AUBURN HILLS, Mich. An unspoken secret seems to envelop the Detroit Pistons, the expectation that Larry Brown won't be around next season.
The broad outline of an exit strategy is already in place for the coach, the future day-to-day developments sketched out in pencil.
All indications point to another of Brown's many departures, with doctors' orders already the designated culprit.
Only this time, it's serious.
What's different now is that Brown is sicker than the public knows, and the public wouldn't be so quick to think he was deviously plotting another vagabondish train-hop if it knew the whole story.
Brown's health problem is related to his bladder and was a result of complications from hip replacement surgery, and he said his life has not been the same since Nov. 3 when difficulties developed.
''I don't want to continue coaching with what I have to deal with,'' Brown said in an interview with The Associated Press and the Pistons' four newspaper beat writers. ''If it's cleared up, then we won't even have an issue.''
Whether the defending NBA champion Pistons win another title they lost to Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and Miami 92-86 Wednesday night in the Eastern Conference finals, leaving them tied at 1 going into Sunday night's game at Detroit Brown is checking into a hospital a day or two after the season ends.
He is not comfortable discussing his condition publicly. It is not life-threatening, but it is serious. And Brown decided in the middle of this season to put off treatment, which likely will include surgery, until after the season ends.
There will then be a period of a few days in which the Pistons will have to announce if they'll wait on Brown, whose chances of a full recovery based upon what his doctors are telling him are far from guaranteed.
''I think within 72 hours (of the end of the season) I'll be able to let (team president Joe Dumars) know. If he wants to make a change before that, I can accept that,'' Brown said Wednesday after the issue of his future flared up again.
The latest dustup came after it was reported that Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert had asked for the Pistons' permission to speak to Brown about possibly becoming the Cavaliers' team president. Brown said he has never met Gilbert and has no knowledge of ever speaking to him (Brown noted that Gilbert was once a Pistons' season-ticket holder, and he may have met him before Gilbert purchased the Cavs).
Other teams have also made it known to Brown that they'd be interested in bringing him aboard in a front office position, but whether any of those teams have received permission to speak to Brown's representatives is not clear.
Brown insists he has been upfront about everything with Dumars, and he understands Dumars' need to have a Plan B ready in case Brown's medical condition forces him to give up coaching.
''My goal is to do the best job I can here, and then hopefully be a coach, because that's what I do. If I can't, then I'll deal with that,'' Brown said.
''This is my last coaching job,'' he said. ''The only place I'm going to coach next season, or ever, is Detroit, I think, in terms of ever.''
The easiest way out for the Pistons and Brown could be a mutual parting of the ways.
It could be until August before Brown knows whether his recovery if he recovers will allow him to return to the sidelines.
Brown said it would be unfair to make the Pistons wait on him, and he also knows there are quite a few unemployed coaching candidates out there Phil Jackson and Flip Saunders head the list who need to know exactly which jobs are going to be open before they decide where they'll go.
The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are believed to be the leading candidates to hire Jackson, who won nine NBA titles one shy of Red Auerbach's record while coaching the Chicago Bulls and Lakers. The Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers also reportedly have interest.
Jackson has said he expects to make a decision on his future by early to mid-June, and that timetable could be affected if the Pistons are eliminated by the Heat.
The Heat's victory in Game 2 has ensured that the series will last at least until June 2.
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