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May 29, 2008

NBA executives expect Lawson to stay in draft

If you take it literally that Tyson Lawson will return to North Carolina unless he knows he’ll be chosen before the 21st pick, then Lawson is in Chapel Hill next season.

But the NBA executives I polled Thursday don’t see it that way.

I spoke with four front-office types during breaks in the NBA pre-draft camp, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., asking each whether Lawson is among the top 20. Not one felt confident predicting that, although they all thought Lawson has helped himself here enough to anticipate going among the first-round’s 30 picks.

The consensus: They anticipate Lawson staying in the draft.

Lawson needed to show here that his left ankle is well enough to get where he needs to be with the ball. He also needed to demonstrate he could make the occasional open jump shot when it’s presented to him.

He’s did that Wednesday, then suffered a hip pointer that caused him to miss Thursday’s game and might also sit him Friday. In the watered-down field that is this pre-draft camp, Lawson might be the best player here.

Point guards are hard to find, so it’s more than likely he’d be a first-round pick, with the two-year guaranteed contract that represents.

Now reflect on what Lawson said Wednesday: Yes, he mentioned the 20th pick as a point of delineation. But he also used the word "probably" and said his real concern was avoiding the second round (where salary isn’t guaranteed by the collective bargaining agreement.)

Sounds like a guy convincing himself he should be in the NBA next season.

---North Carolina forward Wayne Ellington rebounded from a bad first game Wednesday, hitting 7-of-13 shots for 17 points Thursday.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 29, 2008 at 05:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (35)

May 28, 2008

Knicks headed for Gallinari?

ORLANDO -- As you try to line up who will be gone before the Charlotte Bobcats' ninth overall pick in the NBA draft (June 26, 2008, ESPN, 7 p.m.-midnight), check out who was missing from the first night of the pre-draft camp:

New York Knicks President Donnie Walsh isn't expected at the camp before Thursday, when about half the games are over. The Knicks pick at No. 6.Danillo

    That's adding to speculation the Knicks are leaning toward Italian pro Danilo Gallinari, who won't even be here for the measures and physical testing other lottery picks undergo.

    It's not much of a reach to see the Knicks grabbing Gallinari, considering their new coach, Mike D'Antoni, first made his reputation in Europe. D'Antoni will be given plenty of time to remake the Knicks in his fluid, up-tempo, Euro-ball style.

Bad move by Hickson

    Why would N.C. State's J.J. Hickson think he's too good to play at the pre-draft camp?

    Hickson turned down the chance to play in camp games, and the league didn't let him go through the measurements and testing reserved for projected lottery picks.

    Hickson is a borderline first-round pick, and even turning pro this early might be a dubious decision. But it sure seems like he'd have as much to gain as lose by competing here.

    Choosing not to play, after proving little with the Wolfpack, just raises more questions for the teams with picks in the bottom third of the first round.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 28, 2008 at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

May 23, 2008

Jermaine O'Neal: Buyer beware

0523oneal      I suspect we'll hear a lot this off-season about Indiana Pacer Jermaine O'Neal being available in trade.

    At first glance, he'd be a great addition to the Charlotte Bobcats -- a scoring big man who can play power forward or center. Get past that first glance, and the package isn't quite as attractive.

    O'Neal is on the back end of his career and very expensive. He has two years remaining on his contract at a total compensation exceeding $44 million.

    O'Neal turns 30 in October, and while that's not old, the issue is mileage, not age. Turning pro out of high school in South Carolina, he's already played 12 NBA seasons and wear-and-tear is apparent. He's no longer an explosive post-up player; he's more a tall jump-shooter.

    A player-personnel guy I know predicted a year ago that O'Neal's decline would be steep for a five-time All-Star.

    O'Neal isn't washed up; he's long and skilled and he'll continue on occasion to play like an All-Star. But inheriting that contract hardly seems like a bargain for anything less than a guy you know would raise your team a full level.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 23, 2008 at 02:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (55)

May 22, 2008

Why would team commit so early to draft promise?

I got a call Thursday from a scout for a team drafting in the teens, wondering if it was conceivable the Bobcats would have made a promise to select Texas A&M center DeAndre Jordan.

By "promise," the scout meant the Bobcats assuring Jordan that they would draft him ninth overall.

That sounds like a reach, before they or anyone else has had a chance to work him out. Jordan is a 7-footer who can run, but after a single college season the word scouts always use about him is "raw."

