NBA: Bobcats shaping up under Brown
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó Larry Brown’s history hinted that it wouldn’t be long before the Charlotte Bobcats looked much different than the team he took to training camp.
Halfway through his first season in his record ninth NBA head coaching job, the constantly tinkering, demanding Hall of Famer has pulled off two trades and used an NBA-high 21 players.
While more moves may be in the works before the Feb. 19 trade deadline, the Bobcats are starting to win.
With newcomers Raja Bell and Boris Diaw leading a more veteran mix, the Bobcats have won four of their last five games and 10 of 17 ahead of Friday’s matchup with Bell and Diaw’s former team, the Phoenix Suns.
“We’re still trying to make it better,” Brown said. “But this team compared to the team we had in Wilmington (in training camp)… This team is a lot closer to an NBA team than what we had in Wilmington.”
A club that hasn’t won more than 33 games in their first four seasons is still just 17-25 and must overcome a brutal closing schedule filled with road games to make the playoffs for the first time.
But with Bell and Diaw, the Bobcats have developed a different attitude. They’re starting to pull out close games instead of folding. With the addition of Juwan Howard and DeSagana Diop, they’re bigger, older and wiser than the team that started 7-18.
Small forward Gerald Wallace is playing more under control and making smarter decisions to complement his freakish athletic ability.
Raymond Felton has made it through the abuse Brown constantly levies on his point guard to run a more focused offense that actually goes inside to big man Emeka Okafor instead of settling for jumpers.
Rookie point guard D.J. Augustin, who has been sidelined with an abdominal injury, is quickly developing. Brown still believes rookie big man Alexis Ajinca will eventually become a significant contributor.
But the deal that sparked Charlotte’s turnaround came last month, when the Bobcats got Bell and Diaw from Phoenix for top scorer Jason Richardson.
“Boris is one of those guys that can play four different positions,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “It allows you to spread the floor and attack. And with the combination of Bell, a guy who he’s familiar with, they’ve incorporated some of what they did in Phoenix. They’re just playing basketball.”
Both are Brown-type players, too. Diaw is a good-passing big man, while Bell is a lockdown defender and a deceptively good outside shot. They’ve helped the Bobcats with their ball movement and defense, but perhaps most importantly helped change the attitude.
“They came from Phoenix used to winning 50, 60 games a season. So they just brought a winning mentality,” said Okafor, who has 22 double doubles. “I think they’ve given us that. They’re very unselfish. They’re very basketball savvy. Whenever you have players like that it spreads.”
Since their arrival, the Bobcats have beaten Boston, won at Detroit and would be riding a five-game winning streak if Diaw’s 3-point attempt didn’t rim out at the buzzer Monday against Southwest Division-leading San Antonio.
“Expectations are maybe a little different. Sometimes that can happen with the shakeup of a team in the middle of a season,” said Bell, who has scored 25 points in consecutive games. “You get some fresh blood in the locker room and all of a sudden the dynamics change. Boris, myself, Juwan, Nazr (Mohammed), guys that have been around and been on winning teams, we do chat it up a bit and try to keep guys going.”
Brown and the Bobcats may not be done tinkering. Felton, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, has been mentioned in numerous trade discussions. Little-used Adam Morrison could also be thrown into deals before the trade deadline.
But first up is an emotional game Friday against the Suns. Richardson returns to Charlotte and Bell and Diaw face their old team.
“I will have to check my emotions at the door early in the morning,” Bell said.
But Bell seems to be settling into Charlotte, where a skeptical fan base still questions a franchise which has done little right on or off the court. But with Brown eager to show that his disastrous stint in New York was a fluke three seasons ago was a fluke, he’s started to mold the Bobcats into the team he wants.
“We’re stating to operate as a true team,” Okafor said, “and acting accordingly on the court.”
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