Friday, April 30, 2010

The tortured soul of Larry Brown

I didn't attend Larry Brown's end-of-season news conference Friday, but I'm going to try and read the tea leaves, anyway.

Brown is going home to Philadelphia now to talk with his wife, Shelly, and his two teenagers (ages 13 and 15) about whether he should move back to Philly (presumably to retire or else take a front-office job with the 76ers) or stay in Charlotte to coach the Bobcats for at least another season.

OK, a couple of points:

1) When you were 13 or 15 years old, did you want your Dad around all the time?

2) Why won't Shelly, his wife, move here? This is intriguing, but apparently not an option. The Browns want to keep the kids in schools where they are happy and they have friends. I understand that, and certainly they're all used to the situation, given that when Larry came here the kids were 11 and 13 and only he moved to Charlotte. Shelly gave the go-ahead for that move originally, but it took some doing -- I remember Michael Jordan saying Shelly was a tougher negotiator at the time than Larry was.

3) Here was the most telling thing Brown said about this dilemma Friday:
"I have a great job here. I love Charlotte, I love working for Michael, I love coaching. I don’t think there are many places where I’ve been as comfortable, and I’ve been in some pretty special situations.

"But I have a 13-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son and the time I’m away from them, I can’t get that back. I’ll be 70 [on his next birthday]. I don’t feel that way, unless I look in the mirror. But I’ve got to go home and talk to my wife. I love her and I love my kids and I don’t want them growing up and all of a sudden I blink and I’ve missed that. It’s just something I’ll have to address and try to figure out."

So Larry's soul is tortured once again. He's been that way, off and on, for large segments of his life. But he's also a basketball genius, which is why everyone puts up with his "To be or not to be" imitation of Hamlet every couple of years.

My guess? Brown ultimately gets it worked out on the homefront. And he stays in Charlotte. Maybe only for one more year, maybe for two to fulfill the original contract he signed with Jordan.

That's just my gut reaction, after watching Brown interact with Jordan and other Bobcat employees Wednesday at the golf tournament at Quail Hollow. You could see the affection there. Brown loves what he's doing and who he's working for. And Shelly knew what he did when she married him -- how a lot of his life is defined by basketball, and coaching. I think she and Larry will work out a compromise, and he'll stay -- at least for one more year.

But I'm certainly not going to bet the house on that. Let's remember, this is Larry Brown. He's so fascinating in large part because he's so unpredictable. "Where You Gonna Be Next Year, Larry?" was once the title of a Sports Illustrated feature on Brown.

And that was in 1984.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Larry following MJ, staying coy

Michael Jordan and Larry Brown share a laugh Wednesday at the Quail Hollow Championship pro-am. Jordan played; Brown watched.

I am at the Quail Hollow Championship today, and was following the Michael Jordan-Fred Couples pairing on the ninth tee when things started to get interesting.

Out of the gallery bounded Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown (who originally was a candidate to play in the pro-am, but ended up not doing so). Brown hugged everybody in the group -- it also includes Quail Hollow president Johny Harris -- and then started following them inside the ropes.

"Grab a club and let's go!" Jordan told Brown. Brown said no thanks, he was just going to watch, and then he did exactly that. Brown walked behind Jordan and Couples with Bobcats president Fred Whitfield and assistant coach Dave Hanners, applauding occasionally (especially when Jordan hit a good one).

This, of course, sets off a ruckus among the fans. Some variation of "Stay in Charlotte, Larry!" and "Don't leave, Larry!" was repeated dozens of times over the next few holes. Each time, Brown would smile, wave -- and say absolutely nothing.

I got the feeling Brown was still in the "hemming-and-hawing" stage -- he certainly wasn't telling fans "Okay, I'll stay." He did sign a lot of autographs, though, and was as gracious as he could be without answering questions.

I cornered him at one point and asked if I could talk to him. He nodded, but then said he wanted to watch Jordan play the round first and walked away. I am guessing Brown will end up talking to a cluster of reporters in about an hour or two at the 18th green -- word of his impromptu visit to the course is starting to spread.

