Basketball Notes

Being out of the game not working for Brown

By Gary Washburn
April 24, 2011

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This is not retirement, only a respite to catch his breath and ponder his next move. Although there are those who believe Larry Brown should shut it down after being fired at his last two stops, he has no intention of doing so. Brown isn’t going anywhere, not if he can help it. He’s 70, hasn’t won a playoff game in six years, and lasted just 28 games this season with the Bobcats, but Brown believes he still can coach, and coach productively, for several years.

He is open to returning to college, perhaps because the game is simpler and he won’t be restricted by salary caps or underachieving, high-paid players unwilling to adhere to his system. It seems his discipline, slow-paced offense, and reluctance to use younger players caught up with him in Charlotte.

The moment Paul Silas took over in December after Brown was fired following a 9-19 start, he put the team through a three-hour practice that had even the strength and conditioning coach dragging, an indictment of the team’s lack of work ethic. Brown was primarily blamed for the struggles, especially after the Bobcats made a run at the playoffs spearheaded by players formerly in Brown’s doghouse.

With Rick Adelman out in Houston and Detroit’s Jon Kuester, Minnesota’s Kurt Rambis, Toronto’s Jay Triano, and Atlanta’s Larry Drew on the hot seat, there may be a team interested in Brown, who has a reputation for fixing franchises but never staying too long.

Brown said he has spent the past few months reflecting on his two-plus-seasons in Charlotte, highlighted by the franchise’s first postseason appearance.

“Since they fired me in Charlotte, I’ve had the opportunity to watch other people coach. You can really learn a lot,’’ Brown said. “I think when people make decisions like that, they try to do it for the reasons they think are best, and you’ve got to accept that and move on. You never feel good about someone telling you you failed. But at the end of the day you hope it works out best for everybody.’’

The issues began when the Bobcats refused to be major players in the free agent market and Brown grew disenchanted trying to compete with the Eastern Conference elite with Stephen Jackson as the team’s cornerstone. Owner Michael Jordan’s decision to take D.J. Augustin in the 2009 draft over Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, and Ty Lawson also was a source of disagreement.

But after watching the NCAA Tournament and reaching out to some of the coaches he has mentored, Brown seems to be reenergized.

“I don’t enjoy [not coaching], especially this time of year,’’ he said. “You all live for this time of year and not everybody gets to do it. I don’t know what [would be best], I just want to stay involved in some way, whether it’s an assistant coach, a management position, coaching. I look in the mirror and I know I’m 70, but inside I don’t feel like that. I still love it.’’

Brown led UCLA to the 1980 national title game and the University of Kansas to the 1988 national championship. The current trend, however, is for big-time college programs to hire younger coaches. Older coaches don’t get calls, except if it’s to assist a younger coach, such as Gene Keady for Steve Lavin at St. John’s.

“I had an opportunity to go back about four years ago to Colorado, and then to Stanford, and it wasn’t right for my family at the time,’’ said Brown. “I heard from some people now, but I think they want younger guys. They want older guys to mentor the younger guys and I think that’s backwards. [Jim] Calhoun, [Jim] Boeheim, [Mike] Krzyzewski, those old guys aren’t doing too bad.’’

There may be a perception that the game has passed Brown by. He left his most successful NBA stop, Detroit, in an attempt to resuscitate the Knicks. That experiment fizzled quickly.

“I still feel I have a lot to offer, so things will work out,’’ Brown said. “And if it doesn’t, I have so many people I’ve gotten involved. I’ve got Donnie Walsh, Billy King, Kevin O’Connor, and David Kahn, a whole bunch of guys, R.C. Buford. So many guys that worked for me and helped me that are in the league, so I can watch them and I can do the same in college. [John] Calipari and Bill Self and Jay Wright, people like that keep me involved, so that’s not a bad thing. We’ll see. Naturally, when the Final Four comes around and then the playoffs come around, the juices start flowing, but I’ve had a pretty good run, been pretty lucky, never had to work. I’m OK.’’

If it doesn’t happen, Brown will live vicariously through his friends in coaching, perhaps serving as an unofficial consultant for those who seek his advice. The one thing we can count on is that Brown won’t stay content for long. Inactivity doesn’t suit him.

“I follow [the game],’’ he said. “So many people that have coached with me or worked for me are in the league, so just like in college, in the tournament I was all over watching guys that had had a relationship with me. I love that. I get nervous. I spoke to [Gregg Popovich]. Spoke to Doc [Rivers] last week. I keep in touch with a lot of people. It’s hard. When you’re involved as a coach, you get yourself engaged, but when I watch people who have been good to me who I have had a relationship with, it’s painful [not to coach]. It’s really hard.’’

Bryant’s slur a talking point Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 by the NBA last week after he was caught on camera mouthing a gay slur after a disagreement with official Bennie Adams during a game against the Spurs. In-game language is often questionable, but the fact Bryant’s remark was directed at an official prompted commissioner David Stern to levy the heavy fine.

In-game conversations are becoming more of an issue, partly thanks to Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who has made many enemies with his trash talk. In ESPN The Magazine, one All-Star called Garnett a “punk’’ because of his verbal tactics.

The NBA has widely viewed verbal exchanges as what happens on the court, stays on the court, but Bryant’s case was different. When asked whether on-court exchanges have become a problem, Stern downplayed the issue.

“Our players have a pretty good idea of what and how they are supposed to conduct themselves, even on the court and around the fans,’’ Stern said. “But if something that a player says gets picked up, then he’s at risk, and our players know that. And that’s the way it’s always been. Our rules are what they are. You know, for the most part, our players conduct themselves in the manner that we would like them to conduct themselves.

“Kobe apologized for his insensitive remarks. I think he understood it. He was severely penalized, and we are ready to move on without spending too much time on the subject.’’

Bryant apologized, the Lakers responded with a public service announcement and reached out to the gay and lesbian community, but is the issue really resolved? Do NBA players need sensitivity training or at least a list of “never say’’ words that would prevent such episodes?

University of Southern California professor Todd Boyd, an expert on sports and race relations, believes NBA players view the court as their work space and sometimes mistakenly expose fans and media to their world.

“I think the NBA was in a position where they needed to protect their brand,’’ Boyd said. “There are people who considered the term used offensive, considering the climate we live in and that the NBA is predominantly a black league. I think the NBA really had no choice in doing something. It’s pretty awkward in a predominantly black league to have one of their biggest stars in the league use a term that others find offensive. That’s bit of a black eye, if you will.

“Now, when you start talking about them policing what’s said on the court, if this [incident] is not on television, you and I are not having this conversation. I don’t think one has much to do with the other. In the course of the basketball [game], things are said, words are used, and these are words that wouldn’t be appropriate in polite public conversation, but the nature of the NBA, things are said.’’

The question that should be addressed is whether the league reaching out to the gay and lesbian community was sincere or rather a means to cover up an embarrassing incident created by one of its stars. The magnitude of the incident was increased because Bryant, considered one of the league’s more popular players despite a checkered past, uttered the slur.

“Whether or not the league is sincere and whether Kobe is sincere is two different things,’’ Boyd said. “In today’s climate, the lesbian and gay community has decided the word Kobe has used is inappropriate, and I have to respect that. And they are right in asserting that. But again, in a predominantly black league, it’s just not a good look to have stars in the league being African-American using a slur against another community of people.

“There needed to be something done and something was done. I mean, Kobe makes what, $300,000 per game, so this was one-third of a game check. That’s probably a weekend in Vegas for him. If the league wanted to send a message, maybe they should have suspended him for a playoff game.’’

For now, it appears the issue is squashed because Bryant was apologetic and because Stern says it is, but the league has to consider more sensitivity training, and education for its players on appropriate behavior. Stern instituted a dress code a few years ago because player appearance was getting out of control. It may be time for a verbal code to maintain a healthier and more comfortable environment for fans.

Trade often the only choice Former Celtics great Kevin McHale was asked about the Kendrick Perkins trade and the pressure of making a deal that could change the direction of a club. McHale did that when he dealt Kevin Garnett to the Celtics. The Timberwolves haven’t come close to the postseason since Garnett’s 2007 departure. Kevin Love winning the Most Improved Player award last week was the first good news for the Timberwolves in years.

McHale said he had little choice but to move the future Hall of Famer.

“With Garnett, it just got down to the fact that his agent called me and said we want a $60 million, three-year extension,’’ McHale said. “And my owner [Glen Taylor] just said, ‘No, I don’t want to pay him that. I want to pay him less. We paid him a lot up to this point.’ And if the guy who makes the financial decision, the owner, says no, then you get on the phone. There are things that happen that are outside your ability to control everything.’’

Layups This might be the summer that former Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey gets another opportunity. Casey, currently a Mavericks assistant, has been cleared to interview for the Rockets head coaching position. His main competition will be former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown and perhaps ex-Hawks coach Mike Woodson. Casey lost out on the Bulls and Clippers jobs to Vinny Del Negro and the Hawks job to Larry Drew. Casey had the Timberwolves going in a positive direction in Garnett’s final years in Minnesota before Taylor fired him and replaced him with Randy Wittman . . . Commissioner David Stern said the NBA is not pursuing a local owner for the Hornets but has tried to make the franchise more attractive to local interests by boosting attendance and marketing. The Kings’ uncertain ownership situation in Sacramento has overshadowed the NBA’s takeover of the Hornets, but Stern wants to give New Orleans every option to keep the team. “I’m not suggesting it’s going to be the easiest thing we have ever done, but we are intent on doing that and we are working very hard at it,’’ Stern said. “So when people call and express an interest, we say terrific, we’ll take you to a game, take you to a meal, and put you in the queue so that we can be ready to talk to you when we are ready for this asset to be sold. We need to increase attendance. But we are seeing some very good signs with respect to season-ticket sales. And that’s what our attendance issues always start with, in all markets.’’ . . . Reports on Andrew Bogut’s right elbow surgery were positive and he is expected to return to the Bucks next season with full mobility. That’s good news for All-NBA voters, who were subjected to choosing between players such as Andrea Bargnani, Al Jefferson, and Nene for third-team center after Dwight Howard and Al Horford. This voter selected Bargnani simply based on his scoring average, but the fact there is only one dominant center (Horford is a natural power forward who plays center out of necessity), is a testament to the lack of development at the position at the lower levels.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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