The storyline on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden is Hall of Famer Larry Brown's return to New York, but that probably only masks the fact that two struggling teams will take the court.
Brown will coach his first game at the Garden since his acrimonious departure from the New York Knicks who will face the ninth NBA team he has guided, the Charlotte Bobcats.
Brown, a Brooklyn native who admired Red Holzman's championship teams in New York, was hired amid much fanfare in 2005 after leading Detroit to consecutive NBA finals appearances and one championship.
"There is no bigger stage than Madison Square Garden, and it is a privilege for me and my family to now be part of the organization and to be back in New York," he said the day he was hired.
But the Knicks lost their first five games under Brown, who never got along with point guard Stephon Marbury among others. New York finished 23-59 in Brown's only season and he was fired due to a clash with MSG chairman James Dolan.
"But there were a lot of circumstances involved that I had no control over, except I was the coach," Brown said. "And if Mr. Dolan decided that he needed to do better, what can you do? That's why I don't want to dwell. He obviously had his reasons. Yeah, it's disappointing to ever fail at anything."
The Knicks endured two more losing seasons with Isiah Thomas as coach before Donnie Walsh was hired as team president before this season. Walsh quickly named a new coach, Mike D'Antoni, who also has clashed with Marbury.
Herb Williams, now a Knicks assistant, still isn't quite sure why things went so wrong under Brown, who is in his first season with Charlotte.
"You know what, that's been a long time, and I can't put my hand on any one thing," Williams said. "Coach Brown has his way of coaching, the different things he likes to do, he's a Hall of Famer, and for whatever reason things didn't work out here."
Both the Knicks (1-2) and Bobcats (1-2) enter this game with identical records, but it's New York that faces more issues. D'Antoni is facing constant questioning about his refusal to use Marbury. D'Antoni and Walsh said they've discussed the matter, with Walsh saying he stands behind D'Antoni's decision to deactivate the guard, who will make almost $22 million this season.
"The reason I came to New York was because of Donnie and he did hire me," D'Antoni said. "So I would think after three games, I don't think he's disillusioned and I'm definitely not disillusioned, so I think it's a little bit premature right now."
The Knicks scored 120 points in winning D'Antoni's debut last Wednesday, but have averaged 86.5 points while shooting 34.6 percent in the two losses since. Center Eddy Curry, who averaged 13.2 points and 4.7 rebounds last season, also has yet to see action for New York.
Charlotte got a poor effort from Jason Richardson in a 101-83 loss to the Pistons on Monday. He scored four points on 2-of-10 shooting - his lowest total since he had four on Nov. 7, 2007.
"It was a bad shooting night," Richardson said. You'll have those. You play a lot of games and you're only human."
The home team won all three matchups between these teams last season, with the Knicks winning twice.
Copyright 2008 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited