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December 31, 2008

Brown wants more offense from Morrison

Morrison76 Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown can live with Adam Morrison not making an open jump shot.

But when Morrison doesn't take open shots – and that happened multiple times in a loss to the New York Knicks – Brown says he has little reason to play him.

Morrison played Tuesday for the first time in four games. In 12 1/2 minutes against the Knicks, Morrison took and missed three shots from the field, including an air ball from about 20 feet.

"After he missed those first couple, he didn't even look at the basket," Brown said. "As soon as I heard someone yell at him (from the stands), I ran a play for him. And he didn't touch (the ball)."

Morrison represents a major investment by the Bobcats. They drafted him third overall in 2006 and in October they exercised an option, guaranteeing him about $5.2 million for next season.

Morrison's struggles aren't entirely his fault
– he missed last season after a severe knee injury – but he's done little of late to help his cause. Morrison is the second-highest pick in franchise history (Emeka Okafor went second overall in 2004.) Two of the wing shooters playing ahead of Morrison – Raja Bell and Matt Carroll – weren't drafted.

"It's tough," Brown said of trying to find minutes for Morrison. "I tried to make a decision between him and Matt. I don't feel comfortable (benching Morrison) because I think he can play.

"But we just don't have the time to play them all, especially since I'm trying to play three (point) guards (Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin and Sean Singletary)."

Morrison acknowledged not playing well, but suggested that's in part due to inactivity.

"I hadn't played in four games. I was fine at the start of the year," Morrison said. "I've just got to take those shots and knock them down."

The Bobcats entered the season with a glut of wing players. Some of that glut was eliminated when Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley were traded to the Phoenix Suns Dec.10.

That trade meant opportunity for Morrison – he played 37, 19 and 19 minutes in the first three games after the deal –

but he's 5-of-25 from the field since Richardson and Dudley departed and hasn't scored in the past five games he's played.

Brown said Morrison's defensive liabilities make it imperative he's aggressive offensively.

"Every time he comes in a game, they go right at him. He has to figure that out," Brown said. "If they're going to go at him, then if we're going to put him on the court, he's got to go after them."

Morrison acknowledged earlier this season that trades were likely with the Bobcats so overloaded with wing players. But when asked Tuesday night if he needs a fresh start, Morrison said that's not necessary.

"I think this year is a fresh start," Morrison said, referring to his knee injury. "I'm still alive and still here. It just comes down to getting back and getting my movements right."

Posted by Observer Sports on December 31, 2008 at 06:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (40)

Okafor assertive, productive in December

It would be quite a challenge for Emeka Okafor to be any better than he was in December.

In 16 games to end the year, he shot 60.6 percent from the field to lead the NBA. He also averaged 17.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.94 blocks.

Okafor’s 60.6 percent shooting topped Boston’s Kevin Garnett at 60 percent even. And, yes, Okafor did shoot better from the field than from the foul line (60.2 percent), so he still has something to clean up.

Coach Larry Brown had been after Okafor to assert himself more as a post scorer. And the Dec. 10 trade acquiring Boris Diaw

a great interior passer has helped Okafor get some easy baskets each game.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 31, 2008 at 01:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

December 30, 2008

Notes from Bobcats' shootaround

Several interesting developments at Bobcats shootaround Tuesday morning:

-- Raja Bell (groin strain) is definitely out for tonight’s game against the Knicks. (Matt Carroll is the likely starter at shooting guard, unless the Knicks go small.)

Bell had a long chat with Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached him in Phoenix until this season. Bell opened up to reporters later about how much D’Antoni’s departure changed the atmosphere in Phoenix, and how marginalized he felt there this season.

"It was a culture change from our locker room, to what we were doing on the court, to the attitude a lot of us were bringing to work every day,’’ Bell said. "It’s not putting blame on anyone, but a lot of stuff changed; it wasn’t just necessarily on the court.’’

Bell said that while a Suns coaching change was inevitable, it pushed him out of the circle there.

"The situation in Phoenix changed a lot, and at the end of the day, I wasn’t in their plans,’’ Bell said. "This is a good opportunity for me to get back to playing for a coach (Larry Brown) who is gonna teach and put me in different situations, and have to grow my game and expand it a little more.

