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April 30, 2008

Just wondering ...

-- Will Sam Vincent’s departure increase the likelihood of Emeka Okafor staying in Charlotte long-term?

Okafor is too nice and too circumspect to broadcast it when he’s upset with a coach. But it was obvious during portions of last season that he didn’t mesh well with Vincent.

Okafor becomes a restricted free agent in July, and though he said he wants to stay here, that sounded a bit hollow while Vincent was the coach.

That’s not to say Okafor will definitely sign a long-term deal with Larry Brown as coach. Remember, Okafor turned down an extension that would have paid him more than $12. million per season before Vincent coached a game here.

But you can’t tell me, if the Bobcats want to retain Okafor, that it won’t be easier following this change in direction.

-- There will be ABCers saying the only reason Phil Ford is on Larry Brown’s staff is to appease Dean Smith. But Ford will serve as an essential buffer zone between Brown and Raymond Felton. Brown can be brutal on point guards, and Ford will keep Felton’s confidence from eroding in the face of Brown’s demands.

-- I bet Sean May playing for Brown will either save May’s career or end it for good; nothing in-between. Brown is famous for the high standards he sets for his players’ conditioning. May is coming off micro-fracture knee surgery, and if he doesn’t do the max to keep the strain off his lower joints, he won’t keep up.

The Bobcats need what May potentially delivers, because their biggest deficiency is still rebounding.

-- Brown said the last thing he did before signing with the Bobcats was quiz managing partner Michael Jordan to make sure he was "fully committed" to building this team. Obviously Brown was satisfied with Jordan’s answer. But I guarantee you Brown will challenge Jordan and front-office executives Rod Higgins and Bernie Bickerstaff along the way. It’s Brown’s nature not to accept status quo as being good enough. That’s what makes him a winner.

Posted by Observer Sports on April 30, 2008 at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (96)

April 29, 2008

Larry Brown will make life interesting

  • We’ll find out once and for all if Raymond Felton is a point guard. Brown is hard on point guards, forcing them either to excel or fizzle out. I’m confident Phil Ford will remain on the staff, not just because all three (Brown, Ford, Felton) are ex-Tar Heels, but because Ford will be an important buffer zone between Brown and Felton.
  • Sooner or later Brown and Michael Jordan will bump heads. That’s because Brown always bumps heads, at least a bit, with the front office. Managing Brown’s moods (as in wanting to trade half the team after a bad loss) is just Brown’s way.
  • They’ll make a real playoff run. Brown’s teams almost always improve during his first season with a new franchise. In the Eastern Conference, a five-game improvement puts you right in the playoff mix.
  • Emeka Okafor will know for sure if he wants to be here. Okafor is a restricted free agent who can sign a one-year qualifying offer to become unrestricted in 2009. People love or hate playing for Brown; Okafor – even-tempered, thoughtful – will have to gauge how his personality and Brown’s mesh.
  • Brown will say five things that make you go hmmmmmmm. He knows and teaches the game as well as anyone. He voices much of what’s inside his head, sometimes in an unfiltered manner. He’s been reluctant in the past to count on rookies, but this team will have a lottery pick. It all will be quite interesting to monitor.

Posted by rbonnell on April 29, 2008 at 02:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (35)

April 26, 2008

'This isn't going to work'

My not-quite-a-year covering Sam Vincent:

    The guy wasn’t boring, if simply because you could never predict what might come out of his mouth. If it was Tuesday, he’d cruise into the media room for his pre-game group interview, swearing he’d stop using Raymond Felton so much at shooting guard because that wasn’t in the franchise’s best interest, long-term.Bobcats_magic_12

    Then a couple of days later, he’d throw Jeff McInnis into the starting lineup and play Felton more at shooting guard than ever before.

    He’d gut Emeka Okafor’s playing time, only to wonder why Okafor fell into a unprecedented funk. Then he’d restore Okafor’s minutes and - surprise! - Okafor went back to being the reliable and efficient (if limited) big man who once won rookie of the year.

