The Brooklyn accent still drips from Larry Brown’s voice. Of course, it is probably hard to develop another accent when you move around as much as Brown has during a coaching career that is approaching four decades./p>
He has coached nine NBA teams, including one that bridged the NBA-ABA merger, as well as one ABA team and two of college basketball’s most storied programs in UCLA and Kansas.
Yet while Brown might talk like a New Yorker, he is a North Carolinian at heart. Brown fell in love with the state when he played collegiately at North Carolina from 1959-63. His first coaching job was as a graduate assistant under Dean Smith at his alma mater and his first head coaching job was with the Carolina Cougars in the ABA.
So when Charlotte Bobcats co-owner and fellow former Tar Heel Michael Jordan called Brown two years ago, he couldn’t help but be intrigued by the offer to coach in Charlotte. Jordan wanted Brown, who has turned around some many other organizations, to bring order to the Bobcats, a fourth-year franchise struggling to win games and attract fans in a city shunned by the NBA in 2002 when the Hornets left for New Orleans.
“I have so much respect for Michael,” Brown said. “I would do anything he asked. And to be asked to come back to Charlotte and the state of North Carolina was just too much to pass up. I really think this franchise has a chance to be a great one. It is in a great area with passionate basketball fans. What we need to do is put a winning team on the court to entice them to come to the games.”
The Bobcats have yet to make the playoffs since entering the NBA as an expansion franchise in 2004 and haven’t won more than 35 games in a season. While they are not tearing up the league this season, they are 16-19 and that record would be enough to get them into the playoffs.
Making the playoffs would be a big step in the right direction in Brown’s eyes.
“It would be big if we could just play meaningful games in the last month or so of the season,” Brown said. “It would be important for the fans to experience that and see how exciting it is and I think it would be big for some of our players. One of the great things about coaching in college was making a run in the NCAA Tournament because you gained so much experience not only playing the extra games but playing in games where the atmosphere is different. I think it would make a big difference if our franchise could reach that point this season.”
There has been an atmosphere of hope around the Bobcats since they acquired guard Stephen Jackson from the Warriors in a mid-November trade. Jackson is averaging 20.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 41.0 minutes for the Bobcats, though his Offensive Rating is just 95 and his Defensive Rating is 102.
“Management going out and trading for a guy of his ability sent a good message to the rest of the team,” point guard Raymond Felton said. “It gave us a sense that we were serious about winning this season.”
The Bobcats, though, have been winning with defense. Their 101.2 Defensive Rating is second in the NBA. Forward Gerald Wallace believes it can get even better if the Bobcats can cut down on their 16.6 turnovers a game.
“We’re giving up too many easy baskets in transition,” Wallace said. “When we get teams in the half court, we make it hard for them to score. You look our defense and it’s already one of the best in the league and I know it would be the best if we can do a better job of controlling the pace.”
It also wouldn’t hurt if the Bobcats could learn to win away from Time Warner Cable Arena. They are 13-4 at home this season but 3-15 on the road.
“I think the pieces are in place for us to make the playoffs but we’ve got to clean a few things up, like the turnovers and the road record,” Wallace said. “If we can do that, I really believe we can win a lot of games.”
No Quit in Wizards After Arenas' Suspension
The Washington Wizards' chance of getting to the playoffs seem non-existent now that point guard Gilbert Arenas has been suspended indefinitely by the NBA for brandishing a gun in the locker room following a practice on the day before Christmas at Verizon Arena. The Warriors have lost 13 of their last 18 games to fall to 12-23.
However, the Wizards insist they are not giving up on the season.
“We are in a situation where we have to draw together and get even closer,” forward and team captain Antawn Jamison said. “We miss Gilbert. He’s part of our family. But until everything settles, the guys who are still here are going to have to pull together and get the job done.”
Speculation continues that commissioner David Stern will not lift Arenas suspension until after the season. The signs are clear that the Wizards want no part of Arenas as they have pulled down a large poster of him outside the Verizon Center and quit selling his replica jerseys at the souvenir stands.