"It was a really good trade for the Bobcats – they got a really good young player in Sean (Singletary) and Boris (Diaw) is really versatile. And Phoenix got what they wanted. Worked out for everybody.’’

- Power forward Sean May has been on the inactive list for eight straight games, and there’s nothing about his conditioning that will change that soon, Brown said.

"He’s making progress, but I’m not going to play him,’’ Brown said. "I told him last week, until I see he’s able to run up-and-down the court and be fit enough to play without struggling (he won’t be active). I haven’t seen that, even though he’s working hard.

"We’ll really examine that right after the New Year - see where he is.’’

- Rookie center Alexis Ajinca hasn’t played in six of the past seven games, but Brown has no interest in sending Ajinca to the developmental league, similar to how Ryan Hollins played there for a stretch of last season.

"We’re keeping him with us,’’ Brown said. "One, I’d like to play him, and, two, I think he needs to be with us because he’s learning in a better environment for our sake.

Ajinca has been active for every game this season, so it’s obvious Brown is looking for minutes for the rookie.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 30, 2008 at 12:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

December 29, 2008

Raja Bell uncertain for Knicks game

Raja Bell (groin strain) did some shooting at practice Monday and said he hasn’t ruled himself out of playing Tuesday against the New York Knicks.

However, coach Larry Brown sounds reluctant to play Bell, over concern he might worsen the injury by coming back too soon. Bell hurt himself in Saturday’s home loss to the New Jersey Nets and had been on quite a shooting streak of late: 22-of-42 from the field and 13-of-19 from 3-point range in his last four games.

(Bell is fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage, at 46 percent.)

Brown said if Bell doesn’t play, any one of three players could fill his starting spot – Matt Carroll, D.J. Augustin (still limited by a sprained ankle) or Sean Singletary.

Posted by Observer staff on December 29, 2008 at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

December 28, 2008

Morrison struggles to find time

Adam Morrison's recent circumstances – the guy has not played in three of the past five games and totaled 12 minutes in the other two – had me flipping through an NBA draft guide.

I wondered the last time a top-3 pick was this irrelevant.

The Bobcats chose Morrison third overall in the 2006 draft. Keep in mind that was destined to be a weak draft because it was the first one where U.S. high-school seniors were barred from turning pro. Also keep in mind that Morrison missed his entire second season, due to a knee injury.

On the other hand, the Bobcats passed over Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay to select Morrison.

Oops.

Morrison is a non-factor on this team, and that has nothing to do with missing last season. Coach Larry Brown has played Matt Carroll ahead of Morrison of late, and while Carroll doesn't play much (or particularly well), he offers a slightly wider skill spectrum than Morrison.

More than one person who's worked with Larry Brown cautioned me Morrison wouldn't work out here. Adam simply can't cover the court Brown expects of his wings defensively, and he's not dynamic enough offensively to force Brown to overlook his liabilities.

I was shocked when the Bobcats exercised the option on Morrison, at a cost of $5.2 million guaranteed. There was a technical incentive for doing that – under the collective bargaining agreement, it would have been problematic to trade Morrison without adding next season to his rookie-scale deal – but it still looks bizarre to add to the Bobcats' financial obligation for this pick.

That winds me back to the original question: When was the last time a team chose a player this high, and got so little return?

If you extract the cataclysmic injuries – Jay Williams and Darius Miles – you probably have to go back to either Darko Milicic (No. 2 in 2003) or Kwame Brown (top pick in 2001).

Milicic starts in Memphis, so I guess Brown was the bigger bust. And who chose Brown in Washington?

Oooh. Michael Jordan. The same guy in charge when the Bobcats chose Morrison five years later.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 28, 2008 at 03:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (76)

December 25, 2008

Wallace learning shot selection

Quite a little revelation from Gerald Wallace the other day, when he said the Bobcats coaches were "harassing'' him about better shot-selection.

    While Wallace used the word "harass,'' you could tell from his playful tone there's no friction here. Still, Wallace bringing that up demonstrates a message was sent.

    I'm not surprised.