Sure, they are all raw to some degree at age 19, but Jordan particularly so. He might have more potential than, say, Louisiana State’s Anthony Randolph, but Randolph has more defined skills. And Jordan didn’t always compete so consistently at the college level.

Obviously Jordan should be among the Bobcats’ considerations, when their needs are a big man or a point guard. But locking in on him, or anyone else more than a month before the draft, makes little sense.

Speaking of the draft, one of the more interesting things at next week’s pre-draft camp should be how Ty Lawson plays.

Lawson should stay at North Carolina, based on the way he played late last season. UNC’s coaches are indicating to NBA scouts that Lawson is leaning to returning to Chapel Hill.

However, he wouldn’t have entered the draft, even with the option to pull out, unless he thought he was ready. He’s not ready, based on the way he played, so he either needs to change that impression or get back to summer school.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 22, 2008 at 03:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (37)

May 21, 2008

Should Bobcats trade 1st-round pick again?

I keep hearing suggestions from readers that the Charlotte Bobcats should do what they did last season, and trade their first-round pick for an impact veteran.

I’m totally with you that those options should be explored. But it’s considerably harder for the Bobcats to make such a deal now than it was when they acquired Jason Richardson 11 months ago on draft night.

It’s about money.

The Bobcats acquired Richardson from Golden State and Nazr Mohammed from the Detroit Pistons in deals that bargained away much of their room under the salary cap.

The Warriors’ and Pistons’ incentive in those deals was clearing up their payrolls; Golden State freed themselves from Richardson’s $11 million-plus salary and Detroit swapped Mohammed’s $5 million-plus salary for expiring contracts (Primoz Brezec and Walter Herrmann).

The Bobcats aren’t capped out this off-season, but they certainly don’t have the flexibility they once did to absorb a huge contract. That will limit the ways they could turn the ninth pick into a veteran rotation player.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 21, 2008 at 05:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (100)

May 20, 2008

Augustin might be Brown's guy

Totally a hunch here, but if I were the Charlotte Bobcats picking ninth, knowing Larry Brown will be coaching this team, I’d take a long look at Texas point guard D.J. Augustin.

He strikes me as a Brown point guard – a cerebral, pass-first playmaker who will do as he’s told. And the No.. 1 priority for any Brown point guard is doing precisely what the coach instructs.

Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins was more forthcoming than in the past, in acknowledging this team’s needs – another point guard to complement Raymond Felton and another big man (particularly if you accept that Emeka Okafor is miscast, guarding jump-shooters as a power forward.)

Augustin isn’t a great athlete, and at 5-foot-11 he’s smaller than you might like, but the guy is about as pure a playmaker as you can find in this draft.

One other thing about Higgins’ comments Tuesday; if you see them drafting a shooting guard or small forward next month, figure there’s a trade in the works, because this team is loaded with wings.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 20, 2008 at 10:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (45)

Brown wants Snow on staff, but Bobcats might have to get in line

Bobcats coach Larry Brown wants Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Eric Snow on his staff, once Snow’s injury retirement becomes official.

But there’s a complication that would be very nice for Snow; an informed source says the Chicago Bulls want to interview him to be their head coach.

Bulls general manager John Paxson said he planned to spread a wide net in filling this job, and hiring Snow with no previous coaching experience would be just that. However, it demonstrates what a natural Snow would be as a coach.

Snow has a long relationship with Brown from his time as a Philadelphia 76er, and there’s no doubt Brown would like Snow on his staff. Snow’s family is in Atlanta, so moving to Charlotte would get him closer to home. Although an opening on the Hawks’ staff could complicate things.

Injured much of this season, Snow has to resolve his contract situation with the Cavaliers. He is owed about $7.3 million next season, though he appears physically done because of injuries. An injury retirement makes sense, unless the Cavs want to keep him on their roster next season to have an expiring contract to trade.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 20, 2008 at 06:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Win No. 1? That's only half the story

       If the Charlotte Bobcats somehow beat the odds tonight and receive the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, it would serve as a straw ballot on the current administration's taste for risk.

    There's little hope of that happening -- the Bobcats have a 2.8 percent chance in the weighted lottery -- but a choice between Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley would define how Michael Jordan and Rod Higgins feel about the risk/reward proposition.

    I contacted three player-personnel executives off other teams the past week and each one drew the same conclusion:

        Beasley is the safer pick; a solid, physical power forward who will frequently assemble 20-point, 10-rebound games. Rose has more star potential at a position that is harder to fill (point guard), but there are more questions about whether he'll reach his potential.

