Wednesday, April 30, 2008

With L.B., Bobcats will make 2009 playoffs


Not even M.J. will be able to screw this up.

At least not for a season.

The former No. 23 has been a "bad" general manager, at best, but he made what will turn out to be the smartest move of the NBA offseason when he fired Sam Vincent after just a season and hired Larry Brown.

The key to determining whether to fire a coach is who's available to replace him. Vincent wasn't a terrible leader of the Bobcats, but with Brown chomping at the bit to get back into coaching -- and the whole North Carolina connection -- Jordan actually used some business acumen to let Vincent go and get his man.

And transform the Bobcats into a playoff team. That's right. There's no joking around here.

I'm 100 percent sure Charlotte will make the postseason next season. It might not finish .500, but in the lowly Eastern Conference, Brown will get his players to play enough defense to extend the season beyond 82 games. And then anything can happen.

Don't necessarily believe this relationship will last long. After all, there are too many factors going against an everybody-gets-along situation.

For one, this is Brown's record ninth NBA head coaching job. Don't believe that just because he's 67, he's ready to settle down somewhere. As he mentioned after getting the job, he still feels young. The chances of him staying more than two or three years are itty bitty.

Secondly, we all know how stubborn both men are. If Jordan decides he wants to out a certain player or retain a nut-case player, that's what will happen. Brown might not be very happy about losing his defensive stopper or keeping his ball-hogging point guard. He might know personnel -- and his team -- better than Jordan, but the all-time great will have his say.

So I'd bet on this marriage lasting three seasons.

But even if it's only for two years -- or, heck, just one -- it's a good idea. It's a good idea because it breathes life into this moribund franchise.

I attended two Bobcats games this season, and the arena was a morgue each time. One reason for this is that owner Bob Johnson sets ridiculous prices for tickets. Just to get into the lower level, you have to pay $55. For a crappy NBA team, that's ludicrous.

The product on the floor didn't help attract fans, either.

But one thing that can't be denied about the Bobcats is this -- they have a ton of talent.

Jason Richardson. Gerald Wallace. Raymond Felton. Emeka Okafor.

This is not a team devoid of play-makers, a team lacking guys who can create pyrotechnics both below and above the rim. It's a group of players, rather, that needs a coach to bring everyone together and create a unity, a chemistry that each and every player buys into.

L.B. is the man for the job. Just look at his track record. With nearly every NBA team he's coached, he has improved their win total right away. New Jersey (+20), Indian (+6), Philadelphia (+9) and Detroit (+4) -- Brown has gotten it done everywhere he's gone, except, of course, for the cemetery called Madison Square Garden.

And he'll make a huge difference with the Bobcats because the team's biggest problems are on the defensive end. Charlotte gave up 101.4 points per game this season, 11th worst in the league. Only two of the 16 playoff teams -- Phoenix and Denver -- gave up more, and look where they are now.

Brown will make his players buy into trying just as hard on the defensive end as they currently do on offense. He'll make sure that Richardson and Wallace -- with their leaping ability -- don't go a game without contesting and blocking shots. He'll whip Okafor and Nazr Mohammed into shape and turn them into rebounding machines.

Just look at what Brown did for the '04 Pistons. Detroit wasn't a bad defensive team in 2003 under Rick Carlisle, but in Brown's first season, the Pistons gave up 281 less points during the regular season. That translated to the playoffs, where they shut down scorers such as Reggie Miller and Kobe Bryant en route to the championship.

All M.J. has to do is stay out of the way. No major roster changes are needed, though re-signing Okafor before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season will be important. (Also, the bench and team depth could be improved.)

But seriously, Brown is inheriting what should be a playoff team in the East. (It'd be a different story out West.) With a little dedication to defense, no season-ending injuries such as the ones suffered by Adam Morrison and Sean May this year, and a team concept, the 2008-09 Bobcats could make some noise beginning in November and lasting well into April.

For that, you can give M.J. credit.

For once, he made the right moves from whatever golf course he's playing.


J-bo said...

I may actually have to attend a Bobcats game next season, especially if May finally gets healthy.

Neil Joshi said...

There's a lot of young talent over in Charlotte and there's definitely reason for optimism that they can break through and make the playoffs.