    Understandably, players wouldn’t be quoted grumbling about their boss. But there was plenty of grumbling, some of it from players who are nothing like prima donnas.

    One day a player discreetly asked me this question: “What is he doing? Because I can't figure it out from game to game.’’

    I told the player that Vincent’s substitutions reminded me of Jim Valvano’s “survive-and-advance’’ approach to the NCAA tournament. Valvano, the late N.C. State coach, meant you coach each game of the NCAAs in a vacuum - don’t worry about rotations, don’t worry about players’ feelings -- because as soon as you lose, you go home for the season anyway.

    I told the player you can’t coach 82 regular-season games like the NCAA tournament because it leaves the players so confused and insecure they can’t perform.

    The guy nodded knowingly and said, “This isn’t going to work.’’

Posted by Observer Sports on April 26, 2008 at 04:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (45)

April 14, 2008

Johnson takes unusual approach

Bobcats majority owner Bob Johnson showed up at the Observer newsroom Monday, looking for support on a rather bold suggestion:

That Charlotte’s business community hasn’t done enough to ensure the financial success of the local NBA team.

Wow. This isn’t biting the hand that feeds you. This is gnawing on the fingers.

I wasn’t at Johnson’s appearance in the newsroom. I’d been told he wouldn’t address basketball issues, so I thought my presence might be counter-productive. But had I been there, I would have asked the following question:

You know any other business in Charlotte that got a $265 million home office from the taxpayers?

I’m not saying the arena was a bad thing. Quite the opposite. The anti-arena/anti-development folk who’d be fine with Charlotte becoming Mayberry again never got it that the Charlotte Coliseum wasn’t going to work going forward. This was the last/best chance to find a partner to share the cost of operation for valuable infrastructure.

However, I’ve never found Johnson gracious in receiving the deal the NBA negotiated with the city. And he’s never been realistic about the challenge convincing this town – not the politicians, the average folk – that turning out for games is great use of their entertainment dollars.

I know this from personal experience. Bob has berated me more than once for suggesting how tough it will be to overcome the town’s ambivalence toward replacing the Hornets. These people vote with their wallets all the time. You think it’s a coincidence the Bobcats are in the bottom third of the league in attendance?

Bob seems finally to realize he has problems. I just don’t know if he has the humility to understand this isn’t somebody else’s problem. Unless that changes, little else will.

Posted by Observer Sports on April 14, 2008 at 09:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (71)

April 09, 2008

Stray thoughts on the road to Lotteryville:

  • Ever wonder how a team could shoot 62 percent overall and 56 percent from 3-point range and be thankful to win by two?

The Bobcats managed that Tuesday, exposing what has become a perpetual flaw. They will never be dependable until they keep the other team off the offensive boards. For the fifth time in nine games, they gave up at least 15 offensive rebounds, this time to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Kenny Gattison, then a Charlotte Hornet, now a New Orleans Hornets assistant coach, used to say you can’t trust offense. Defense was the only thing dependable in the NBA, and controlling possessions is defense.

The Timberwolves took 21 more shots than the Bobcats on Tuesday. Part of that was outrebounding the Bobcats by eight. Part of it was forcing 16 turnovers.

You give the other team that many extra chances to score and it might not matter how well you shoot.

  • It was amusing, listening to Gerald Wallace talk about finally feeling some age in that Gumby-like body.

You could twist Gumby into any shape without breaking him. Wallace was just about that that flexible, without ever trying.

"I’ve been in the league seven years, and I’ve probably stretched twice," Wallace described.

It caught up with him. Wallace has a groin strain and it probably knocks him out for the rest of the season. Wallace is listening all of a sudden to Emeka Okafor about taking Yoga and Pilates to ward off further injury.

Like the song says, "What a drag it is, getting old."

  • The Bobcats’ announcement of their naming rights/television right swap was pure Disney.

They herded us into an end zone of the arena. For an hour we listened to speeches, watched video and then they set off fireworks to light up some Fox sign (I guess they thought we might miss the point where the TV rights were going).

All this ate up precious time, and then they told us we could talk to the principles, either in groups or one-on-one, because there’d be no question-and-answer during the formal news conference.

