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NBA: Bobcats hope to ink Okafor soon

Associated Press
LAS VEGAS ó Larry Brown has big plans for Emeka Okafor. The new Charlotte Bobcats coach is hoping he’ll get to work with him.
With contract talks involving the restricted free agent moving slowly, Brown made it clear Thursday it’s important the Bobcats keep their starting big man.
“I hope that it works out because I was with him a little while and he’s a terrific kid,” said Brown, who coached Okafor on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. “He plays a position that’s very hard to find. And he’s the second pick in the draft. I’m sure we’ll do what’s right. Hopefully he’ll be here.”
Okafor turned down a contract offer from Charlotte last summer worth more than $12 million a year. The second overall pick in the 2004 draft then averaged 13.8 points and 10.7 rebounds while playing all 82 games last season.
The negotiating period started July 1, and teams could begin signing players on Wednesday. But the two sides were far from a deal Thursday. Okafor’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, is out of the country this week and unavailable for comment.
While the Bobcats can match any offer from another team, the Los Angeles Clippers have plenty of salary-cap space and are looking for a big man after losing free agent Elton Brand to Philadelphia. However, the Clippers could pursue another available big man, Atlanta’s Josh Smith, instead.
Center Andrew Bogut’s new five-year, $72.5 million deal with Milwaukee could also drive up Okafor’s price.
Bobcats center Ryan Hollins, participating in the Brown-coached Bobcats minicamp this week on the UNLV campus, said Okafor is working out on his own in New York. It’s expected Okafor will wait to see what offers come in from other teams before making a decision.
“This is the business side of it,” Hollins said. “We hope he’s back.”
Brown said he hasn’t talked to Okafor in a couple of weeks. He’s leaving the negotiating to general manager Rod Higgins. Managing partner Michael Jordan is also involved.
Okafor could also sign a one-year qualifying offer with the Bobcats worth $7.1 million. While that would be much less than he was offered last year, it would allow Okafor to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Brown just wants Okafor on his roster as he begins his ninth NBA head coaching job. Brown envisions the 6-foot-10 Okafor continuing to play both center and power forward and anchoring the defense with his shot-blocking ability.
“He’s certainly mobile enough and athletic enough to play out on the perimeter,” Brown said. “He’s strong enough to play inside. So we’ll hopefully figure it out. … You hate to lose assets.”

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