Brown apparently plans to go home to Philadelphia Thursday and have a talk with his wife (and maybe 76ers officials??) about whether he's going to coach in Charlotte, end up as president of the Philadelphia franchise, do something else or retire entirely.

There was one funny moment, too, when a couple of teenagers saw Brown up close.

"Next year we'll win it all!" the first teenager told the coach. Brown had no response.

"Next year, we'll win a game in the playoffs," the other said sarcastically.

"Yeah," Brown said, grinning.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'll miss Chris Harris

As the Panthers' purge continues....

Carolina traded starting strong safety Chris Harris on Tuesday for Chicago backup linebacker Jamar Williams. Harris made news (again) on his Twitter page, announcing the trade before either team announced it.

This means the Panthers will have at least nine new starters out of 22 next season, as Sherrod Martin is expected to step in for Harris. It continues Carolina's tendency to get younger this offseason. Here's Darin Gantt's excellent story about the deal.

Will Harris's departure make a huge on-field difference? Probably not. Martin is pretty darn good. Harris had a great streak last season of being involved in at least one turnover for five straight games, but he also doesn't have the sort of speed that I think defensive coordinator Ron Meeks most values in that position.

Still, I'll miss Harris -- and his Twitter account. Now he knew how to use Twitter! He didn't use it just to post what he had for breakfast (and I saw him once at a Charlotte pancake house, so I can tell you the man liked his breakfast). He broke news on that thing -- first the release of Brad Hoover, then news of his own trade. (Harris and kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd were by far the most entertaining Panthers to read on Twitter; now both are gone. Somebody in that locker room needs to step up!).

Harris also was a stand-up guy in that locker room and also a smart guy. Bet you didn't know he had a twin brother who is a university professor. When he began his career with Carolina, he had an uncanny knack for causing fumbles, but that dissipated some over time.

What a good guy, though. The Panthers still have a number of those, but they sure have gotten rid of a bunch of them this offseason.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Brown's future -- and 5 ugly numbers for Bobcats

The Bobcats just got swept by Orlando in their first-ever playoff series, falling 99-90 Monday night. It was a strange evening dominated in the media room by the latest batch of rumors that Bobcats coach Larry Brown was close to leaving Charlotte to assume the presidency of the Philadelphia 76ers -- a story touching off these rumors.

Brown said again after the game that he would coach nowhere else but for Michael Jordan and Charlotte and acted offended that the question was even asked.

But when later asked specifically whether he would take a front-office job elsewhere -- in other words, not coaching elsewhere but still leaving Charlotte -- he said, "That's hypothetical."

Brown made it sound like he wanted to stay, saying he loved nothing more than coaching. But he also sounded like he more or less had to get permission to do it again from his wife Shelly, who has stayed in the Philadelphia area with their two children all this time while Brown has been in Charlotte, coaching basketball and otherwise living what I would find to be a rather lonely existence.

Brown seemed weary after the game and said he felt "miserable" about the sweep. He also noted he will be 70 on his next birthday. In other words, this issue is not completely done by a long shot -- Brown is still going to have long conversations with his wife and Jordan before deciding for sure whether he will coach Charlotte in 2010-11. It sounded to me like retirement was at least as much an option as taking a front-office job in Philly -- let's be serious, if you really wanted to be around your wife and kids a lot more, you'd retire, not just take another job closer to them.

OK, onto the 5 ugly numbers for the Bobcats:

15: Out of 16 teams in the playoffs, that's how many teams have won at least a single first-round game. Charlotte was the only one to get swept. In the party everyone wants to get to, the Bobcats are the first one ushered out the door.

3-for-18: Stephen Jackson's shooting performance from three-point range in this series.

12: Difference in Bobcats starting center Theo Ratliff's number of fouls in the four-game series (15) compared to his number of rebounds (3).

14-12: Boris Diaw's total field goals for the series compared to his total turnovers. Diaw was decent Monday, but in the first 3 games he disappeared at all the wrong times.

