By Henry Abbott
Stephen Jackson's contract is so long and expensive that one thing was certain: Whoever got him away from the Warriors was going to be somebody in search of wins -- not some cheap, bottom-feeding team.
And then the Bobcats got him.
The thing is, though, that it's not hard to imagine he will make the Bobcats -- currently 3-6 -- a much better team. Here's how it could happen:
Stephen Jackson and Larry Brown is one potent combination. Whether it's potent on-court play that results, or potent arguments, we'll see. But Jackson is a difference-making player, and now he'll be paired with a difference-maker of a coach. Neither one backs down from much of anything. Let me be one of a zillion sportswriters to say: This could end ugly!
But I'm thinking that when they get to the final table of this poker tournament, Brown will have some extra poker chips.
The first is that Jackson has to be a little humbled by the fact that better teams didn't want to give up much for him. Maybe it's time for him to dig a little deeper into the idea of being a coachable player. A second point is one that people used to write about Eddy Curry and Allen Iverson: Brown is close to NBA insider William Wesley. As the season unfolds, should bridges need to be built between Jackson and Brown, there will be someone credbile to both parties who could play bridge-builder.
Spreading out the offense
In addition to Gerald Wallace, Tyson Chander and the surprisingly effective Nazr Mohammed, the Bobcats roster boasts a collection of players who can both create off the dribble and shoot. Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw ... Assuming Augustin emerges from his Larry Brown-induced shell, these are players who make opponents pay with shooting should they clog the lane. Perhaps they'll hit enough shots to convince defenders to chase shooters all over the floor, instead of sagging into the lane.
The Bobcats could start to look a bit like those various Ben Gordon teams -- the Bulls who almost knocked off the Celtics in last year's playoffs, or this year's Pistons, who have shown signs of proving doubters wrong this year.
If you can get defenders spread all over, leaving tons of room in the middle of the floor, the list of players who can put the ball on the floor to beat one man, and then get to the rim and score is long. That's what got a lot of these players to the NBA.
Stephen Jackson can be part of a team like that.
Juicing up the defense
Two years ago, Stephen Jackson had a long run of games where he was guarding people like Tracy McGrady, Ron Artest, Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Caron Butler, Paul Pierce, Andre Iguodala and making them all have miserable shooting nights.
Larry Brown, meanwhile, has coached a long string of players -- Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Eric Snow, Aaron Mckie, Derrick Coleman, Theo Ratliff, Tayshaun Prince -- as they have played arguably the best defense of their careers.
There is a certain brand of Larry Brown perimeter defense, by the way. I'm not exactly sure how this happens, but watch and tell me I'm wrong: His teams use more hands on the perimeter. Hand-checking is illegal on the perimeter these days, but Brown's teams do it anyway, but with a certain you-wouldn't-really-call-that-would-you? style. A nudge here, a scrape there ... just enough to take the offense out of rhythm and force the occasional turnover. For instance, Brown's players tend to slap opponents on the wrists, making catches, dribbling, and shots tough but the referees seldom seem to slap his teams on the wrists.
It's a reach, but if some combination of Brown's coaching and Jackson's urge to prove that he still matters can get Jackson back into the defensive mindset, the Bobcats could suddenly become relevant in the Eastern playoff picture. When he played that kind of defense two years ago, the Warriors went from winning one of seven games while he was out, and then won nine out ten upon his return, on their way to a 48-win season.
That kind of season in the modern East would be more than enough to make the playoffs, and could come close to justifying Jackson's considerable contract.