I don’t like to dwell too much on rumors, because if I jumped on every scenario that Peter Vecsey has envisioned, I wouldn’t have much time to write about things that actually happen. However with the Knicks tending an official offer to Larry Brown making it a real possibility that he’ll be the New York coach in 2006, now might be an appropriate time to look at what he could mean to this city.
So far the reviews have been mixed at best. Some people think that the unselfish ABA assist leader from ’68-’70 might clash with the Knicks’ star trying to convince Marbury to shoot less, or that the Knicks roster is too far from contention. Even Pro Basketball Prospectus author John Hollinger is against the move, noting that hiring Brown is antithetical to the Knicks’ rebuilding philosophy. No one pays a coach $10M to babysit the tykes while Jerome James does a 21st century revival of Marv Throneberry. In fact it’s Hollinger’s opinion that surprises me the most. Not only is one of the part time jobs of the voluminous author to cover the Knicks for the New York Sun, but John also coined the term “Larry Brown Effect” in the ’03 Prospectus. The LBE showed that Larry Brown (pre-Detroit) has improved his teams by an average of 11.2 wins in his first season.
While Hollinger looked at Brown’s overall effect on his clubs, I wanted to look deeper into those teams. So I split his accomplishments up between offensive & defensive rankings, and I looked at the teams in the first and second year of Brown.
Year Team Y1O Y1D Y2O Y2D 2003 DET -4 2 -3 1 1998 PHI 1 6 1 21 1994 IND -6 13 -3 16 1993 LAC 2 5 5 -2 1989 SAS -13 9 -5 19 1982 NJN 0 13 2 15 1975 DEN 7 3 7 2 1973 CAR 4 8 7 5 SUM -9.0 59.0 11.0 77.0 AVG -1.1 7.4 1.4 9.6 MEAN 0.5 7.0 1.5 10.0
By the chart above, teams that Brown coached improved an average of 7.4 rankings on defense in their first year, and 9.6 in the second. On the offensive end, they showed little to no improvement. In other words Larry Brown is a defensive wizard. Which is why I would be thrilled to have him as coach of the Knicks.
When Herb Williams took over the head coaching responsibility in January, one of the things I said I would keep an eye on is how the Knicks fared on offense and defense for the rest of the season. At the time they ranked 17th and 24th respectively, and unfortunately they showed little to no improvement by the end of the year. On offense the Knicks finished 16th, but on defense they dropped three spots to 27th.
It was New York’s defense, or lack thereof that irked me. Even 5 games into last season, it was clear that the Knicks needed an upgrade. Isiah Thomas’ roster seemed to have players who lacked effort or ability on the defensive end, including his two prize guards: Marbury and Crawford. Stephon’s defensive liabilities were so bad that only a few weeks later it prompted guest-blogger David Crockett to write that Marbury should be traded because he created “easy scoring opportunities for opponents, putting his teammates in a terrible bind.” He added “at this point in Marbury?s career it seems unlikely that he is going to devote himself more fully to defense for more than a quarter here or there… How can the team construct a title contender with Marbury as its focal player?”
As for Crawford, in April I had an email-versation with John Hollinger that went like this.
KB: “I’m not sold on Crawford. Combine the awful defense with the chuck at all costs offense, and 2011 seems a far away. Both would have to change for Craw to be a useful starter, and I’m not high on those odds.”
JH: “Reasonable people can disagree on Crawford. I just think a stronger coach could whip him into shape and help smooth all those rough edges. We won’t know until or unless the Knicks hire one.”
Enter Larry Brown, stage left. Even though it was half of a hopeless season, Herb Williams’ inability to get the Knicks to play any defense left me doubtful that he would be the right guy to get the job done. Not only could Brown get Marbury and Crawford to shut down down the conga-line to the hoop, but he might be able to affect the rest of the roster as well. With the right training, Trevor Ariza could become a defensive stopped in the mold of Tayshaun Prince. Isiah’s new acquisition, the burly and foul prone Jerome James, might be able to stay in the game for more than 20 minutes a night with a little guidance. The Knicks have a rookie Channing Frye that, if his summer league 10 foul game is any indication, needs a little help in becoming their future center. And he can’t mishandle Mike Sweetney any worse than his predecessors.
Brown is exactly what the organization needs. The Knicks need someone that can get this young team to play defense. What better for this franchise to remind New Yorkers of its’ past than to become a defensive minded squad? Fans can be reminded of the Camby-LJ-Sprewell era, the Ewing-Oakley-Starks era, or the Reed-Jackson-DeBusschere era depending on their age. Notice that behind each one of those teams was a strong coach: Van Gundy, Riley, or Holzman.
Even if Brown stays for two or three years and the team only is good enough to go a round or two in the playoffs, the franchise should be better off because most of the players are in a position in their career where they can improve. It’s possible that the lessons the players learn under Brown can stay with them for the rest of their career. As for the aftermath, the proof is in Brown’s last few stops (we’ll throw out the Clippers, since we’re only concerned with legitimate NBA franchises). No one is predicting that Detroit will cease to be an Eastern powerhouse because Brown is no longer patrolling the sidelines. Indiana arguably was better after Brown left in 1997. Last I checked the Spurs have done pretty well for themselves since 1992. Only Philadelphia is the worse for wear, but in Larry’s last year their top guys included Keith Van Horn, Eric Snow, and Derrick Coleman. It was inevitible that they were going to crash sooner or later. As for the Knicks, the odds look good to me with Brown at the helm. Even if it’s only to temporarily right the ship.
[Edited after a full night’s sleep.]