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Does Larry Brown Care About Winning?

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The obvious answer is yes.  You don’t win over 1,000 games of anything without wanting to do so.  Why then, does Larry Brown insist on making decisions that seem so antithetical to winning?  Well, for Brown, winning simply cannot be everything.  Brown’s "play the right way" motto has been tossed around so often that it’s become a laughable cliché.  It’s a phrase that’s more often the butt of a disgruntled fan’s joke than a meaningful message.  However, Brown’s career, a career that’s currently dragging the Bobcats into a serious pitfall, is the result of something far deeper than Brown’s adherence to principled basketball.  The man wants to win, but he seems far more invested in playing out an underdog narrative than the end result.

Larry Brown, for all that he has won, has underachieved in terms of NBA titles.  He helped to build a Pacer’s team that became a serious championship contender in the years after he left.  He left the 76ers only two years removed from an incredible run to the NBA Finals.  Brown coached the Piston’s for only two of their six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals; leaving to coach a horrific Knicks squad.  He left the Nets and the Clippers shortly after turning each into playoff teams.  Several factors are certainly involved in Brown’s leaving each team, and at least the 76ers appeared to be on the down swing as he saw his way out, though one running theme throughout Brown’s career hold true.  He cannot stand to be on top.  Larry Brown could have easily had a career similar to Gregg Popovich or Jerry Sloan.  He had opportunities with the Pacers and the Pistons to win multiple titles.  Every action that Brown has taken, however, suggests that he has other goals.

To be clear, Larry Brown’s ultimate joy in basketball is to play with and to play as an unlikely winner.  It’s fitting then, that his longest term as a head coach came with the team of misfits that was the Allen Iverson era 76ers.  The formula for success, allowing Iverson to be a one man offense while his teammates were just there to play defense, was hardly congruent with Brown’s "play the right way" ethos.  Why then, did Larry stay?  He stayed because 76ers let him do what he loves: 1) coach hardworking underappreciated players, and 2) win when he’s not supposed to win.  Taking a team that featured Eric Snow, George Lynch, and Aaron McKie to the NBA Finals likely meant far more than winning a title with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.  Even Iverson, though a league MVP, epitomized the underdog mentality with his slight stature. 

What does all of this mean for the current Bobcats team?  It means that Dominic McGuire is going to continue to get more burn than his talents would warrant.  It also means that Gerald Henderson, despite the fact that his strengths are a perfect fit for coach Brown (driving to the basket and playing defense), will not see the light of day until he gets traded or the Bobcats find a new coach.  Derrick Brown will get some playing time, though never enough to satisfy the fans.  These decisions don’t play nearly as much into the Charlotte’s current fortunes as say losing Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, bu they aren’t helping things either. 

The season goes on and the playoffs seem less and less likely for the Charlotte Bobcats.  Larry may skulk up and down the sidelines.  He’ll look exacerbated and desperate, complaining to anyone who will listen.  If and when it becomes clear that the Bobcats’ tenure as improbable winners is over, Larry Brown will leave.  He won’t leave unhappy, not if he’s honest, because the Bobcats gave him exactly what he wanted.  They gave him a team that played above and beyond itself for one full season.  He turned another loser into a winner; what happens after that is immaterial.