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Peter Jacob Cheung takes a look at celebrated coach Larry Brown’s unique philosophy and approach to the game and how this has influenced both the playing style of the Knicks and its key players. arry Brown is considered one of the best coaches in NBA history for a good reason: prior to his stint in New York, he has taken every single one of his previous teams to the playoffs. At sixty-five and proving that one can indeed go home again, the Knicks will probably be the last stop in his illustrious coaching career. The relative paucity of championship ring (just one) is a direct reflection of the choices he made along the way – he always took on rebuilding teams (except the Pistons), made them better, and moved on to the next challenge. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the scholarly-looking coach during the Sydney Olympics when he was an assistant coach to Rudy Tomjanovich with Team USA, and came away very impressed with his passion and candour. To say he knows basketball is probably the biggest understatement a fan can mutter.

His pet phrase, ‘play the right way,’ has come to symbolise the mantra and modus operandi of the last three NBA champions. Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich was christened into the league by Brown and his philosophy was largely shaped by his years of working with Brown. In simple terms, Brown believes in playing a team-oriented style of basketball where everyone has to play tenaciously on defense. On offense, the player has to continue to work for better shot opportunities by giving up the ball to an open teammate, working the court from one side to the other. Being a former point guard himself, Brown is exceedingly demanding of any player manning this position, and with good reason. 64 draw&dish Jan’06


Play The Right Way

NBAWatch ClubScene As the initiator on offense, a point guard is in the best position to demonstrate the effectiveness of Brown’s approach by playing selfless basketball. The coach and the point guard have to be on the same page in order to properly execute the game plan.

option at point guard. I tend to liken Marbury to a golfer who can bomb it more than three hundred yards with his driver. Just because you have such capability does not mean you automatically use a driver on every par-4 or par-5 hole. Like a smart golfer who will choose his club based on the hole’s layouts and course conditions, Marbury will become a much more mature player when he figures out when to be aggressive and when to set up his teammates during the course of a game. He does not have to beat his defender all by himself on every trip down the floor just because he can.

Explosive Talent As the highest-paid player on the Knicks and the self-proclaimed ‘best point guard’ in the league, Stephon Marbury does not fit into Brown’s ideal mould of a point guard. Marbury is an explosive scorer who doubles as a point guard mainly because of his size. He is a streaky shooter who is very effective in pick-and-roll situations. His scorer’s mentality was probably developed from his experience in street basketball while growing up in New York City. I have witnessed many such street battles while living in New York City, and believe me, scoring is the only thing that counts in those games. As Marbury progressed through the ranks of high school and college basketball, I doubt any coach had attempted to change his style. Being headstrong and most likely the best player on his teams will clearly dissuade any head coach from such follies.

Mixing Water With Oil Marbury’s career has been marked by playoff frustrations and less-thanharmonious relationships with some of his teammates. Jealousy over Kevin Garnett’s contract led to his departure from the Timberwolves. I wonder whether Marbury had regretted that development. He has not played with anyone of Garnett’s polish since the trade, with all due respect to Amare Stoudemire. Teammates have often grumbled about his negative body language and attitude. Despite obvious talents, he has been unable to stay with any one of his team for more than three seasons. Therefore the emergence of trade rumors regarding Marbury soon after Brown’s hiring was really no surprise at all. On surface, Brown and Marbury would probably

get along as well as water mixes with oil; a clash seemed inevitable. You might get the idea that I am one of those anti-Marbury critics who would like nothing but his disappearance from the Knicks. Well, I’m not. My opinion of Marbury was formed during his tenure with the Nets. Back then I saw a Marbury who was willing to pass but whose teammates failed to convert many of the chances created. I saw a Marbury increasingly frustrated by his team’s losing record. He did not think he was surrounded by great teammates, and gradually developed the notion that he was fighting the opponents all by himself. I remembered I wrote an article in a Chinese publication defending Marbury because I kind of understood his frustration. In retrospect, he certainly could have handled the situation better. I blamed that on his immaturity. He was only around twenty-three at the time.

Turning The Corner

Figuring It Out

I believe Larry Brown is the perfect candidate for this reformation project because he has a good track record. Just look at the Pistons’ Chauncey Billups. In two years, Billups went from a scoring point guard with a habit for poor shot selection, to gaining a welldeserved honor as NBA Finals MVP. With his current level of performance, Billups has even forced his way into people’s consideration for 05-06’s regular season MVP. I think Larry Brown has something to do with that and he can do the same for Marbury. Changing long-held beliefs or habits is not easy and often a painful process. Even with their recent winning streak, it is still too early to say whether the Knicks had truly turned the corner. I hope both sides can remain patient and as Ronald Reagan once said, ‘stay the course.’ They might not make the playoffs this season but if they continue on their current path, my crystal ball tells me they could be a solid contender in a few years.

Well, the highly-anticipated ‘clash’ did occur, sort of. No, Marbury did not ask for a trade. Short of shedding tears, Marbury actually made an impassioned plea to stay with the Knicks. He merely asked Brown to put him at shooting guard after a few lacklustre outings in November, to which Brown flatly, and correctly refused. For as flawed as Marbury is, he is still the Knicks’ best

About The Author Peter Jacob Cheung has been a sports commentator since 1994. He is currently an ESPNSTAR Commentator (Cantonese) covering NBA, MLB, NFL, golf and college basketball. Peter also works for ATV in Hong Kong on a freelance basis and was the host of ATV’s weekly NBA program, “NBA Dei Dai” (meaning: NBA Zone).

Jan’06 draw&dish 65

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