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February 27, 2009

Redskins still channeling Knicks' old plan

Anyone else see an irony in the New York Knicks waiving Stephon Marbury (he of the $20.8 million salary) in the same week the Washington Redskins signed Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall to contracts with a potential combined worth of $154 million?

I raise that because I've always seen a parallel between the Knicks and Redskins -- cash-cow franchises in their respective sports with quirky ownership that hasn't distinguished spending willingly from spending wisely.

I understand the difference in the two league's financial measures. NBA contracts are almost universally guaranteed while the NFL are only partially guaranteed even for the stars. But the reports say Haynesworth and Hall are guaranteed a combined $63 million-plus, and neither is what you'd call a sure thing.

Classic Redskins under Daniel Snyder, and it would have been classic Knicks under Dolan family control.

Things are changing, at least potentially, in New York. The Knicks turned to Donnie Walsh, a savvy general manager who is trimming payroll in anticipation of the free agent class of 2010.

Walsh's plan: Stop overpaying the Jared Jeffries and Quentin Richardsons to give yourself a real shot at signing a LeBron James or Chris Bosh. if Walsh manages that, he'll create the traction toward a championship that has eluded the Knicks and the Redskins for too long. 

Posted by Observer Sports on February 27, 2009 at 02:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

February 26, 2009

Nelson plans to sit Crawford Friday

 This should be good news for the Bobcats: Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson says he doesn't plan to use Jamal Crawford Friday.

Considering the Warriors' situation -- they're 20-37 and well out of playoff contention in the West -- Nelson plans to occasionally sit a veteran starter the rest of the season to give younger players more minutes. Nelson told Bay Area media Wednesday Crawford will be the first of those, versus the Bobcats.

Crawford scored 50 on the Bobcats earlier this season in what might have been Charlotte's worst home loss of the season. He's also had games of 41, 28, 24 and 23 points versus the Bobcats.

Crawford sitting figures to open more minutes for Warriors rookie Anthony Morrow, who grew up in Charlotte.

Posted by Observer Sports on February 26, 2009 at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

February 25, 2009

Okafor no longer untouchable

 It's no longer inconceivable Emeka Okafor could end up in trade talks once his base-year compensation status expires over the summer.

The last three games illustrated how difficult it is for him to guard true giants at center. Dwight Howard, Yao Ming and an aging Shaquille O'Neal all dominated him one way or another. Okafor shot 2-of-9 in Phoenix and had nearly as many fouls (five) as rebounds (six).

Plus, it was hard to miss coach Larry Brown's sarcasm Friday, when he started praising Howard's tough screens. Brown finished that thought with this aside: "Just imagine if our center set screens.''

Both for better and worse, you know precisely what Okafor offers. He's one of a handful of NBA players who've finished each of the past four seasons averaging a double-double. Despite some early injury problems, he's durable, having played 148 consecutive games. He's smart and mature.

Then there's the downside. He's 6-10 and not a great leaper, but he has to play center based on his limitations away from the basket. He gets his shot blocked often because he plays mostly below the rim. And he's a liability as a foul-shooter.

I'm not saying Okafor will be traded or even that it's likely. I'm saying with conviction he's no longer untouchable, despite a contract that averages about $12 million per season.

Base-year compensation is a salary-cap restriction that makes it difficult to trade a player the first season after he signs a new contract with a huge raise. That's over for Okafor this summer.

Trading Okafor would be tough both because of his sizeable contract and the difficulty replacing what he does as a rebounder and post defender. But the past 10 months have illustrated what a spirit of change has enveloped the Bobcats.

They're down to five players from last season. One of those, Sean May, doesn't figure to be back without a huge pay cut and another, Nazr Mohammed, would already be gone if the Bobcats could find a taker for his contract.

If Okafor ever was an untouchable, he's not anymore.

Posted by Observer Sports on February 25, 2009 at 11:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

February 24, 2009

90 or bust for the Bobcats this season

 I thought the Bobcats addressed their offensive problems with that December trade with Phoenix, but not so much lately.

That the Bobcats are last in scoring (92.05 points per game) is no big surprise, considering how they struggled the first six weeks. Coach Larry Brown felt the primary problem was lousy ball-movement, a major incentive for acquiring forward Boris Diaw.

The problem wasn't solved. The Bobcats have failed to reach 80 points eight times this season, most in the NBA. Four of those games came after the big trade with Phoenix.

This team is pretty good defensively, particularly when they avoid silly turnovers that become opponent layups. But they're not good enough to overcome awful scoring nights. They're 2-23 this season when failing to reach 90 points and 20-11 at 90 or above.

Brown spent most of Monday practice cleaning up two offensive flaws: They don't swing the ball enough to the weak side of the defense and the big men don't set enough effective screens. Brown also wants Vladimir Radmanovic and Diaw shooting more.

We'll see if all that makes a difference versus the Suns.

Posted by Observer Sports on February 24, 2009 at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

February 23, 2009

Thoughts on Suns-Bobcats

-- Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash had misgivings about the trade with the Bobcats when it happened, and has bigger ones now that Boris Diaw is gone and Amare Stoudemire is out with a detached retina. That means the Suns are playing Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes out of position at power forward.