       This reminds me a bit of the 2004 draft, when the Orlando Magic chose Dwight Howard's athletic potential over Emeka Okafor's established college resume. Howard was the riskier proposition, but now he's the All-Star, probably the best center in the league.

         The contrast isn't as dramatic this time -- Beasley and Rose each spent one season in college ball, under the NBA's new eligibility rule -- but risk would be an interesting proposition for the Jordan administration, particularly since the Adam Morrison selection at No. 3 two years ago looks like a shaky pick.

        Assuming the Bobcats pick eighth (by far the most likely scenario), they'll still face some risk. An intriguing name to keep in mind: Louisiana State forward Anthony Randolph. He's young (a freshman) and he's slight (200 pounds over a 6-foot-10 body). Randolph would have to gain a lot of bulk and strength to be an NBA power forward, but the Bobcats clearly need more long, athletic bodies at forward to complement Okafor at center.

       I see nbadraft.net has Stanford's Brook Lopez lasting to the eighth pick. If that happens, the Bobcats should grab him without hesitation. But the execs I talk to doubt Lopez lasts beyond No. 5.

       Stay tuned; we'll find out where they pick early tonight.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 20, 2008 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

May 15, 2008

Tapscott would be perfect in Atlanta

        The Atlanta Hawks need a general manager, and I have their man: Ed Tapscott.

       No finder’s fee necessary, guys, I just want one of the smartest guys in basketball back in a prominent position in the NBA.

       Tapscott was the Bobcats’ original president, which meant he hired and supervised Bernie Bickerstaff on the basketball side and put out numerous fires on the business side. Mostly that meant finessing the owner’s lack of understanding of the NBA and the Charlotte market.

      Tapscott made friends throughout the community. The decisions that undermined that goodwill – C-SET, ticket-pricing, etc. – were made above his head.

      Ed is now working for close friend Ernie Grunfeld, with both coaching and player-programs duties with the Washington Wizards. His experience, managing Bob Johnson’s peculiarities, would seemingly prepare him for the fractured ownership situation in Atlanta (the Hawks and NHL Thrashers are owned by guys who tend to sue each other.)

        Former Hawks GM Billy Knight resigned under pressure, leaving behind the most athletic team in the East. Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams are intriguing pieces and Mike Bibby is a sound, if aging, point guard.

       The Hawks need management that could get Atlanta to care about that team; to make intelligent moves in a transparent, accountable way.

       I just described the Ed Tapscott playbook.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 15, 2008 at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

May 13, 2008

NBA rule is well-intended but flawed

I don't know if O.J. Mayo did take tens of thousands in gifts from the representative of an agent.

I do know this: The accusations ESPN made about the former Southern Cal freshman are plausible. They'd be plausible for any high school player identified as a soon-to-be lottery pick.

And that's why this NBA rule, pushing kids to play at least one season of college basketball, is well-intended but ultimately flawed.

The NBA would like players to mature - physically, emotionally and in their understanding of basketball - in the de facto farm system that is college basketball. The NCAA wants the Greg Odens and Kevin Durants to at least make a cameo appearance in its tournament before hearing their names called in the NBA draft.

But it's too late to undo how Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James changed the sport.

They were all ready to play out of high school. In fact, Bryant and Garnett were chosen too low, not too high, in their respect drafts. (What's sillier upon reflection? That reigning MVP Bryant went 13th or that the then-Charlotte Hornets immediately traded him to the Lakers?)

Every year there will be three or four high school seniors so NBA-ready (at least compared to the other options in a given draft) that they're foregone conclusions to be one-and-done in college ball. You think it's a coincidence three of the first four picks last June were college freshmen?

There's little structure in place to keep the "runners" - the guys who funnel money from agents to prospects - away from these elite players. Unfortunately, a number of these players will pick an agent for those early inducements, and not for who might best represent him later.

The problem is enforcing amateurism, or in this case shamateurism. If a kid is a tennis prodigy at 16, the sneaker makers and racquet makers help finance the cost of developing that kid's talents. There's nothing dishonest or evil about that; it's an investment in future marketing.

Men's college basketball is different, because Mr. Future Lottery Pick is supposed to be treated just like the 12th man at Davidson or Winthrop.

It's realistically unenforceable to keep the runners away from the next O.J. Mayo. So as long as the NBA (worn down by years of lobbying by college basketball coaches) continue directing the prodigies to a year of college ball, the shamateurism will run rampant.

Posted by rbonnell on May 13, 2008 at 08:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)