    If there's been a primary theme to the first third of Larry Brown's first season as Charlotte Bobcats coach, it's think-before-you-shoot. A good shot for one player is not a good shot for another and a shot that might be bad with 17 seconds left on the shot-clock is worth taking with three seconds left.

    I strongly doubt the coaches want Wallace matching the 221 3-point attempts he took last season. That's not to say he's banned from the 3-point line. But when you're 6-7 with the ups to touch tree tops, going to the rim has to be your first priority.

    That's all the more relevant now that the Bobcats have more ballhandlers on the floor. Adding Boris Diaw and D.J. Augustin to the rotation has improved the passing, particularly in the lane, so there's much better opportunity for the high-percentage shots that often have the side-benefit of drawing fouls.

    Wallace mentioned what the coaches said when asked about his line in the box score versus the Washington Wizards. He had 16 points and eight rebounds and made six of seven field-goal attempts. He took one 3-pointer (it was wide-open) and made it, and he reached the foul line four times (making three).

    It was obvious from Wallace's comments that one or more coaches reminded him this is how they want him playing: Fewer shots, for a higher percentage, leaving energy to rebound and defend.

    Reminds me of something Billy King told me before the season started. King worked with Brown in Indiana and Philadelphia, and predicted no Bobcat would benefit more from Brown's coaching than Wallace.

    I asked him to elaborate: King said Wallace is this team's best athlete, but didn't get much coaching between one season of college ball and end-of-the-bench time in Sacramento.

    King expected Brown to sharpen Wallace's decision-making in ways that might reduce some of Wallace's numbers, yet improve Wallace's impact on winning and losing.

    Sounds just like what I heard in that locker room Tuesday night.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 25, 2008 at 12:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

December 23, 2008

Return to bench sits well with Tapscott

And now the circle is complete.

Ed Tapscott got into coaching to help pay for law school. His law degree helped him become an agent. Being an agent helped him join an NBA front office, which led to him becoming CEO of the Charlotte Bobcats. And when he left the Bobcats, he rejoined close friend and mentor Ernie Grunfeld. So when Grunfeld fired Eddie Jordan on Nov. 24, Tapscott became interim coach of the Washington Wizards.

“I think the coaching is more difficult,” Tapscott said of the contrast between what he does now and what he did with the Bobcats. “It’s more visceral, it’s more emotional. It’s more in real time. You work harder to moderate your responses because this is a marathon. That’s something I had to get used to right away – that you can’t get angry every time it doesn’t go your way."

Tapscott, whose Wizards played the Bobcats Tuesday, went 18 years between stints as a head coach, after leaving American University to become an agent in 1990. I wondered if he had any credibility concerns with the players. He said no, primarily because he’d worked with most of them as director of player development.

But Ed knew precisely why I posed the question.

“I’m gratified they allow me to be on their case because you coach, somewhat, in the NBA by their consent,” Tapscott said, describing the power that guaranteed contracts provide players.

Tapscott is the smartest guy I know, but intelligence is not his greatest strength. Often when people are that smart, it blinds them to what they don’t know. Tapscott is just the opposite: He’s intensely inclusive, always receptive to what he can learn from others. I suspect that helps in this situation, where NBA coaching is less authoritarian than collaborative.

Tapscott has coached 14 games with a team crippled by injuries to Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood. I wondered if what’s happened so far would have him missing the relative sanity of a front-office job. Nope. He’s warming to the tension of the sideline.

“Would I like to continue doing this? At this time, my answer is yes,” Tapscott said. “I certainly wondered about that when it was first offered to me and I said, ‘Give me 15 minutes to think about it.’

“I do think you have to commit to this in a unique way – a much more deeply emotional way."

Speaking of emotions, it’s obvious he’s put the whole Bobcats experience in a trunk somewhere.

“It’s always nice to see friends, to see the building and know you were a part of all this,” Tapscott deflected, “but in the NBA your focus is always forward. You don’t have much chance to look back.”

Posted by Observer Sports on December 23, 2008 at 05:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

December 22, 2008

Diaw move passing test

I wrote a story for Tuesday’s Observer about the Diaw Effect; how Boris Diaw’s scoring and passing in the post has had a quick and significant impact on the Bobcats’ biggest weakness this season.