2: Charlotte's lead at halftime in Game 4. Was this a bad thing? Well, no. But a reporter who has covered the Magic all season saw me at halftime and said, "That's just about as bad as the Magic can play. And they're down by 2."

In other words, as soon as Orlando got going again, it would be over, and that's exactly what happened. The talent variance in this series was so severe that Charlotte really only had one good chance to win -- in Game 3 when Dwight Howard fouled out -- and the Bobcats blew that one.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

On Matt Moore, Panthers draft and the Bobcats

I wrote a couple of columns for Sunday's paper after attending Charlotte's 90-86 playoff loss to Orlando and watching the Panthers' NFL draft.

I won't belabor the points I made in them, but I wrote mostly about Bobcats coach Larry Brown's frustration in the first one and mostly about Matt Moore's sudden competition at quarterback given the Panthers drafting two new QBs in the second one.

Quite a week coming up in Charlotte, too -- the Bobcats' Game 4 is Monday night (with Charlotte just hoping to avoid the sweep now the way Dwyane Wade did Sunday) and the huge golf tournament all week at Quail Hollow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

5 thoughts about Game 2 as Bobcats go down 0-2

Just finished watching the Bobcats lose, 92-77, to Orlando in Game 2 of this 7-game series. A few thoughts that I couldn't fit into my column:

1. Both head coaches seemed to be equally furious at the officiating Wednesday night. Larry Brown and Stan Van Gundy each drew a technical. Van Gundy believes his superstar Dwight Howard doesn't get superstar calls and keeps getting whistled for "marginal fouls" -- Howard has missed about 20 minutes of both games because of foul trouble.

Brown was upset that only three players on his team shot free throws at all Wednesday and that Orlando outshot the Bobcats from the free-throw line, 35-18.

2. Van Gundy disputed Brown's notion that the Magic didn't practice Monday because they didn't respect Charlotte. He said instead that Game 1 was so brutal that his players needed some "physical rest," and he added that Orlando won't practice much on Thursday, either. Van Gundy portrayed all this as a compliment to Charlotte, but then again, what did you expect him to say?

3. Three Charlotte starters -- Boris Diaw, Theo Ratliff and Raymond Felton -- shot a combined 4-for-15 and scored a total of nine points Wednesday. That's nasty.

4. Vince Carter was much better Wednesday, showing what he can still do when he drives to the rim and accepts contact instead of settling for outside jumpers. He scored a team-high 19 points. Carter and Raymond Felton also had a brief dispute on the court that caused Carter to roll his eyes at Felton -- you don't see two Tar Heels doing that too often.

5. Tyson Chandler had six fouls in a little more than 13 minutes of action Wednesday. Geez.

Vince Carter in his "Vin-Sanity" dunking days

I wrote a column today about Vince Carter, who at Orlando now has a better chance at the NBA championship that has eluded him for a dozen years than he ever has before.

Although the column mainly deals with substance (i.e. championships) rather than style (i.e. the dunks Carter is so famous for), no Carter story would be totally complete without mentioning a couple.

In the story, I mention two highlight moments in Carter's flamboyant resume -- his thrilling performance at the 2000 NBA slam-dunk contest and his dunk over a 7-foot-2 French center in the 2000 Olympics.

Here are the YouTube links for each: The NBA dunk contest and the Olympic dunk, which the French media would later christen "the dunk of death." Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

J.J. Redick, role player

Remember when J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison shared the Sports Illustrated cover in 2006? One of them has become a valued reserve in the NBA; the other has been a complete bust.

My column today is on former Duke star J.J. Redick, who was once thought of as an NBA bust but has now morphed into a valuable reserve for the Orlando Magic.

Redick averages 9.6 points per game for the Magic and scored 10 -- including seven in the fourth quarter -- of Orlando's Game 1 victory over Charlotte Sunday.

