Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell addresses five key questions, entering Thursday's season-opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers:
1 THEY WERE THE ONLY TEAM IN THE NBA TO GO WINLESS IN THE PRESEASON. DOES AN 0-8 RECORD IN PRACTICE GAMES MEAN ANYTHING?
Yes and no. The most concerning thing about those exhibitions was how poorly they executed late in the close ones. They essentially had a game won in Atlanta, with rotation players in at the end, and couldn't get a shot to the rim in the last three possessions.
D.J. Augustin committed a turnover, then Raymond Felton committed an offensive foul, then Gerald Wallace had his shot blocked. In between, the Bobcats let Hawks point guard Acie Law get all the way to the rim for a winning layup.
Now, the rest of the story: Larry Brown has been around long enough to treat exhibitions for what they are: Public scrimmages. He's process-oriented over result-oriented, similar to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (who's known for knocking his players after sloppy victories and praising them after well-played losses).
That means there's more exploration (finding out what every player on the roster can do) and experimentation (different player combinations) when Brown coaches an exhibition. If he felt it was crucial to win a couple of these exhibitions, that would have happened.
2 SO EVERYTHING GETS FIXED ONCE THE REGULAR-SEASON STARTS?
Uh, no. At least for now, this is the same team from last season that rebounded and defended poorly and took too many shots from the perimeter.
Brown's intense teaching makes teams better, but not instantly; it's not like adding a dye to turn yellow into red. In fact, his history suggests things often get worse before they get better. His first team with a new franchise typically has a slow start, as the players adjust to his expectations, both physical and mental.
Classic example: His first season with the New Jersey Nets, that team opened the season 3-12. But it finished winning nine of its last 11, going 44-38 to earn an unexpected playoff spot.
This schedule won't help the Bobcats be better in April than November. They play 10 of their first 12 at home, then six of their last eight on the road. And those last eight include road games at Boston, Detroit and Orlando.
Figure them to go 36-46.
3 SEEMS LIKE THERE WAS A LOT OF TRADE TALK IN THE OFFSEASON, PARTICULARLY AROUND DRAFT NIGHT. WHAT HAPPENED?
The way guaranteed contracts and the salary cap work, it's never easy to pull off a consequential trade. Still, I was underwhelmed by what did or didn't get accomplished over the summer.
The way I hear it, there wasn't all that much interest in inheriting the contracts of various Bobcats players. Any team would want Gerald Wallace, but not necessarily at $9.5 million per season. Any team would want Matt Carroll, but not necessarily with four more seasons guaranteed (at an average of about $4.5 million).
4 CAN YOU TELL ME SOMETHING ENCOURAGING?
Three signs of progress:
Adam Morrison (the ponytail guy-turned-buzz cut guy) quietly had a strong preseason, shooting 56 percent from the field. He's playing more like he did at Gonzaga, shooting off the dribble with a series of runners and tear-drops. He's also making those spot-up jump shots he missed so often during his rookie season.
The foul shooting has improved from 71 percent last season to 77 percent this preseason. With so many other problem areas, it's good they're addressing something that is correctable.
I believe Brown when he says this might be the best bunch of people he's coached. They work hard, they listen and they're trying to remake themselves.
That's particularly true for Jason Richardson, who is being asked to drive more (he became almost a 3-point specialist last season) and focus more on defense. Richardson might have more modest numbers this season, yet contribute more all-around to his team's chance of winning.
5 SO HOW LONG DOES LARRY BROWN STICK AROUND?
Michael Jordan made sure we knew Brown signed a four-season contract. In Brown's past four NBA stops, he went four seasons (Indiana), six seasons (Philadelphia), two seasons (Detroit) and one (New York).
He took two of those teams to the NBA Finals (76ers and Pistons). The Pacers were a playoff team and Brown's one season in New York was a disaster.
He missed coaching terribly and wants to make this work. The key is how long it takes for Brown and the front office to get on the same page as far as constructing the roster.
My guess: If the front office responds to his needs, he'll stay at least through the end of next season, and get the Bobcats into the playoffs.
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