson, who came from the Phoenix Suns in a trade for Kurt Thomas in the offseason, as well as to 7-foot-1 center Jerome James and Curry, have contributed to the team's 5-9 start. With Marbury as the only true point guard, the Knicks are leading the league in turnovers.
Brown admits that while this has been one of his most difficult rebuilding tasks, he won't say it's the most daunting.
"Are you kidding me?" Brown said last Friday at the team's practice facility in suburban Westchester County. "I looked at Detroit as an unbelievable challenge because Rick [Carlisle] won 50 even though they lost four straight to the Nets [in the playoffs].
"So much was expected [in Detroit]. When I went to the Nets or I went to San Antonio or I went to the Clippers, the Nets won 21 games, San Antonio my first year won 21. I've never had a situation like Detroit. Joe [Dumars, the team president] had everything in place."
So why did Brown leave just one year after coaching the Pistons to the NBA championship in his first season?
Things unraveled for Brown last season. It began with the infamous brawl against the Indiana Pacers at The Palace of Auburn Hills in November and ended with a loss in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
But what led to Brown's departure from Detroit was a combination of his health problems, which forced him to miss extended periods while undergoing a battery of tests, and his well-documented wanderlust, which led him to entertain an offer to run the Cleveland Cavaliers.
`Gone in March'
Brown said last week that Pistons owner Bill Davidson didn't want him back, and the fact that he had called coaching the Knicks his "dream job" during the season was blown out of proportion by the media. His flirtation with the Cavaliers wasn't a factor, Brown said.
"They had me gone in March," Brown said. "I talked with Joe every day and I told him that if I was healthy, I was coming back. I think when they hired me that it wasn't going to be a long-term thing. The way I look at it, I had two of the greatest years that anybody could have had."
The Knicks pursued Brown after being rejected by Phil Jackson, who wound up back with the Los Angeles Lakers after a year off. Brown's return to the Palace tonight will probably be no different than when he went back to Philadelphia two seasons ago or to most of his other former haunts.
He'll likely be booed.
But the reaction from the players will be much the same as the greeting he was given Saturday by Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson, who hugged Brown warmly before a game at Madison Square Garden. Iverson and Brown, who battled for most of their six years together, have become each other's biggest fan.
Brown is confident that he'll get the same reception from the players in Detroit, which started 8-0 under new coach Flip Saunders and is now a league-best 11-2.
"I still speak to a lot of the guys," Brown said. "I love watching them play. I love what they're all about. I know there was a lot of stuff [the Detroit media and front office] threw out there. Guys can coach a hundred years and never have the experience I had there."
Brown hopes to duplicate that here, though it seems doubtful considering the state of the franchise. A little more than a month into his first season with the Knicks, Brown's playing-the-right-way mantra seems to be getting through to most of, if not all, his players.