Larry Brown has a new coaching gig. Again. The Charlotte Hornets become the ninth team he has helmed, following Denver, New Jersey, San Antonio, Indiana, the Clippers, Philadelphia, Detroit and New York. The prevailing attitude seems to be that he will be a miracle worker in Charlotte. Jim Rome went as far today as to virtually guarantee that the team would make the playoffs next year under his leadership. That’s quite a claim for a team that only won 32 games last year. But what has history taught us about what we can expect from Brown when he joins a new team?
The first place where Brown really established his legend was in San Antonio. He led that team to what was then the single biggest turnaround in league history – 21 wins in 1989 to 56 in 1990. That was impressive, but it is an incomplete story. Brown was also the coach when the team won the 21 games. He took over a team that had won 31 the year before and made little obvious improvement. It was only when the team added Sean Elliott from the draft. David Robinson fresh off his military duty, and Terry Cummings by trade that they were able to turn things around. Brown was in charge, but it hardly took a heroic effort to show improvement with that new talent.Of more note, the team’s number of wins decreased in each of the next two seasons and the team was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round both years.
His previous job at New Jersey could make Charlotte fans more optimistic – he jumped from 24 wins to 44 in year one. He didn’t win a playoff series in two years their either, though. With the Clippers he took over a team that was 22-25 and went 23-12 the rest of the year. The next year the team was 41-41, and Brown left for Indiana. With the Pacers he improved by six wins in his first year and by five more in year two. The team matched the 52 win total in year three but then slumped all the way to 39 wins before Brown resigned.
Brown’s first year in Philly had its struggles. Iverson was only in his second year. The team improved from 22 to 31 wins, but they still weren’t exactly good. A rapid improvement started after that, though, and they were in the NBA finals three years later.
Brown next went to Detroit, but we don’t learn much from that. He won the championship in his first season, but he was handed a complete team that had won 50 games in each of the two previous seasons. We also can’t really learn much from his year in New York because it was such a circus.
So what’s the conclusion? Brown is a very good coach, but he needs two things to succeed – talent and time. Not a lot of time – certainly less than a lot of coaches would need in the same situation – but some at least. There is some decent talent in Charlotte with Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace, and guys with untapped potential like Raymond Felton and Emeka Okafor. Adam Morrison will be back from a knee injury next year, and they will likely have a new lottery pick in the fold by next season. Brown will have something to work with, but he can’t work miracles, and it will take time for him to get his systems in place and to tweak the talent so that it fits his needs. In other words, I’m sure he will turn the team around (if he sticks around more than a year), but it won’t likely be next year. That could provide an opportunity for bettors – the public is likely to overcompensate for the Bobcats now that Brown is at the helm. This is especially likely early in the year. It doesn’t help his case that he has Michael Jordan behind him – he’s hardly been proven to be the most astute manager of talent.