BOBCATS 98, KINGS 91
Game story, Game notes, Photo slideshow
Box score, Video recap
The latest from the woulda, coulda, shoulda category, and reminding everyone that the winning coach in Arco Arena last night - Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown - practically begged Geoff Petrie for an interview two offseasons ago. And Petrie, who historically is very conservative when hiring coaches, said no thanks. Of course, after Brown's infamous one-season (2005-06) flameout with the New York Knicks, preceded by his nasty departure from the Detroit Pistons, the NBA's reigning frequent flier was considered damaged goods, and in the opinion of many, past his coaching prime and not worth the risk.
Oooops. After a two-year coaching sabbatical eased by the buyout with the Knicks, Brown was hired last summer by his old friend/fellow North Carolina alum and Bobcats minority owner Michael Jordan. And so far, all is good. Brown, still trim and youthful-looking at 68, is invigorated and committed. His Bobcats are flawed but improving, though their 23-35 record suggests Brown will suffer only his fifth losing season in his 24-year NBA head-coaching career. (He never experienced a sub-.500 season in his four seasons in the old ABA or his seven seasons coaching in college. He also won championships with the Detroit Pistons and Kansas Jayhawks).
So, yeah, given how far the mighty Kings have fallen, and the fact that Larry is affordable these days because of the Knicks' cushion, Geoff probably regrets not extending the invitation. (Joe and Gavin Maloof were ecstatic about Brown's interest, and were ready to offer a contract before Geoff talked them down). Imagine Brown working with youngsters Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson, Donte Greene? At the very least - the very least - Brown, who is universally regarded as a superb teacher and technician, would have implemented a defensive structure and restored credibility to the franchise.
Small-market franchises need to be smarter and strike it big when they can. This was one of those times. This was a blown opportunity.
The game stunk, but at least MJ showed
Jordan, who occasionally accompanies the Bobcats on the road, joined the team before tipoff and sat along the baseline, feet from the visitors bench. What was hilarious was that, while none of us were even aware he was in the building, a Kings publicist walked along press row in the first quarter, informed us of where Jordan was sitting, but said he was not to be approached for interviews. Well, whatever. In the cramped visitors locker room afterward, while some of us were talking with former Kings high-flier Gerald Wallace, Jordan came out of the training room, snuck up and grabbed me from behind. After we shared a few private words, he started yucking it up with the crowd of reporters, as playful and boisterous as I have ever seen him. I wonder if - years removed from the spotlight - he misses this stuff?
A reunion in the tunnel
Before the Bobcats boarded the team bus back to their downtown hotel, the area outside the Kings locker room resembled a Chicago Bulls reunion. Jordan, stylishly attired in a blue suit, stood talking with Bobcats vice president Rod Higgins, his close friend and traveling buddy Charles Oakley, and Kings assistant Randy Brown. Other players and coaches wandered past, and joined the conversations. When I asked the blunt-speaking Oakley about the Kings, he frowned and shook his head. His initial reaction was that they were not remotely interested in defending. But then he groused, "The whole league is soft these days." Gotta love Oak. Even with the salt-and-pepper hair, and well into his 40's, he looks like he could still set one vicious screen.
Finals thoughts on the coach who got away
LaSalle "Tank" Thompson, who was among the players accompanying the Kings from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1985, and who remained in town for two decades, was hired by Brown to work with the Bobcats' big men. He had this to say about his boss: "Larry is very knowledgeable. I was shocked at how much he knows. This man, I mean ... sometimes I wonder why we even scout. He knows so much. He knows every play that every coach in the league runs. You can ask about any player in the league and he can give you a thorough scouting report on him. He is just a fountain of knowledge."