LARRY BROWN just couldn't quit coaching. In Philadelphia last season, as executive vice president of the 76ers, he spent three days a week watching Villanova practices and scribbling thoughts for the staff. "As I made my next practice schedule," says Wildcats coach Jay Wright, "I would look back on his notes."
So it wasn't a surprise when Brown, 68, answered fellow North Carolina alum Michael Jordan's call to take over the fifth-year Bobcats—even though he probably won't be around long enough to see the building project completed. For players the difference from last season, under rookie coach Sam Vincent, is palpable. "Coach Brown and his staff have been on a championship team, so they're obviously pushing us a lot more because they know what it takes to get there," says three-point specialist Matt Carroll. "That's what we want here."
Only five members of the team have more than three years' experience, which means that Brown's specialty—teaching—will be put to good use. "You tape [your ankles] for shootarounds now," says forward Sean May. "For him it's like a full-fledged practice."
With a team that has never won more than 33 games, lacks size, needs leadership at point guard and has two key players (May and forward Adam Morrison) returning from knee injuries, Brown, who last coached the disastrous Knicks in 2005--06, has his work cut out for him. But at least it will be a labor of love. "At his age he could easily retire and live life and have fun," says May. "His passion for basketball is what I love about him."
A rival scout on the BOBCATS: If Larry Brown is patient with his two stars, Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace, and if they listen to him, then they can be a playoff team.... Wallace plays so hard and recklessly that he's one of my favorite guys in the league. The question for Richardson is whether he's going to pass the ball occasionally and be an all-around player instead of just a scorer. I don't think he's a soft kid, and he's played defense before.... For what they're paying Emeka Okafor, he needs to be a leader, and I don't see him ever being a guy who gets you beyond the first round of the playoffs; he's the fifth-best player on a good team. There are two schools of thought with him: Do you double him in the post to create turnovers, or not double him and let him make his own mistakes?... I'm not a big Raymond Felton fan. He's only a decent defender; he doesn't have great size or athleticism; and he's a good but not great shooter.... Brown is going to have problems with Adam Morrison. He gives no effort defensively, and he's not very tough.
The Bobcats had more and a greater percentage of their shots blocked than any other team last season—476 of their 6,554 field goal tries (7.3%). Over the last four years, they have had an NBA-high 1,800 shots blocked.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: C Nazr Mohammed, G Matt Carroll, F Adam Morrison, G D.J. Augustin (R), F Jared Dudley (R) Rookie ‚Ä†2006--07 stats
Record: 32--50 (12th in East)
Points scored: 97.1 (19th in NBA)
Points allowed: 101.4 (20th)
Coach: Larry Brown (first season with Bobcats)
KENT SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
GOING FORWARD Gerald Wallace will endear himself to the new staff with his high energy and willingness to defend.
CHRIS KEANE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES