NBA: Bobcats improved, but there’s more to do
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó The Hall of Fame coach known for his constant demands paired with the six-time NBA champion player with a checkered history as an executive.
The Larry Brown-Michael Jordan partnership had a chance to be explosive, and Brown fired the first shot the day before training camp began when he complained about his roster.
Soon the moves began. Brown shaped the team the way he wanted, the Bobcats used an NBA-high 24 players, set a club record for wins and were in the playoff hunt until the last week of the season.
After a 35-47 season that fell short of the franchise’s first postseason berth, Brown and Jordan still have plenty more to do. But so far the relationship appears to be working.
“All I asked him to do is to allow me to coach and listen to me. He’s done that,” Brown said of Jordan. “Selfishly, I wish he was around a lot more because it means so much to all the players and us. But he really has been engaged, and that’s made all our jobs better.”
Jordan, the team’s part-owner with the final say on basketball decisions, signed off on deals that had Brown’s fingerprints all over them. Charlotte traded top scorer Jason Richardson to Phoenix for Boris Diaw and Raja Bell. Diaw, a pass-first power forward, fit into Brown’s offense. Bell, a defensive shooting guard, provided veteran leadership.
The Bobcats later acquired defensive center DeSagana Diop from Dallas. Then they traded disappointing Adam Morrison, Jordan’s first draft pick with Charlotte, to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vladimir Radmanovic.
The deals helped the Bobcats overcome a 7-18 start to get into playoff contention as they adjusted to the new roster and Brown’s demands on offense and defense.
“For the past four years we’ve been here, our main thing was we just got it and ran,” said small forward Gerald Wallace, who led Charlotte with 16.6 points per game. “We never really had a structured offense or structured principles on defense.”
Inexperience in crucial, close late-season losses to Washington, Indiana, Boston and Miami ended their playoff hopes. After they were eliminated, Brown experimented with lineups and Charlotte closed on a four-game losing streak. But there was plenty of optimism as players underwent physicals and exit interviews with Jordan and Brown on Thursday.
“This year you could see things happening for the good,” center Emeka Okafor said.
It was a far cry from exit interviews last year, where player complaints of Sam Vincent helped lead to his ouster and Brown’s hiring, ending his two-year exile following an ugly season in New York.
“I would never even have considered coming here had Michael not been involved,” Brown said. “Like so many of us, we all admire him for what he’s done and what he stands for. Now that I’ve gotten to work with him, he allows you to do your job.”
Brown will likely push for more roster changes in the offseason. Charlotte also has a lottery pick, but has only a 0.7 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick.
Wallace, who was on the trading block last summer, may be safe from offseason moves. He became a favorite of Brown after changing his freewheeling style and gambling less on defense. Okafor, Diaw and Bell also appear set to start again next season, but there is a question at point guard.
The Bobcats drafted D.J. Augustin with the ninth pick last year, but Raymond Felton kept his starting job. Felton will be a restricted free agent this summer after becoming a better playmaker under Brown.
“It was just about understanding what he wanted,” Felton said. “It was frustrating at times, but I took it in a positive way. I took it that he was trying to make me better. I talked to Chauncey Billups, (Allen Iverson), Lindsey Hunter, a bunch of guys who played for him before and they said, ‘Just listen to him. You’ve got to listen to him. He’ll make you better.”‘
The Bobcats must also decide on forward Sean May, the 13th pick in the 2005 draft who has been injured and out of shape for most of four seasons. But Brown has said it’s not a given they’ll renounce his rights as a restricted free agent.
“MJ just said that the tough part is if they let me walk away for nothing and I go to another team and go there and play well, they’ll feel like they just let a significant piece go,” May said of his exit meeting with Jordan. “He still feels that even though this year has been up and down and a lot of downs, that I can still help this team and I’m still an integral part.”
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