December 22, 2010
Larry Brown has been fired as the coach of the Charlotte Bobcats. Or, at the very least, he was so sick of coaching this mess of a team that he fired himself.
Sure, the team will word it differently, to give the coaching legend a fitting send off, but when team president and CEO Michael Jordan words his statement this way:
The team has clearly not lived up to either of our expectations and we both agreed that a change was necessary.
... then you know this is a firing. Letting go of Brown's entire coaching staff drives that point home, as well.
And Larry, though he did nothing but give the impression that he wasn't long for the Bobcats since the moment he took the gig back in 2008, somehow comes out of this looking like a coaching martyr, again. Because the team Jordan put together for him was just awful in nearly every respect.
The Bobcats weren't exactly covered head to toe with floor burns this season, but they did try hard for long stretches in every game, up to and including their fourth-quarter meltdown against the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night. That loss left them at 9-19, but it's a wonder they won that many times. The squad's offense was 29th of 30 teams in pace-adjusted points scored, just a tick ahead of the LeBron-less Cleveland Cavaliers. And its once stout defense has been left helpless now that Jordan got rid of Tyson Chandler(notes) and let Raymond Felton(notes) go to New York, falling from first in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season to 17th.
The Bobcats made the playoffs under Brown last season, but even then most observers knew Jordan had stacked the deck with a series of win-now castoffs, and that the Bobcats had no real future outside of just attempting to approximate what they accomplished in 2009-10: 44 wins and a first-round crushing at the hands of the Orlando Magic. No trading partner was going to take on Charlotte's assets in any move that would make the Bobcats better, the team's financial woes precluded them from making any big splash in free agency and Brown was left to coach a much-worse version of a squad that overachieved to a ridiculous degree in its lone playoff turn.
If Jordan thinks Brown's replacement is going to do anything with this lot, he's in for a surprise. Remember, Brown is "that" coach. He's the hypothetical all-world coach who comes in and turns everything around. He has his annoying foibles both on court and off, but he does turn 35-win teams into 44-win teams as we saw last year. This year, he had a 16-win team on pace for 26 wins. If Jordan thinks any coach could do better, then he's an abhorrent judge of basketball talent. Which he's proven to be, a couple of dozen times over, since he began his career as an NBA executive in 2000.
Brown shouldn't get off free in this case. Though he did a very good job as Bobcats coach, he annoyed to no end with his open lusting for a gig as the top personnel executive with the Philadelphia 76ers (a team that now has three GM types in Rod Thorn, Ed Stefanski and the always-opinionated Doug Collins, and is similarly awful). Rumors of his departure tainted last spring's playoff run, something Charlotte fans didn't deserve, and he had earned criticism for his treatment of forward Tyrus Thomas(notes). Thomas has been the best player on Charlotte's roster this season by a good margin, and yet he's only fifth on the team in minutes per game.
Whether Brown will have the stomach for another NBA coaching gig is another story. Most league GMs would walk over hot coals in order to sign a coach of Brown's abilities, but they also understand they'd be scarring their feet to hire a man who will want to trade half the team's roster even after wins, and someone who has been less than a model employee at his last three stops: Detroit, where he shopped his wares to other teams during the playoffs; New York, where he undermined his admittedly terrible boss in Isiah Thomas; and Charlotte, where he, uh, shopped his wares to other teams during the playoffs.
Don't expect a return to the ranks this year. When coaches step down mid-stream, technically they are giving up the rest of the guaranteed money on their contract. A firing allows for the coach to get paid in full. Because Jordan has made mention of Brown staying on as a consultant, he's essentially allowing for both sides to save face, and Brown to still get his money for this season as a consultant who really doesn't consult. So don't expect Larry to hop into another situation this season.
But next season? After the lockout ends? Once Brown has talked up a team to a fawning owner and made himself to look like the missing piece between mediocrity and a few lucrative home playoff games? He'll be ready to jump back in. This isn't a college coach. This isn't a high school coach, though he swears he'll head back to coach at that level someday.
This is an NBA coach. Someone who makes lots of money doing calculated business with professionals who understand they could be shipped to Memphis in a moment's notice. We haven't seen the last of Larry Brown. The real question is, which team will be the next to take him on? I mean, can you get much lower than the Charlotte Bobcats?