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What is the Worth of HOF Coaching In Charlotte?

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The issue of quantifying the value of coaches is as confusing to me as any matter across the NBA.

How much of the NBA game is determined by the men on the sidelines as opposed to simply having the better set of players?  How much listening to these guys do the players actually do?  How much of the game is dependent on coaching?  Is it the in-game strategy?  Or the schemes and practice techniques put in all year?  What it is worth to simply be a master motivator? 

It was with all these questions in mind that a recent Rick Bonnell piece in the Charlotte Observer caught my eye.  Bonnell spoke to several front office members around the league and found a consensus belief that Larry Brown will be worth "at least four more games this season than they would have in his absence, and perhaps as many as seven."

This leaves me wondering what those figures mean and whether they make investing in Brown worth it to the Bobcats.

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The first question there is what "they would have in his absence" means.  This could refer to the fact that the Bobcats under Sam Vincent won 32 games last season and a projection that with Vincent at the helm they would be in line for 32 again this year.  But that doesn't seem to take into account the fact that not only has the personnel changed slightly, but some of the youngsters on this team should naturally progress.  Gerald Wallace has taken steps forward in each season in Charlotte, and Jason Richardson was productive in his first season in town.  A second year of playing together for those two, a year of full health for Wallace and simply another season of experience for young vets Ray Felton and Emeka Okafor could make some sort of noticeable difference.  Sean May and Adam Morrison return to the active roster after coming off injuries as well.

Figuring out where the 'Cats would be with all those factors taken into account and Vincent still at helm seems difficult enough.  I'll lean conservative and guess that, much as I like the young talent on the 'Cats, those factors on their own didn't add up to much beyond another four or five wins for this team.  Okafor's growth seemed to level off last season (he is consistently good but isn't great).  Felton spent a year getting jerked around in the backcourt and continued to shoot the ball with low efficiency.  Wallace's four years in Charlotte have yielded games played totals of 70, 55, 72 and 62, so full health isn't a guarantee (also, his nickname is Crash, so take that for what you will).  May is an unknown commodity.  Morrison was putrid in his first professional season, and I'm not sold that he will be much better in the long-term.  

But we'll be nice and say that with the extra year for several of these players, some possibly improved health and the possible energy infusion from adding rookie point guard D.J. Augustin to the mix, perhaps the 'Cats would have been able to win a few more games with Vincent at the helm again.  But we're still probably talking about a win total in the mid-30s.

Enter Brown.   The noted nomad is renowned for his work as a defensive mastermind.  The Bobcats were 20th in basketball in defensive efficiency last season, leaving plenty of room for improvement.  With Gerald Wallace's athleticism and Emeka Okafor's presence inside, there would be at least something for Brown to work with going forward.  Offensively, the former point guard would be expected to help Ray Felton make a leap forward in his decision-making and his efficiency as the leader of the offense, which could help the team greatly improve on its ranking of 24th in offensive efficiency.  A Larry Brown team that buys into Larry Brown basketball probably ends up playing at a tempo that puts them toward the bottom of the league in pace, which wasn't the case for the 'Cats last year.

We're talking about major philosophical changes here, which could lead to any number of results.  This could be a completely changed Charlotte team, or it could be a team that struggles to grasp Brown's system initially and progresses slowly at first.  Or, as demonstrated by Brown's time in New York, if the team struggles at first, he could give up once he sees that he isn't going to win big right away.  

If Brown can get this team to buy in and understand his system right away, could he both worth well more than four to seven wins?  Double-digits, maybe?  Or is that far too generous an amount of credit to afford any coach in what is widely held to be a players' league?

But, perhaps most significantly, since the folks who work for these teams do know far more than yours truly about this stuff, let's suppose for a moment that the predictions of four to seven wins are somewhere in the neighborhood of accurate.  We're talking about a team that finishes at best with a win total in the low 40s, maybe better than .500, maybe good enough to make the playoffs in an improved Eastern Conference.  Is that even good enough to make Brown worth it to the Bobcats?  This is a Hall of Fame coach, which means the Bobcats went out and put out a healthy bit of money to bring him in.  We're also talking about a world-class wanderer, the type of guy who could decide he is no longer interested in being around if the team isn't destined for immediate championship contention, which this one likely isn't.  Is a temporary step forward in the form of a handful of wins worth it if Brown likely won't stick around to build on it in the following years?  Is it fair to expect him to leave in that sort of situation?

To all these questions, I don't know, I don't know and I don't know.  Not a clue.  But they intrigue me as much as any we've got right now as we head into the start of training camp, because there is a bigger discussion at hand here: Sure, it's interesting to consider Larry Brown's value in Charlotte.  But beyond that, how much is coaching worth in the this league? 

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