Obviously, the biggest pickup here signing Larry Brown. If he is patient with his two stars, Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace, and if they listen to his teachings, then they can be a playoff team. But I don't think they're a very talented team at all.
Has Brown learned from his last two jobs, in Detroit and New York? I hope so. One thing is that he won't have to battle worries in the back of his mind; he should be confident with Michael Jordan and Rod Higgins and not be worried about somebody else making changes. At Philadelphia, Brown was the boss who told [former general manager] Billy King what to do. Then at his last couple of jobs, there was always a stronger personality ruling the team, and that put him on edge because he's used to being the emperor. I obviously think highly of him, and I know what he can do, but I can also see this being the end of the cliff for him, too, because I really don't think the team is very good. He doesn't like to play guys who don't listen and don't want to be taught. If you give him effort and listen to him and give him the respect he deserves, he'll play young guys or old guys, whatever.
They do have a group that can defend. They can guard in the post with Nazr Mohammed, who is good enough that you don't have to send a double team against the bigger guys. Emeka Okafor can guard his spot. Wallace is a good defender, though he's been a passing-lane defender in the past.
I doubt Okafor was worth the money they gave him this summer [$72 million over six years]. He's as good as he's ever going to be. On a good team, he could be the fifth-best player. I understand why they paid him -- they couldn't afford to just let him go -- but for what they're paying he needs to be a leader, and I don't see him improving to become the kind of guy to lead you beyond the first round of the playoffs. He is so limited offensively. He has a nice jump hook, but he hasn't been great versus the double team. There are two schools of thought with him: Do you double him in the post to create turnovers? Or do you not double him and let him make his own mistake? If you double him, he's not really good at reacting to it. He doesn't have great range, though he has a better skill set than Dwight Howard. And he isn't as great a defender as you'd think based on the money they're paying him.
Wallace plays so hard and recklessly that he's one of my favorite guys in the league. Wallace has had a lot of success in the past being that athletic, undersized 4 man who created matchup problems; he can be much better at the 3 if his three-point shooting becomes consistent. At the same time, however, he's playing for a coach who isn't hung up on seeing his players taking a lot of three-point shots.
The question with Richardson is whether he's going to listen to Brown and be an all-around player instead of being a scorer. I think he can improve in that way. Watching him over his career, he has played well with other guys who could score. Last year, when he figured out he was the only scorer they had in Charlotte, he didn't appear to be as engaged. He didn't like getting doubled all the time and passing the ball out. When he was at Golden State, he played well with the other scorers they had. I don't think he's a soft kid, and he's been taught to play defense before. If he -- and Brown -- could be patient, I think he could figure it out.
I'm not a big Raymond Felton fan at point guard, and I don't think Brown will be either. He's a decent defender but he's not great at it; he cheats on the ball a lot. He doesn't have great size or athleticism. He's a good shooter but not great. Yet the guy who's going to have the hardest time -- along with Adam Morrison -- in terms of listening through the yelling and teaching he'll get from Brown is Felton's backup, rookie D.J. Augustin. He needs to survive that part because he's pretty talented. He's a great penetrator, he's good in the pick-and-roll, he can score and shoot and he has quick hands. But he has to improve defensively, especially in the pick-and-roll. He's going to have to guard in the post because -- unlike college -- we can go at you in the NBA. Against isolations, there aren't going to be four teammates in the paint to help you.
They don't have a lot of depth. Brown hasn't been big on having role players; he prefers guys who can do two or three things. I would guess that he's going to like Jared Dudley -- if he's in shape -- because Brown has always had a guy like that who plays two or three positions. But I think Morrison is going to have problems. He gives no effort defensively and he's not very tough.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.