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In NBA, you can go home again

Players, coaches return to old teams

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Mike Brown's advice? Burn no bridges.

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Mike Brown's advice? Burn no bridges.

LAS VEGAS -- When Mike Brown first got into coaching in the early 1990s, veteran Bernie Bickerstaff would pull him aside for little chats on climbing the ladder in the NBA. One lesson stood out more than any other.

"He told me, 'Young buck, don't ever burn any bridges in this business or in life,"' Brown said. "It was an easy piece of advice for me to follow because that's how I'm built. You appreciate any opportunity that you are given in life and try to make the most of it."

That approach paid off in a big way for Brown this summer. He made those comments while standing outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers summer league team locker-room at the Thomas and Mack Center, dressed in a polo shirt with the Cavaliers logo on the left breast. Three years after being fired by the Cavaliers, Brown was rehired to run the show for a second time in Cleveland.

"It was weird for a while," Brown said of wearing the wine and gold colours again. "But it was a seamless transition for myself and my family. It almost, to a certain degree after we got over the initial shock of it, it almost felt like we never really left. It was almost like we went on vacation or something like that for a little bit."

He's not the only one. Many have learned this summer that you can go home again.

Reunions are all the rage across the league these days, with some more surprising than others. Flip Saunders has taken over as president of basketball operations in Minnesota eight years after the Timberwolves fired him as head coach. Larry Bird has returned to Indiana's front office after a year away, and Kurt Rambis has been talking to the Los Angeles Lakers about returning to the bench as an assistant coach under Mike D'Antoni.

Chauncey Billups signed with the Detroit Pistons, the team that he led to a title in 2004 and then traded him four years later. And Metta World Peace is joining the New York Knicks 14 years after they passed on the local St. John's star in the 1999 NBA draft.

"He's really excited to be joining his hometown team," said his agent Marc Cornstein. "That's obviously been something that's been a dream of his since growing up in Queensbridge."

In many of those cases, the key to the reunion lies in how both sides handled the initial exits. Firings and trades in the NBA often can be about more than simply business. Feelings are hurt. Egos are bruised. Bridges aren't just burned, they're vaporized.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor fired Saunders as coach in 2005, about half a season after Saunders led the team to the Western Conference finals. He didn't take the news well, feeling like a scapegoat for a team that had much deeper issues. But through the years, including during coaching stops in Detroit and Washington, Saunders maintained contact with Taylor, and the two repaired any ill will and became confidantes again.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2013 C6

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