NBA: Pursuit of first playoff berth begins today for Bobcats
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó The large calendar inside the Charlotte Bobcatsí locker room told players they had exit interviews with part-owner Michael Jordan on Thursday.
The spot for Friday had the message iStart working for playoffs.î
That work will last at least a year ó and may involve a new coach ó after the fourth-year Bobcats fell short of their goal of reaching the postseason for the first time.
A day after the Bobcats finished 32-50 with a win against Philadelphia, players trickled into the arena Thursday to meet with Jordan, who has the final say on basketball decisions.
First-year coach Sam Vincent was there, too, although no decision on his future was announced. Jordan declined an interview request.
iSam did the best job that he could with the personnel he had, the coaching staff he had,î said Jason Richardson, who led the team with an average of 21.8 points per game. iHe did what he was supposed to do. We didnít achieve the goals we were capable of, but he did his job.î
Predictably, Vincent had growing pains. He couldnít come up with a consistent rotation, with Matt Carroll and rookie Jared Dudley getting little playing time early. Vincent kept shuttling Raymond Felton between point guard and shooting guard.
Even though the Bobcats went 13-11 after March 1, their horrible start prevented them from threatening for a playoff spot in the East.
iComing in and having to work for Michael, who is arguably the best player ever, and knowing thatís your boss and youíve got a big set of eyes watching everything you do, puts its own pressure on you,î Vincent said. iSo I think there were just a lot of adjustments to make in this first year. I think we all got through it, the coaching staff and players, with a pretty solid season.î
Despite acquiring Richardson and re-signing Gerald Wallace, the Bobcats finished with one fewer win than they had last season under Bernie Bickerstaff.
Richardson was the bright spot. He hit an NBA-high 243 3-pointers, the fourth most in NBA history. He shot a career-best 41 percent from behind the arc and had 16 games of 30 or more points.
Jordan and the Bobcats have a few other big decisions to make. Emeka Okafor becomes a restricted free agent on July 1. He averaged a steady 13.8 points and 10.7 rebounds a game.
Felton, entering the final year of his rookie deal, is eligible for an extension. He averaged 14.4 points and 7.4 assists per game, eighth in the league.
iHeís still young,î Richardson said. iI definitely believe heís going to be the point guard of this team.î
Richardson took on a leadership role late in the season and was making plans Thursday to work out with Felton and Wallace over the summer.
iI have some of the best teammates Iíve had in my career,î Richardson said. iItís just about us trying to win. Once we do that, weíll start getting more fans here and people will start believing in us more.î
The Bobcats need fans to care.
The team, which ranked 24th out of 30 teams in attendance, has anemic television ratings and few corporate sponsors.
iI think next year is going to be our breakout year,î Felton said. iNext year, itís definitely unacceptable for us not to make the playoffs.î