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Sunday, April 18, 2010
Can Michael really let Larry leave Charlotte?

By By Marc Stein

No great surprise here, but there were no significant revelations about Larry Brown’s future during Michael Jordan’s Sunday lunchtime sitdown with TNT’s John Thompson for NBA TV.

Yet the Jordan-Brown dynamic remains one of the more underrated subplots in these playoffs. For a couple reasons.
  1. Brown’s ongoing tactical brilliance is one of the biggest reasons that the Charlotte Bobcats are in the playoffs for the first time and why multiple scouts I’ve consulted expect Charlotte-Orlando to be the closest thing to an up-in-the-air series in the East’s exceedingly chalky first round. “Best game coach in the NBA,” one veteran scout gushed.
  2. It has been well-chronicled in recent weeks, most recently by the New York Post’s Peter Vecsey, that the Bobcats are prepared to let Brown pursue other jobs at season’s end, ostensibly because his family hasn’t moved with him to Charlotte and either wants to stay where it is in Philadelphia or move to Los Angeles, where the Sixers and Clippers just happen to have coaching openings.

The question I’d love to ask Jordan, if I were ever granted access to him, is how he could even think of letting Brown walk when the 69-year-old has had such an immediate impact with the Bobs. Charlotte’s all-in approach of the past two seasons – trading for high-dollar contracts (Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and DeSegana Diop) that bleed into 2011-12 or beyond – would seemingly demand that Jordan keeps Brown, because Jordan has publicly acknowledged that the Bobcats lack the financial flexibility to easily make further roster tweaks, which makes Brown’s X-and-O magic even more vital to the program.

Two sources close to the situation, however, insist that there is naturally more to Jordan’s apparent willingness to let Brown go back to the 76ers than mere benevolence regarding Brown’s family situation.

Brown is famously opinionated/meddlesome on personnel matters and that, sources say, is wearing thin in Charlotte as it has everywhere else. One source says Brown has been making and taking calls on potential trades all season, which is supposed to be the domain of MJ’s long-trusted deputy in the front office Rod Higgins.

“They are just tired of it,” says the source, who cited the example of the trade that sent Flip Murray, Acie Law and a first-round pick to Chicago for Tyrus Thomas as one of the most recent irritations, since Brown is said to have pushed for the deal initially but now frequently laments Murray’s departure because of the impact it had lessening Charlotte’s depth on the wings.

That unending urge to get involved upstairs is why another NBA coaching source insisted this week that Ed Stefanski has a decent shot to hang on Sixers GM even if Brown does return to the Sixers. Reason being: Philly knows it’ll need a front-office foil for Brown as opposed to giving him control of personnel and the bench.

But I will continue to say that the Bobcats would be taking a huge risk to let Brown go, especially if the team we’ll be seeing make its playoff debut in Orlando later Sunday night isn’t upgraded significantly before next season, which is a distinct possibility with the Bobcats having already committed more than $60 million in salary for 2010-11.

Bobcats fans have to hope that Brown is serious (for once) when he says that Charlotte will be his last coaching spot, because all of the extra angst that comes with employing Brown doesn’t change the fact that he’s one of those rare coaches who’s worth five-to-10 wins a season.

You give the Bobcats a shot to take the Magic to six or seven games because of their length and 24 fouls (Tyson Chandler, Nazr Mohammed, Theo Ratliff and Diop) to throw at Dwight Howard, their rangy swingmen (such as Jackson and Gerald Wallace) to contest Orlando’s 3-point shooters and backcourt size and speed (Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin) to counter Jameer Nelson. Most of all, though, you give them a shot to give the Magic trouble because Brown is there on the Bobs’ bench to cause the right kind of trouble.