NBA: Bobcats still have plenty of questions
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó The Charlotte Bobcats nearly moved up in the draft. They almost dealt Gerald Wallace, and dangled other veterans as trade bait.
In the end, managing partner Michael Jordan kept their two first-round picks, and his selections left plenty of room for debate.
As undersized point guard D.J. Augustin of Texas and relative unknown Alexis Ajinca of France were introduced to the media on Friday, general manager Rod Higgins was left defending the decisions made a night earlier by the elusive Jordan, who didn’t attend the news conference.
“We were definitely in the mix trying to move up,” said Higgins, referring to a proposed deal with Seattle for the No. 4 spot. “We definitely tried, but it just didn’t happen and we’re happy with the guys we got.”
Augustin, who won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard last season, was taken with the ninth pick ahead of 7-foot center Brook Lopez of Stanford.
While Higgins said Augustin vs. Lopez was a “very close call,” Augustin is the pass-first point guard new coach Larry Brown craves. The pick came after the Bobcats discussed trading Wallace to Toronto for point guard T.J. Ford. The deal fizzled and now Ford is set to move to Indiana in a proposed trade involving Jermaine O’Neal.
The near deal for Ford and Augustin’s selection leaves questions about Raymond Felton’s future. But Higgins denied a report they were discussing sending him to New York for forward David Lee. Three years after he was the fifth overall pick, Higgins insisted Felton remains an important cog.
“Raymond is today our starting point guard,” Higgins said. “I’m sure D.J. might say something different, but we don’t think D.J. is going to come in right now and become our starting `oint guard. He doesn’t know what coach Brown is going to want from him. … We needed another point. I think we addressed a need there.”
The Bobcats also needed a big man. But 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 at No. 20, Higgins said it was “worth the chance” to take the 7-footer Ajinca.
Rail thin and inexperienced, the 20-year-old averaged 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 24 games for Hyeres-Toulon in the French ProA league last season. But he sports a 7-foot-8 wingspan and first the caught the attention of the Bobcats’ full-time European scout, Rich Sheubrooks. Brown said Ajinca then “blew me away” with his athleticism in his pre-draft workout.
But it’s questionable whether he’ll be able to contribute next season ó and if it was worth giving up a future first-round pick to Denver for the extra pick this year.
“If he can have an effect and have some growth in summer league, that’s usually an indicator that it’s going to translate come October when we start training camp,” Higgins said. “If he struggles a little bit, you kind of know that maybe we’re going to have to do other things. We’ll have time after summer league to hopefully get another veteran, if we have to.”
It’s clear there are few untouchables as Brown starts to mold the roster in his record ninth NBA head coaching job.
Wallace involved in trade talks comes a year after he signed a six-year, $57 million free-agent deal. It raises questions whether Brown and the athletic, if erratic, Wallace will be a match.
“Haven’t had a chance to talk to Gerald. but it’s part of this business,” Higgins said. “It happens, names come up. I guess when your name comes up it’s a good thing in a lot of ways. That means people want you.”
The summer will likely be busy. The Bobcats can begin negotiating with restricted free agent Emeka Okafor on Tuesday. While Felton is eligible for a contract extension, Higgins said “the extension doesn’t have to happen this summer.”
It could be an interesting season if Felton sticks around, in the final year of his contract, playing with the speedy and athletic Augustin.
“It’s going to be competition every day, but I just want to learn as much as I can from him,” Augustin said. “He’s a great player and a great point guard.”
While draft night raised eyebrows around the league, the mood was bright inside Time Warner Cable Arena Friday. Augustin (No. 14), Ajinca (No. 21) and second-round pick Kyle Weaver of Washington State (No. 25) were all smiles as they showed off their new jerseys and posed for photos.
“I think most players that come through coach Brown’s system, they usually improve,” Higgins said. “We visualize the same thing for all of our players, with the veterans as well as these rookies.”
NOTES: Higgins said the team picked up the second-year option on F Jermareo Davidson’s contract. … The Bobcats made a qualifying offer to C Ryan Hollins, a restricted free agent. … Davidson, F Jared Dudley and perhaps Hollins will join the three draft picks on the Bobcats’ summer league team.
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