I interviewed Redick in Orlando in the locker room postgame for this column. Up close, he still looks small for an NBA player (he's 6-4, 190 pounds) but more muscular than he used to be. Redick said that college hoops fans who haven't followed him in the pros might be surprised how little he gets his shots nowadays through "catch-and-shoot" three-pointers, which were his bread and butter at Duke.

"We just don't run much of that," Redick said. So he's had to become better scoring off the dribble, and he had to stop being a defensive liability, which he has done. As a result, he plays 22 minutes per game on one of the NBA's most talented teams.

Redick and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison were often linked during the 2006 college basketball season, as they were the best players and the top two scorers for most of that year. Morrison was drafted No.3 by the Charlotte Bobcats (Michael Jordan's call) and Redick No.11. Here's

Redick has turned out far better than Morrison, however, who has been a complete bust and has been on the bench basically his whole career (now for the L.A. Lakers).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

3 thoughts on Game 1 of Bobcats-Magic

My column from Orlando about Game 1 of the Bobcats-Orlando playoff series can be seen here.

Here are three thoughts I couldn't fit into the column but I thought were still interesting from Orlando's 98-89 victory.

1)Seated in the second row under one basket, I could hear exactly why Stephen Jackson got himself an early technical. After scoring on a contested layup, Jackson screamed: "That's a [bleeping] foul!"

Jackson now has bigger problems -- his hyper-extended left knee meant he had to hobble around for the second half and didn't play at all for the final nine minutes. The fact that the Bobcats don't play again until Wednesday may work to their advantage on that injury.

2) Charlotte really needs someone else to score a little off the bench -- D.J. Augustin needs to make a couple of threes, Tyrus Thomas needs to do more, etc. There's too much pressure right now for either Jackson, Gerald Wallace or Raymond Felton to carry the offense on practically every possession.

3) Charlotte's "Hack-a-Dwight" strategy worked very well Sunday. Dwight Howard scored only 5 points and missed 5 of his 6 free throw attempts. You can see why when you watch him shooting free throws up close. The ball looks like a cantaloupe in his hands. It literally seems too small for him to shoot it correctly.

Wallace, Jackson and the alpha male syndrome

I wrote my column today on Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson and the peaceful way they have managed to co-exist on the Charlotte Bobcats team, despite the fact they both have an alpha-male sort of personality.

I do wish you could see these two interact in the locker room. I tried to describe that some in the story. They show their affection by teasing each other unmercifully.

I am in Orlando today along with Observer colleague Rick Bonnell -- we will be covering the first two games of the Charlotte-Orlando playoff series here before heading back home. I'll be posting to this blog all week about the series, in which No.2 seed Orlando is a heavy favorite over No.7 seed Charlotte.

Wallace said a couple of days ago he was already getting "nervous" about the opener -- this is the first time he's ever been an integral part of a playoff team (in Sacramento, during his first couple of years, the Kings made the playoffs but Wallace just sat on the bench). Jackson has a championship ring from his time in San Antonio, and he will need to stay cool-headed throughout this series no matter what sort of calls the officials make (as my story goes into, Jackson is fairly notorious for thinking he gets fouled on every shot he misses, but Wallace is good at talking him down off the ledge).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Where are they now? Paul Silas edition

I wrote a column about former Charlotte Hornets coach Paul Silas this week. Silas coached the last NBA team from Charlotte to make the playoffs -- the then-Charlotte Hornets, in 2002.

I knew Silas had settled back in our area once his coaching gig with the Hornets and then the Cleveland Cavaliers had ended (he was LeBron's first head coach in Cleveland). But I hadn't thought too much about him until one Saturday a few weeks ago.

I coach my kids on various youth sports teams from time to time -- basketball, soccer and tennis, mostly. On that day, I was supervising my 9-year-old and 7 other kids on his team in a frantic youth basketball game at a church in eastern Lincoln County, where I live.

Then the biggest man in the room started walking toward me while the game was going on. The sunlight was behind him and I couldn't tell who it was -- but he was about 6-foot-7 and imposing, until he flashed a dazzling smile.

