You would think that in a season where the Charlotte Bobcats have been able to confound most predictions and show the league that they are indeed for real we'd have a lot to brag and strut about and we do. But what do we burn more time talking about than anything else? Trying to peek inside our coaches skull and figure out what the hell is going on in there.
No team has a shortage of armchair quarterbacks and for some of us here at ROF second-guessing the Bobcats management is almost a full time job. The team is having its best season ever and the coach is squeezing impressive stats out of a team constructed out of castoffs and overpaid journeymen. But Larry Brown seems to inspire more questions than any other winning coach. Why? I mean, look at this partial list of questions marks swirling around what the rest of the league calls a future Hall of Fame coach:
Why doesn't he play our rookies?
Why, after over 2 decades of experience, does our head coach run our best players into the ground?
Why does he have the tendency to let the team play on in the final minute of the game instead of calling more time outs to regroup and call set plays?
Doesn't he realize he's casting doubt on the value of our first round pick by refusing to allow him off the bench?
Does he ever truly smile or is that constant smirk frozen in place because someone slapped him on the back when he was making a face as a child?
Is he slowly morphing into a turtle?
Okay, the last 2 aren't really fair, but he does look a bit like a Turtle Man, don't you think? Remember that old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs tries to win the tortoise vs hare race and when he loses he finds out the turtle is really about 50 different turtles that ganged up on him? I saw that one a couple of weeks ago and I swear the turtles wore the same expression on their faces that LB does! I laughed so hard I almost needed fresh britches. (yes, I've already taken my meds this morning and yes, they're kicking in pretty well.)
I do think I've come up with the answer to the more serious questions.
LARRY BROWN DOESN'T CARE ABOUT THE CHARLOTTE BOBCATS. NOT THE FANS; NOT THE PLAYERS.
By all forms of measurement, Larry Brown is not a young man. Most men his age are already settling into retirement. He doesn't need further accolades. He isn't looking at the fixed Social Security income and wondering how he's going to live on the budget without eating Alpo. He doesn't need the glory of leading yet another hapless team deep into a playoff run. The truth is, only Larry himself knows why he's still punching the clock every day so many miles away from his home and family.
But I think most would agree that Charlotte is likely to represent Larry's swan song. In his vocation he's become a living legend. We've seen so many of the NBA elite walk over to the Charlotte bench to pay homage to our coach that it's almost part of the pre-game ritual. In sports the coach is the head of the family and among the league bosses, Larry is the capo de tutti capo. He is Don Corleone. At this point he can't really add anything to his legacy. But he can subtract from it.
He's never failed to reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons. He's built a career out of making winners out of perennial doormat teams. The winning aura that surrounds him is so thick you can cut it and when he came to Charlotte heads around the city poked out of their burrows and began to hope. Last season Larry just missed dragging the team into the post season. That sealed the deal. The Bobcats must make the playoffs this season or it will place an invisible asterisk next to Larry's name in the record books - "Larry Brown coached for XX years and never failed to make the playoffs in successive seasons*. (excluding his final years as coach of the Charlotte Bobcats.)"
I'm beginning to thing this weighs pretty heavy on Larry's head. A 2nd -term President of the United States knows he's at the end of his career and he makes most of his decisions with his legacy in the history books at the front of his mind. I don't think it's any different for Larry Brown.
Why is he killing Jackson and Wallace? Why is he cutting years off of Raymond Felton's knees by working him to death and demanding ever more from him? Why is he jeopardizing the future viability of our rookies by refusing to develop them into pro ballers?
I think the answer may be simple. He HAS to make the playoffs this year to avoid the asterisks on his legacy. He MUST bring the team in with a winning record. He spent the early part of the season openly blaming players and management for the shaky start. He was always quick to do the right thing in post-game interviews and blame himself, but the next day he would talk about unfullfilled promises from the FO that trade relief was on the way or about how this or that player let the team down with turnovers or missed shots. Larry Brown has also become the master of CYA (cover your act.) But the team has gelled. Stephen Jackson has ignited passions long dead in the veteran players and the Bobcats are playing like a team possessed on most nights. The playoffs are beginning to look like a certainty and Brown's legacy looks to be asterisk-free. The team is firing on all cylinders, or at least as many cylinders as they can. It's happened because several players are willing to put their bodies on the line and play every second of the game if that's what it takes. History says that these men will pay dearly for that willingness. It's happening with 2 promising rookies sitting on the bench watching their credibility in the NBA erode before their eyes. But Larry Brown doesn't care what careers are damaged and what bodies are broken. As soon as that tiny "x" appears next to the Bobcats name in the standings to indicate they've clinched a playoff berth the asterisks next to Larry Brown's name disappear. In the final analysis of what's happening inside Larry Brown's head, that may be the only thing that matters.