I must say I had misgivings when the trade was made. I didn’t understand how dealing your best scorer (Jason Richardson) would help the worst-scoring team in the NBA. I figured at best this was a lateral move.

But if Diaw’s first five games reflect what he’ll be as a Bobcat, then this will work out fine. They’ve scored 100 or more points in three straight games, after doing that just five times in their first 23 games.

Larry Brown always said the scoring problem wasn’t about a lack of scorers but rather about poor ball movement. That’s why he played Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin together and that’s why he lobbied for a post-up player with Diaw’s ball skills.

An effective NBA offense forces a defense to constantly contract and expand. The Bobcats did that little before this trade. You could guard them straight-up without exposing yourself to the downside of a double-team.

Now teams must make hard choices on how to guard these guys, and that’s reflected in higher scoring and better shooting. Will that get them to the playoffs? Probably not this season – a third of the games are over and the back half of the schedule is full of road games.

But they saw a problem and acted on it, and this looks like a good move.

Posted by rbonnell on December 22, 2008 at 11:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

December 20, 2008

Q & A: Wallace for Kings' Miller?

Two readers each emailed me an interesting question Saturday. Thought I’d share my response on both (and I’m paraphrasing the questions to get to the meat of each issue):

Q: Someone saw a report on ESPN.com that the Bobcats might have offered Gerald Wallace to the Sacramento Kings for Brad Miller. The report suggested the Kings weren't interested. Why wouldn't the Kings do this and why would the Bobcats be receptive to giving up 26-year-old Wallace for 32-year-old Miller?

A:
If this happened, I'm not surprised: I suggested Miller in a blog response weeks ago as a way to address what was then a lack of post scoring. The trade for Boris Diaw and improvement by Emeka Okafor have upgraded the post.

But the real issue here is probably Wallace's contract. He makes $9.5 million this season and each of the next three. Miller's contract expires after next season, which means the Bobcats could recoup about $12 million in cap space in July of 2010. That's the "Summer of LeBron'' free-agent class, and there seems a league-wide obsession with clearing cap room for that event.

By-and-large, teams like Wallace, but they see that contract as a bad deal – too costly and too long. So the market isn't what you might expect, relative to Wallace's effort and productivity.

Q: Another reader wondered what to make of Adam Morrison, who shot 5-of-20 in his last five appearances, and didn't play at all in the victory over Chicago. Is Morrison under-utilized or was he a waste of the No. 3 overall pick?

A:
I think Morrison may be a bad fit on a Larry Brown team. Brown expects his wings to cover a lot of court defensively and Morrison is never going to have the lateral quickness and reflexes to excel that way. And even after the trade of Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley, this team has an excess of shooting guards and small forwards.

I was mildly surprised the Bobcats exercised Morrison's contract extension. There was a technical advantage to that -- it made Morrison easier to trade under the collective-bargaining agreement -- but I'm not sure it was wise to guarantee him over $5.2 million for next season.

Posted by Charlotte Observer on December 20, 2008 at 03:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

Brown about process, not just wins

Larry Brown and Mike Krzyzewski are the two best coaches I’ve covered, and here’s what those two have in common:

          In a business that so obliges you to be results-oriented, Brown and Krzyzewski are process-oriented. Here’s what I mean:

          By and large, coaches are happy when their teams win and grumpy when they lose. That’s not to suggest they never correct off wins or praise off losses, but generally they equate any win to success and any loss to another step toward failure.

          Brown and Krzyzewski view it a bit differently: That if they assemble a team with enough talent, and convince that team to play as instructed, success will follow almost organically.

          And that’s what must have made Friday’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies so gratifying for Brown: It wasn’t just that the won so decisively (by 29 points), it was how this team functioned.

          Brown wants his team to play the perfect game the way an Olympic skier wants to make the perfect run. To Brown, that means give up a good shot to create a great shot. It means probing for a layup, even if you have an 18-footer. It means a precise screen or a pinpoint pass is just as pretty as a 360 dunk.

          I knew Brown would be elated by this game and I knew why he’d be elated: Not because of the result, but because of what the result said about his team getting it concerning the foundations of playing right.

Posted by Observer Sports on December 20, 2008 at 12:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

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