NBA Draft: Pressure is on Bobcats
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó The Charlotte Bobcats’ final predraft workout had just ended Wednesday when part-owner Michael Jordan grabbed a ball and quickly challenged the equipment manager to a shooting game.
To make it fair, Jordan shot left-handed. Then Jordan’s 15-footers kept clanging off the rim.
“His left hand is not as good as his right,” coach Larry Brown said. “But if he was eligible we’d be OK.”
Instead, Jordan and Brown will be paired in the draft war room for the first time Thursday night. What the legendary ex-player and the Hall of Fame coach do with the ninth pick and 20th picks ó the second coming via a deal with Denver on Wednesday ó will either improve or further muddy their shaky reputations.
“I think Michael and his staff, they’ve prepared well,” Brown said.
Beginning his record ninth NBA head coaching job, Brown is eager to erase the ugly memories of his last job ó a 23-59 disaster in New York in 2005-06. He was fired and spent two years out of the league.
Jordan gave Brown another chance after he canned rookie coach Sam Vincent following a 32-50 season.
Vincent’s hiring isn’t the only questionable decision Jordan has made in Charlotte. He drafted Adam Morrison with the third pick in 2006 ahead of Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay. Jordan is still living down his decision to take Kwame Brown with the No. 1 pick in 2001 when he ran the Washington Wizards.
After Jordan regained his shooting touch Wednesday morning by switching to his right hand, he slipped out of view. He left his general manager to announce the Bobcats will be aggressive on draft night.
“I think if we had our preference we’d try to trade up,” Rod Higgins said.
The Bobcats didn’t move up later Wednesday, but they did get an extra first-round pick. Charlotte traded a future, protected first-round pick to the Nuggets for the 20th selection.
That could give the Bobcats a chance to take 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert of Georgetown. He impressed the Bobcats’ brass during a workout earlier this month, and is projected to be a late first-round choice.
In a hard-to-figure draft where it seems only Derrick Rose of Memphis and Michael Beasley of Kansas State are assured to be gone by the ninth pick, the Bobcats would reduce the uncertainty by moving up from the ninth spot. That could give them the choice of big men Kevin Love of UCLA and Brook Lopez of Stanford, or guards Russell Westbrook of UCLA and Jerryd Bayless of Arizona.
“I’ve seen so many scenarios,” Brown said. “I think Beasley and Rose obviously are gone (at No. 9), but other than that I’ve seen different combinations where you could almost end up with anybody ó any of the top 15 guys.”
With pressure to make the playoffs for the first time in hopes of winning over a city full of apathetic fans, the Bobcats may want to bypass a young player and get a proven veteran for the second straight year.
Only a draft-night trade will be much more complicated this time. Holding ample salary-cap space a year ago, the Bobcats were able to acquire proven scorer Jason Richardson from Golden State and absorb his $12 million a year salary in exchange for the No. 8 pick, Brandan Wright of North Carolina.
Later in the year they traded for Nazr Mohammed ($6 million a year), and impending restricted free agent Emeka Okafor currently counts about $16 million against the cap.
So Charlotte would likely have to give up a core player to make a trade work under the cap.
“It’s always an option, but you have to have the right veteran, and you have to also make a financial decision if you go that route,” Higgins said. “You’re going to obviously have to trade dollar for dollar to make that happen. We’ve discussed that, but it’s probably a less likely scenario.”
Which means Jordan will probably need to choose a young player, perhaps a center to take pressure off Okafor, or a point guard to provide depth and maybe challenge starter Raymond Felton. Charlotte may be able to fill both needs with an extra first-round pick.
Another scenario is the predraft snubs. Love, Lopez and Bayless all refused to work out for Charlotte, as their agents initially thought they would definitely be taken before No. 9.
“The scenarios are starting to not be in their favor where they probably should have come and worked out for us at No. 9,” Higgins said.
The Bobcats have put together their draft boards, rating players from 1-75 and by position. They’ve spent plenty of time and money bringing in dozens of prospects for their second-round pick, 38th overall. Wednesday’s group included forward Othello Hunter of Ohio State.
Now the pressure is on Jordan and Brown to produce.
“This is an important draft for us,” Brown said.