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Shaun Powell

Larry Brown's impressive list of students includes Mike Brown, Gregg Popovich and Alvin Gentry.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Brown's fingerprints all over winning franchises

Posted Jan 21 2010 3:13PM

There's this crazy notion that Larry Brown, more than anything else in life, loves moving vans and fresh starts. Where did anyone get that perception? It's not entirely correct. Everyone knows Brown's biggest affection, when it comes to basketball, is reserved for Dean Smith.

Brown learned basketball at the knee of "coach" and is forever grateful for the time and effort Smith gave to make sure Brown became a success. Smith was a great teacher, and you can see where his influence rubbed off on Brown, because teaching is what Brown is best known for. Well, second-best.

Brown is still putting those skills to use. He was handed the job of making the Bobcats respectable, and it's working. The Bobcats own the best home record in the East, they're fun to watch at times, and more remarkable, Stephen Jackson is happy. They're not loaded with talent and yet the franchise, on the court anyway, appears headed in the right direction. Figure that Brown has had something to do with that.

His fingerprints are also on the Spurs, Hawks, Suns and Cavaliers, teams enjoying good seasons in part because of Brown's influence. The coaches of those teams had either direct or indirect contact with Brown on the way up, and they comprise the best coaching tree in basketball.

Gregg Popovich, Mike Woodson and Alvin Gentry are former assistants under Brown, while Mike Brown learned via Popovich. There's also the Pistons' John Kuester, another former Brown assistant, who's with a struggling team right now but this is his first season. They've learned plenty from Brown except the moving part. Popovich has been with the Spurs since 1996, Woodson is the longest-tenured coach with the same team in the East and the Suns are only Gentry's second team as a head coach (he also had short interim stints with Miami and Detroit).

Brown takes special pride in his students, for several reasons. They're all an extension of him and Smith. He knows the importance of leaving a legacy. He's a big fan of coaches in general. And the coaching tree confirms everything Brown has accomplished in basketball.

If you stay employed long enough, and generate enough respect, and win championships -- all of which Brown has done in what will be a Hall of Fame career -- then your assistants will find work. Teams will assume they know what you know.

Here's a look at what Brown produced:

Popovich. Bob Hill still doesn't understand what he did to get himself fired. Hill coached the Spurs to 62- and 59-win seasons in his first two years. Then, after a 3-15 start in 1996-97 caused partly by injuries, Hill was replaced by Popovich, the team's general manager. The Spurs won only 17 more times that season ... and also the draft lottery the next summer. Hello, Tim Duncan. The rest is history.

Popovich has coached Duncan and David Robinson, and later, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. To say he's been blessed would be an understatement. He's always had at least one Hall of Fame big man. That does wonders for a coach's record. Still, Popovich has the respect of his players, which means he knows what he's doing. He's tough but fair and isn't afraid to speak his mind; he got into Parker's ear early on and Parker's work ethic improved instantly. Somewhere, though, Hill is saying he could've won four championships, too.

Woodson. He came this close to being fired by former GM Billy Knight but has recovered nicely from a rocky start and growing pains with the developing Hawks. Woodson went from winning a championship as an assistant to Brown in Detroit to winning 13 games his first season, worst in Hawks history. Last season was his first winning season. Now the Hawks are soaring. And yet, the team will wait until summer before acting on Woodson's contract.

Woodson seems well-liked by his players and although he had a few dust-ups with Josh Smith, both say everything's cool. Woodson may wind up being in Atlanta longer than Brown has ever been in one place.

Gentry. He came with Brown from the Kansas championship team and after short looks in Miami and Detroit finally landed his big break ... with the Clippers. Gentry lasted nearly three seasons and while the Clippers were respectable, he had to coach Michael Olowokandi. It was back to being an assistant but at least he served in Phoenix under Mike D'Antoni, who gave his assistants plenty of responsibility.

Gentry's timing as head coach is iffy, because the Suns are in transition, with Steve Nash soon approaching his golden years while Amar'e Stoudemire will likely sign elsewhere as a free agent. Gentry's sense of humor, brutal honesty and likability will guarantee him a spot on someone's bench, either as the head man or assistant.

Mike Brown. He gets along with LeBron James. That's half the job. But Brown is also growing as a coach. Being handed a team with a superstar and expected to contend for a title would be intimidating for any first-time head coach. Brown has navigated these choppy waters well, and now must motivate an old Shaquille O'Neal and connect with troubled guard Delonte West. Right now, the Cavs own the best record in the East, which reflects well on Brown. As we know, though, he'll be judged by Cavs fans in May and June.

Kuester. He's getting a quick education on adversity in Detroit, where there's no relief in sight. He should place a call to Larry Brown, who'll explain that real adversity is when you coach for one forgettable season in New York.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.

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