That was Paul Silas. He was watching youth basketball, having come to support his own personal trainer, Jonathan Vance, a friend of mine who helps run a wonderful Upward basketball league for hundreds of kids on a volunteer basis. We chatted as the kids ran back and forth. (Silas also coaches youth basketball now -- as an assistant!)

Then Silas got to watch me coach, instead of the way I watched him for several years with the Charlotte Hornets in the old Charlotte Coliseum. I really showed off, too -- I burned all my timeouts, diagrammed ball screens, got my kids to flop on charge calls, called out nonsensical names of plays -- I mean, I had it going!

No, I'm just kidding. My style of youth coaching is mostly to roll out the ball, let them play, make sure someone brought the postgame snacks and do damage control as necessary.

But it was nice to catch up with Silas during that game, and it made me think that Silas might be a pretty good "Where Are They Now?" column at some point. Silas is one of those classy guys that just about everyone likes, even though he could be a very no-nonsense coach. Just a good fellow, and one that could have lived anywhere but who I'm glad settled in the Charlotte area.

Tiger to Quail Hollow -- yes!

Having Tiger Woods at Quail Hollow will perk the April 29-May 2 tournament up once again this year -- Tiger made the announcement via his website today.

In 2009, Woods placed fourth at Quail Hollow, finishing two shots behind champion Sean O'Hair. Tiger has played in Charlotte three other times and won the whole thing in 2007.

Woods is known to like the course at Quail Hollow, which is quite a challenge -- especially the final three holes. Woods said last year: "We were kind of joking out there today, they're trying to audition for a major championship down the road. The only difference is there's no rough right now. You add rough, make it a par-70 and there you go."

Of course, the off-course intrigue will also continue with Woods here in Charlotte. Will his wife show up? Will there be any Tiger sightings other than at the golf course anywhere around here?

I imagine Tiger will keep a very low profile in Charlotte -- it'd be crazy not to -- and that he will contend here like he almost always does. With both Tiger and 2010 Masters champ Phil Mickelson in the field, it should be quite a weekend.

5 notes from Bobcats' regular-season finale

A few notes from Charlotte's regular-season ender -- a 98-89 loss to Chicago that was meaningless to the Bobcats but assured the Bulls of the No.8 playoff seed (Here's my column from after the game, focusing mostly on Orlando and the Bobcats' upcoming playoff series).

1) Charlotte never led -- not for the entire game. You could tell who wanted and needed this one more from the outset.

2) The Bobcats were fortunate Tyson Chandler didn't get hurt in this one. Larry Brown played his key players about two quarters each, and Chandler went after a loose ball during one stretch and then fell like a tree. He said he was OK afterward, though -- the Bobcats will need him badly (and his six fouls) against Orlando and Dwight Howard in the playoff series that begins Sunday at 5:30 p.m. in Orlando (TNT).

3) Nice to see golfer Fred Couples in the crowd of 17,439. And Charles Oakley, one of Michael Jordan's longtime cronies, took the seat next to MJ courtside.

4) Man, it's fun to watch Derrick Rose play (27 points Wednesday). The Bulls don't have enough to seriously compete with Cleveland in that first-round playoff series, but Rose will give LeBron a few runs for his money before that one is over.

5) Interesting trivia question asked and answered at the Bobcats' game Wednesday: Who is the one player on the current roster who was a consensus collegiate All-American?

Give up?

D.J. Augustin, at Texas.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Larry (For Once, Stay In Town) Brown

I wrote my column today about Larry Brown, the wandering coach who at age 69 has helped the Charlotte Bobcats finally get into the playoffs.

Brown is famously restless. He has made 9 NBA stops and is that rare coach who, closing in on age 70, could still easily convince some other NBA owner to hire him again. So it's natural that teams with any connection to Brown or his family would think about hiring the hall of famer.

Brown hadn't exactly stamped out the rumors of him going to Philadelphia or to the L.A. Clippers until Tuesday, when he told The Observer's Rick Bonnell he was going to coach nowhere else but Charlotte.

