Philadelphia — Less than an hour before the game started, with the countdown clock ticking away, there was still a long list of things Larry Brown wasn't sure about.
"I don't know who the heck to play, to be honest," Brown said as he sat in one of the back offices near the 76ers' locker room. "I won't know until I watch Derrick (Coleman) run."
With just a few games remaining before the end of the regular season, the Sixers were limping, literally and figuratively, into Tuesday night's game against the Detroit Pistons. Coleman, with a bruised thigh and a bruised hand, was nearly the least of it. Keith Van Horn and Monty Williams were unavailable, shortening both the bench and the team itself.
If Coleman couldn't provide some minutes, the Sixers would be playing very small. Fortunately for them, it was the right night to be undersized against Detroit, which was without Ben Wallace, the league's best rebounder and shot-blocker.
As it turned out, Coleman gave Brown and the Sixers plenty of minutes. He gimped a little bit and shook the pain from his left hand occasionally, but he was out there. Maybe it was the carryover from the national championship won the night before by Syracuse as coach Jim Boeheim finally reached the career pinnacle that Coleman and many others never provided him.
"Derrick should be on cloud nine," Brown said. "We'll see."
For his part of it, Brown was under a cloud, not on top of one, after watching the college title game. It is a complicated situation -- with Larry it is "always a complicated situation" -- but Brown felt bad for his longtime friend Roy Williams and the Kansas University program that Brown himself coached to a championship.
The next sneaker that has to drop concerns the coaching vacancy at North Carolina, a job that, in an uncomplicated world, both Williams and Brown would love to have. Both are Tar Heels with unyielding loyalty to former coach Dean Smith. It appears that Smith will have the loudest voice in choosing the new coach. He was in New Orleans for the Final Four and sat up to console Williams after the title game.
"Coach Smith was there with him until 3 in the morning," Brown said.
If there was a touch of wistfulness in his voice, it was because Brown had spent his own late nights celebrating victories and mourning losses with Smith.
And if there was a touch of longing, it was because, once again, the North Carolina job appears to belong to Williams unless he turns it down. Once again, Brown is the logical second choice. It didn't work out that way the last time, but, with Smith in control, Brown apparently would get the call in this instance. Although he has not broadcast his thoughts, it would be less than surprising if Brown made the decision to move from Philadelphia to Chapel Hill.
"Roy had a hell of a year," Brown said, even though the Kansas season ended with a crushing loss, and even though Williams had to endure questions about the North Carolina opening just seconds after the game ended.
"I wish they had waited a while," Brown said. "Or he could have said, hey, yes or no."
That would have made things easier for Brown -- or maybe not.
Reports out of North Carolina late Tuesday night were that Smith was expected to call Williams and offer the job. This isn't three years ago, when Bill Guthridge's resignation came unexpectedly, or when Williams was looking forward to coaching freshmen Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich for the rest of their college careers.
The time seems right for Williams, who has had plenty of time to think about the job. Time, however, seems to be running out for Brown.
Instead of going back to Carolina, Brown is going to Boston Thursday and New York Friday, willing an injured team toward a better playoff seeding. He juggles the lineup, marvels at Allen Iverson -- who, despite a sore knee, drove the ball inside for an amazing 37 points against the defenseless Pistons -- and waits for that other sneaker to fall.