Five questions into Bob Johnson’s group interview, a public relations operative cut off the conversation. I was stunned. A 15-month negotiation that led to what Johnson called a "momentous" day, and we’re not supposed to ask more questions? Welcome to the Nixon administration.

I got a bit aggressive and pushed what I thought was the essential question: If Johnson thought going to Fox Sports Net was such a bad idea five years ago, what makes it such a great idea now? Johnson gave me a fair answer: That once C-SET failed, this was the next-best alternative.

The next time the Bobcats have a "momentous" day, it would be nice if they set aside some real time to field questions, after the walk down Main Street at Disney World.

Posted by rbonnell on April 9, 2008 at 01:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (91)

April 08, 2008

Wallace could shut down for season

Charlotte Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace is leaning toward shutting it down for the rest of the season.

He missed his second straight game Tuesday with a groin injury that he says is affecting abdominal muscles. He said he won’t play Wednesday in New York against the Knicks and has misgivings about playing in any of the remaining handful of games this season.

"I don’t want to go through the whole summer rehabbing" a groin injury, Wallace said before the Timberwolves game Tuesday night. A MRI showed no tear in his left groin, but Wallace is concerned that continuing to play would have that effect.

Posted by rbonnell on April 8, 2008 at 06:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Tonight's Bobcats' game switching to Fox Sports Net

The Bobcats are starting to release details of their TV/naming rights deal, to be formally announced later this afternoon.

Heads-up for tonight: The switch from News 14 to Fox Sports Net is IMMEDIATE. So the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves is on FSN at 7 p.m.

Posted by rbonnell on April 8, 2008 at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

April 07, 2008

Wallace out for T-Wolves, maybe year

Charlotte Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace is out for Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves and it’s possible a doctor’s appointment Tuesday could end his season.

    Wallace has a groin pull that knocked him out of the second half of Friday’s victory in Toronto and sat him for Saturday’s home loss to the Boston Celtics. He’s scheduled for a magnetic resonance imaging Tuesday, to determine the extent of the injury.

    With four games left and the Bobcats out of playoff contention, it’s possible they’ll shut down Wallace to avoid further injury.

    However, coach Sam Vincent is hopeful Wallace isn’t done for the season.

    “I don’t think so,’’ Vincent said when asked if Wallace was done. “That groin muscle is bothering him. He’s going to stretch on it, work on it, and see what happens in the next four or five days.’’

Posted by Observer Sports on April 7, 2008 at 02:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

April 05, 2008

Celtics' Big Three not expected to play

The thousands who bought tickets for Bobcats-Celtics months ago won't exactly get what they paid for tonight.

Word from Marc Spears of the Boston Globe is the Celtics don't plan to play any of the big three - Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen -- tonight.

The Celtics haven't technically clinched home-court advantage yet, but they have to win just one of their remaining seven games to do so.

That means Celtics coach Doc Rivers is prioritizing resting his stars in anticipation of the playoffs.

Posted by rbonnell on April 5, 2008 at 05:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

April 04, 2008

Larry Brown posts his resume

0404larrybrown         In case you didn't notice -- and I assume Bobcats management already has -- Larry Brown is casting about for a job.

    "I've got to figure out if I can get a coaching job," Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I want to get back so bad. I'm bored."

    I'm not surprised Brown feels this way. I'm surprised -- but just marginally -- that he'd broadcast how much he wants back after nearly two years away from the sidelines.

    Brown isn't worried about money -- he has more than he, his wife, his kids or his grandchildren will ever spend. He is worried about his legacy. He really doesn't want what happened with the Knicks to serve as his last act.

    If the Bobcats end up replacing Sam Vincent, Brown would certainly put a surge through this franchise. He might be high-maintenance at times, but Brown is a proven winner. And marketing-wise, he'd get the public talking about a franchise that is currently an after-thought to much of Charlotte.

    Brown wouldn't work cheap, but I bet he's less expensive now than he might have been, say, five years ago.

Posted by Observer Sports on April 4, 2008 at 08:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)