I do hope that's true. In the meantime, though, you may want to take a glance at this excellent Brown profile written in 1984 by Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith, a great guy who also happens to be one of the great American writers working today.

Incidentally, sorry I haven't been updating the blog lately. I was off for a week in early April, coinciding with my kids' spring break. But I'm back at it this week and will be posting regularly as usual. Come back early and often. I'll be posting again late tonight with some thoughts after attending the Bobcats' final regular-season game, against Chicago.

Friday, April 2, 2010

5 things I liked about Bobcats' win over Bucks

Charlotte (40-35) just pulled out a big home win over Milwaukee in overtime, 87-86, despite coach Larry Brown getting ejected with 9:55 to go in the second quarter.

Here are 5 things I liked about the Bobcats' victory:

1) Playing without Brown. Charlotte didn't panic without its hall of fame coach (whose ejection is the subject of my column in Saturday's paper). In a very tight game -- it was a two-point game after one quarter, a one-point game at halftime, and was tied at the end of both the third and fourth quarters -- the Bobcats didn't lose their poise. Once, I thought Stephen Jackson might follow Brown right out the door on this one, but he calmed himself down.

2) Jackson's shooting. He scored 32 points (11-for-28), and the Bobcats needed every one. Gerald Wallace wasn't in the offensive flow in this one (five points) and too often passed off when driving to the basket. Raymond Felton was the only other Bobcat to even hit double figures, with 12.

3) Tyson Chandler's tip-back. Chandler tipped back an errant Felton shot with four seconds to go, allowing Felton to run the ball down and the clock to run out. "I knew Milwaukee was sending five to the glass, and I just tried to tip it over their heads," Chandler said.

4) The Bobcats' bench. D.J. Augustin, Stephen Graham and Chandler were all effective and outscored a potent Bucks bench.

5) The crowd. The announced attendance was 18,118 -- about 900 short of a sellout -- and it was very loud by Bobcats' standards.

A 96-team NCAA tourney? I'm for it

The NCAA sounds is seriously considering a proposal to expand its season-ending men's tournament to 96 teams from the current 65. That could happen as early as the 2011 men's tournament.

The doomsayers, of course, will say this means the tournament will be watered-down -- that making the tournament field won't mean as much, that the regular season won't seem as important and so on.

I'm old enough to remember those exact same arguments being made 25 years ago, in 1985, when the tournament expanded from 53 to 64 teams. And that worked out just fine, didn't it?

I know this is a calculated money play -- that more games means more TV money, and that the NCAA is looking for a lot more cash from its No.1 cash cow. Still, I'm fine with it, because I think it gives the average sports fan more of what they're looking for.

The top 32 teams will receive first-round byes in the NCAA proposal. The remaining 64 teams would need to win seven games to win the NCAA title, not the current six.

And the tournament would remain in its current three-week time frame -- the extra games would be played in Week 2 of the 3-week tournament, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays -- so it's not like the tournament will suddenly be swollen by an extra week.

It would be harder to fill out a bracket with your friends -- picking 95 outcomes?! -- but that's all right.

And I believe the regular season would still mattter. There are now 347 teams playing Division I basketball -- even with 96 in the field, you're eliminating 251 of them right off the bat.

I do agree with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who says that the regular-season and conference champions from each conference should get an automatic berth in a 96-team field. That makes a lot of sense, and makes the season itself more meaningful.

Here's the counter-argument, expressed by ESPN analyst and Charlottean Jay Bilas in a Time magazine article (I love Jay, but disagree with him on this one): "I just think there aren't 96 good basketball teams," Bilas said. "And so what we're essentially saying is that we're going to allow 32 more teams who we think are just as good as the crummy teams that are in at the end of the line. That sounds harsh, but this ain't Little League, where everybody gets to play three innings and everyone gets a trophy and certificate of participation."

To me, it sounds like this is coming. And I hope while they're at it they disband the NIT -- it's such a meaningless tournament at this point, and most of the current NIT field would now make a 96-team NCAA tournament field anyway.