Honesty time: I absolutely thought “Larry Brown to the Bobcats” would end in disaster. And not just “Terry Porter to the Suns”-level disaster, but something even more epic and salacious. And while there’s still time for things to go wrong — and LB’s recent track record clearly allows room for skepticism — at least this season has turned out better than a lot of people expected.
Last night’s loss to the Spurs snapped Charlotte’s six-game winning streak, which wasn’t against the toughest competition (SAC, GS, LAC, CHI, ATL, NYK) and was overshadowed by Utah’s coinciding 12-game streak, but nonetheless put the ‘Cats in position to challenge for a playoff spot. Going into tonight’s schedule, the Bobcats are one game behind the Bulls for the eighth seed in the East.
(Charlotte’s schedule is pretty favorable down the stretch, too. Road games at Minnesota, Toronto, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Oklahoma City, Chicago, New Jersey and Orlando; home games against the Rockets, Raptors, Kings, Pacers, Knicks, Lakers, Heat and Sixers. What’s not working in their favor is a season-ending four-game road trip to OKC, Chicago, Jersey and Atlanta that could be a factor if the eight-seed is decided on one of the season’s final days.)
It seems that for the majority of the Bobcats’ existence, no one’s really argued that they don’t have talent. Franchise cornerstones Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace (and to a lesser extent, Ray Felton) each have star potential. And this year, midseason trade pickups Boris Diaw and Raja Bell (and to a lesser extent, DeSagana Diop) have provided not only on-court ability, but playoff-tested experience.
Charlotte’s progress is even more impressive when you consider that within this same season, it seemed ’08-09 would be just another letdown. Back in January, I did a Q&A with Wallace where he hinted that whatever chemistry the ‘Cats did have was upset by the Diaw/Bell trade, and that some players still didn’t understand their roles in Brown’s system. In November, Sports Illustrated ran a feature on the Bobcats headlined “Charlotte’s Web,” highlighting everything from Michael Jordan‘s hands-off managerial style, to the city’s lukewarm reception to the team, to owner Robert Johnson‘s apparent lack of enthusiasm for his own project. Brown was even quoted in the article saying, “We have serious deficiencies on this team.”
But that SI story also talked about the good things Brown could do with these Bobcats, the reasons he liked this job: Teaching. Molding. Coaching.
Granted, Brown doesn’t deserve all of the credit for the turnaround — and it’s not like this squad is even on the right side of .500 — but his role shouldn’t be downplayed, either. Like him or not, he’s on the verge of doing what he was hired to do: make the Bobcats better tomorrow than they were yesterday.