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown can understand what Wizards’ counterpart Flip Saunders is going through. Cavaliers guard Delonte West was arrested in Maryland in September then indicted for reckless operation of a motorcycle while carrying two loaded handguns, a shotgun, 112 shotgun shells and a knife.
“A lot of people can X and O, set a pindown here or make a cut there,” Brown said. “Coaching is like management. It's about being a people person and adjusting when certain circumstances come up. What Flip is dealing with, all of us as coaches go through things that people wouldn't imagine. It's our job to help keep the ship headed in the right direction and get the most out of the group of guys you have in front of you.”
Arenas reportedly drew the gun because teammate Javaris Crittenton allegedly accused of him of failing to pay a $25,000 gambling debt that occurred during a poker game on a Wizards’ charter flight. That has led the Wizards and Nets to institute team rules against gambling on flights and other teams are also considering taking the same measure.
However, Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups believes that banning card games could be detrimental because they can build team unity if the stakes are kept low.
“Everybody likes to gamble, whether it's any kind of card game,” Billups said. “Whatever it is, I think that it's who you gamble with. I think that it's the stakes that you gamble for. For our team, we gamble for small money. Just to waste time. Twenty dollars. If we gambled for $2,000, $2,500, $3,000, now that messes with your camaraderie. Now, when someone wants to get paid, it’s like, ‘I don't want to be around this guy.’ I think it's about what you gamble for and who you're with. We're not gambling to pay bills. We're just gambling to have fun.”
Philadelphia Not Desperate to Trade
The Philadelphia 76ers have plenty of players they wouldn’t mind shipping out of town by the Feb. 19 deadline. Center Samuel Dalembert leads a list that also includes power forward Elton Brand and swingman Andre Iguodala.
However, 76ers president Ed Stefanski will have a hard time moving any of those three because they have hefty contracts. Thus, it will likely mean that the 76ers will keep all three and have almost no room under the salary cap when perhaps the most-anticipated group of free agents hits the open market this upcoming summer.
Teams are interested in forwards Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights but the 76ers, who are 11-25, consider those young players part of their future.
“Well only make a trade if it's beneficial to the organization going forward,” Stefanski said. “Teams smell blood in the water when you have a record like ours. You have to force yourself not to make a trade if it is not beneficial either for the short term or the long term. The coaches and players look short term only. Myself and the personnel department, we look short term and we have to look long term. We work the phones on a regular basis to see what's out there and then we have to make decisions about it.”
Meanwhile, the Sacramento Kings have let teams know that forward Andres Nocioni is very much available in trade. Nocioni has become expendable now that rookie sensation Omri Casspi has taken his place in the lineup.
However, Nocioni has a contract that runs through 2012 and hasn’t helped his trade value by putting up a 10.1/3.4/1.2/23.0 line with a 103 Offensive Rating and a 111 Defensive Rating.
On Monday, the Dallas Mavericks are expected to trade seldom-used backup forward Kris Humphries and exiled Shawne Williams to the Nets for forward Eduardo Najera. The trade will likely pave the way for the Mavericks to acquire a backup for point guard Jason Kidd as it will save them $5 million, open a roster spot and bring a $2.3-million trade exemption.
Battle of L.A. Goes to the Clippers
The Clippers are clearly the No. 2 team in Los Angeles. While the Lakers have won 10 NBA titles since relocating from Minneapolis in 1960, the Clippers have been to the playoffs just four times since moving up the coast from San Diego in 1984.
However, the Clippers had their moment in the sun last Wednesday night when they beat the Lakers 102-91. That ended the Clippers’ nine-game losing streak against their Staples Center co-tenant and gave coach Mike Dunleavy a chance to fire back at those who use the franchise as a punch line.
“I’m not against the Lakers,” Dunleavy said. “I coached the Lakers and I have a lot of great friends in the organization. I don't root against them except when we play them. Every other night they play, I want them to win. But when people take cheap shots at us, I don’t like that.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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