Bobcats choose Augustin at No. 9
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó Charlotte Bobcats part-owner Michael Jordan addressed the team’s two biggest needs in the NBA draft.
One player will likely be an immediate part of the rotation. The other is a project.
The Bobcats on Thursday selected point guard D.J. Augustin of Texas with the ninth pick. Charlotte took center Alexis Ajinca of France with the 20th choice.
“We’re very happy with our picks,” Jordan said. “We got talent.”
The 6-foot Augustin averaged 19.2 points and led the Big 12 with 5.8 assists as a sophomore with the Longhorns. He’s a pass-first point guard whom the Bobcats envision setting up shots for Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace. His lack of size and shooting touch are concerns.
But Augustin could challenge starter Raymond Felton in Larry Brown’s first season as coach. Felton was the only point guard under contract.
“Raymond Felton is a great point guard, and hopefully I can learn as much as I can,” Augustin said.
The 7-foot Ajinca was taken with the pick acquired from Denver on Wednesday. The 20-year-old has had limited experience ó and limited success ó playing professionally in France. Ajinca needs to add strength and improve his defense, and he appears a long way from filling Charlotte’s hole at center.
“It’s hard to find a point guard and a long kid,” Brown said. “Anytime you look at a draft, point guards and big guys are hard to find. We got two positions that are very difficult to fill. We got real character kids.”
In the second round, the Bobcats took shooting guard Kyle Weaver of Washington State with the 38th pick.
Jordan, in his third draft since buying into the Bobcats and getting control over basketball decisions, took Augustin ahead of center Brook Lopez of Stanford. Lopez went to New Jersey with the 10th pick.
The Bobcats also went with the 20-year-old Augustin ahead of guard Jerryd Bayless of Arizona, who went 11th to Portland through a trade with Indiana.
Jordan is under increasing scrutiny in Charlotte after his failed experiment with now-fired coach Sam Vincent and his decision to draft Adam Morrison third in the 2006 draft.
“We felt like Augustin would be better at a point guard situation,” Jordan said. “We felt like Bayless is going to play very similar to what Raymond does, go combo (guard). We felt Augustin could involve a lot of our roster, make Matt Carroll a lot better, make Adam Morrison a lot better. … We were really close with Lopez. But I felt Augustin was a little bit better for our team.”
Under orders from his agent, Thad Foucher, Augustin declined to work out for the Bobcats before the draft. Now Augustin faces the task of working under Brown, who is notoriously tough on point guards. Augustin and Felton will be expected to help lead the Bobcats to the playoffs for the first time as Brown takes over his record ninth NBA team.
“He’s a great coach, and it’s great organization,” Augustin said. “I’m very happy to go play there. I’m used to playing with tough coaches. … I’m ready to take on any challenge.”
The pick came amid a busy day when the Bobcats had trade discussions with numerous teams but did not pull off any deals before the draft began.
“We went back and forth about possibly moving up the draft to (No.) 4 and trying to control our own destiny,” Jordan said, referring to the Seattle SuperSonics’ pick. “When we tried to do that, they tried to ask for way too much. It was pretty exhausting in terms of all the different options that we were weighing.”
Two possible targets that could have helped fill needs were taken well before No. 9. Point guard Russell Westbrook went to Seattle at No. 4, and Memphis took Westbrook’s former UCLA teammate, forward Kevin Love, a pick later.
Jordan acknowledged they considered 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert of Georgetown with the 20th pick. But Hibbert went 17th to Toronto, although he’s likely headed to Indiana as part of the reported trade involving Jermaine O’Neal.
While centers DeAndre Jordan of Texas A&M and Kosta Koufos of Ohio State and forward Darrell Arthur of Kansas were still on the board, the Bobcats went with the 20-year-old Ajinca. A long, athletic big man with a good shooting touch, he’s listed at only 220 pounds and likely won’t be able to fill an immediate need up front. The Bobcats will also have to pay buyout to Ajinca’s professional team in France.
“If he was in the draft next year, he might be in the top three or four picks,” Brown said. “When he came here he blew me away with his athleticism.”
But Ajinca’s inexperience ó he averaged only 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds a game in 24 games for Hyeres-Toulon last season ó makes the pick a surprise.
“If I’m ready for the NBA next year, I don’t know,” Ajinca said.
That could lead the Bobcats to look for a big man in free agency or in a trade to help restricted free agent Emeka Okafor down low.
“His scoring ability, he can play in this league,” Jordan said of Ajinca. “His defense is going to take some adjusting. His physical capability is going to take some adjustment. I don’t think coach wants to throw him out there and put heavy minutes on him. I think he wants to expose him to the game and see what he can provide.”
Weaver averaged 12.2 points last season and was picked to the Pac-10’s all defensive team. He’ll face a crowd of wing players as he tries to make the roster.
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