AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Flip Saunders reached an agreement Wednesday to become the new coach of the Detroit Pistons, who wasted no time replacing Larry Brown.

The hiring of Saunders, the former coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, was confirmed by an Eastern Conference official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team planned to announce the deal at a news conference Thursday.

Following talks between Pistons team president Joe Dumars and Saunders’ agent, the deal was finalized early Wednesday evening.

The Detroit News reported Saunders will receive a four-year contract worth between $4 million and $5 million per season.

Knicks, Brown plan meeting

NEW YORK – Larry Brown’s agent said Wednesday he expects the unemployed coach to make a decision on his future in the next couple of weeks, and the New York Knicks are already hard at work trying to convince the 64-year-old nomad to settle down at Madison Square Garden.

Knicks president Isiah Thomas spoke to Brown on the telephone Tuesday night, just hours after the Detroit Pistons announced they were parting ways with the coach who led them to the NBA Finals in each of the past two seasons.

“They talked last night and agreed to meet in person in the next few days,” Knicks spokesman Joe Favorito said. The New York Daily News reported Wednesday that the Knicks were prepared to offer Brown as much as $60 million over five years.

“It’s too soon to have any discussions along those lines. The ink hasn’t even dried yet (on his severance package from the Pistons),” said Brown’s longtime agent, Joe Glass. “I’m hoping he’ll take advantage of the time off, relax, refresh and revitalize.”

The Knicks’ pursuit of Brown will result in a longer period of limbo for interim coach Herb Williams, who guided the team over the final 43 games of the 2004-05 season after Lenny Wilkens was fired. Williams’ head coaching contract expires July 31, though he remains under contract to the Knicks as an assistant coach for the upcoming season. If Brown decides to turn down the Knicks, or if he chooses to wait a few months before deciding his next move, all indications point to the Knicks retaining Williams for the upcoming season.

Williams, through a team spokesman, declined comment. Brown did not immediately return a call to his summer home in East Hampton, N.Y.

Free agent signing date pushed back

NEW YORK – With the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement still not finalized, the league’s free agent signing period was delayed indefinitely Wednesday.

The league sent a memo to its 30 teams saying they will not be able to sign free agents on Friday, which was the original target date established by the league and the players’ union for getting the new six-year labor deal into writing.

NBA official Tim Frank said no new target date was set, but a spokesman for the union said he expected the agreement to be finalized and free agents to begin signing by the middle of next week.

“We continue to make progress going through the issues. The goal is to have everything agreed to by July 22, then to draft the documents,” union spokesman Dan Wasserman said. Teams have been negotiating with free agents for nearly three weeks, and many of the most prominent players have already reached tentative agreements on new contracts. Among them are sharpshooters Ray Allen and Michael Redd agreeing to stay in Seattle and Milwaukee, forward Udonis Haslem staying in Miami and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas remaining in Cleveland.

Among players planning to change teams, guard Larry Hughes is moving from Washington to Cleveland, forward Donyell Marshall from the Raptors to the Cavs and center Jerome James from the SuperSonics to the Knicks.

Also, former overall No. 1 draft pick Kwame Brown will be dealt from Washington to the Los Angeles Lakers in a sign-and-trade deal for Caron Butler, and free agent forward Stromile Swift will move from Memphis to Houston.

, forward Bobby Simmons will go from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Bucks, and guard Antonio Daniels plans to move from Seattle to Washington.

Among the best restricted free agents, whose teams have the right to match any offer, is 76ers center Samuel Dalembert. Philadelphia president Billy King has said the team will match any offer Dalembert receives.

Two of the teams with the most available salary cap space, Atlanta and New Orleans, have been unable to lure any prized free agents.

There is a chance that two-time All-Star Michael Finley of Dallas will become a free agent before the end of the summer.


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