"In 05-06, we had maybe our best year in many ways and Boris just fit in seamlessly and was outstanding,'' Nash recently told the Arizona Republic. "Boris was the type of guy you could really go to. We don't have a player like that."

-- Diaw has a history of great games against teams that traded him (Atlanta and the one game in Charlotte versus the Suns). Diaw is a laid-back guy and maybe he needs that resentment, toward teams that cast him off, to play his best.

-- A reader inquired about the risk-reward element of Diaw's style, considering the poor offensive execution of late. Certainly he takes chances -- he had seven or more turnovers in three of the past 10 games -- but I like his body of work here. Coach Larry Brown told him not to pass up so many shots, and he's responded with double-figure scoring in each of the past 14 games.

-- Emeka Okafor has had rough matchups lately (two against Dwight Howard, another versus Yao Ming) and now he tangles with Shaquille O'Neal. You couldn't miss coach Larry Brown's frustration Friday with Okafor when Brown said he wishes his center set screens. Okafor typically gets his double-double by the end of a game, but lately he isn't always impactful when the game is actually decided.

Posted by Observer Sports on February 23, 2009 at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

February 22, 2009

Nothing changed from Friday

 I'm not with the team (Observer budget restraints), but I watched on my wide screen, and was surprised how little the Bobcats responded to what they heard, both directly from coach Larry Brown and through what Brown said to the media Friday.

 The statistic that defines the last two losses is assist-to-turnover. The Bobcats committed 37 turnovers against Orlando and Houston and assembled 29 assists.

Some of that is about the competition: Dwight Howard and Yao Ming are such massive shot-blockers, it's hard to create an easy basket. But Shaquille O'Neal is next up Tuesday in Phoenix, so it's not suddenly about to get easy in the lane.

This is still an ensemble team. There's no single player with such offensive talent that he can fabricate a basket from nothing. So unless they quickly get back to sharing the ball intelligently and creating trips to the foul line, you can ticket that trip back to the lottery.

Posted by Observer Sports on February 22, 2009 at 07:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Salary-cap explainer, payroll numbers

I got a question in response to my Sunday column, wondering how a multi-billion-dollar enterprise like the NBA wouldn't already know what next season's salary cap will be.

So I thought it might be helpful to quickly explain how the cap is determined. Essentially, it's a reflection of the previous season's league-wide revenues. Early summer, the league office totals what it calls "Basketball-Related Income'' from the 30 franchises. Since the players are promised at least half of that revenue, BRI is multiplied by 51 percent. Then the league subtracts the cost of player benefits. The remainder is divided by 30 (the number of franchises) to reach the following season's salary cap.

This season's cap is $58.68 million per team. It's so common for teams to surpass that number that only one franchise (the Memphis Grizzlies) is currently below it at about $54.4 million. The Bobcats are 27th in spending this season, at about $63.3 million.

The Bobcats are already committed to more than $57 million in player salaries next season. How that breaks down (with the numbers rounded off):

Emeka Okafor $10.5 million, Gerald Wallace $9.5 million, Boris Diaw $9 million, Vladimir Radmanovic $6.47 million, Nazr Mohammed $6.47 million, Gana Diop $6.03 million, Raja Bell $5.25 million, D.J. Augustin $2.37 million, Alexis Ajinca $1.37 million, Sean Singletary $736,000 (partially guaranteed).

A qualifying offer to restrict Raymond Felton's free-agency would add about $5.5 million to the payroll. Similarly qualifying Sean May would cost $3.68 million. Those numbers are based on Felton being the fifth pick in the 2005 draft and May the 13th pick in that same draft.

Posted by Observer Sports on February 22, 2009 at 03:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

February 21, 2009

Brown calls out the players

 No faster way to tick off Larry Brown than to play selfish and stupid. Raymond Felton and D.J. Augustin aren't selfish or stupid, but that's how they played Friday, so Brown called them out.

Brown spent three minutes answering the first question at his news conference, and he covered so much ground, there wasn't much need for follow-up questions. Calm but firm, he explained how his team didn't care to share the ball Friday, how most possessions involved a single pass and some involved no passes. Then Brown pointed out that Felton and Augustin took 29 shots (making nine.)

"This team just can't run without a sense of organization,'' Brown said. "You have no defense for (bad) shots. You've got to give yourself a chance to get back the ball or at least get back on defense.''

The point guards weren't the only players drawing Brown's wrath. Brown got off on a tangent about what great screens Magic center Dwight Howard sets. I wondered where this was going, when Brown said he wished his center set screens like that.

Translation: Emeka Okafor better toughen up if he expects to beat the Magic.

Posted by Observer Sports on February 21, 2009 at 12:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (22)

February 20, 2009

Nothing imminent on 15th roster spot

The Charlotte Bobcats are looking to fill their open 15th roster spot, now that the trade deadline has passed, but nothing is imminent, general manager Rod Higgins said at shootaround Friday.

 They're looking for a big guard out of the developmental league who can play both positions. But with the roster as healthy as it's been in months, there's no great sense of urgency to fill that spot.

 -- Naturally, much of shootaround was spent talking through ways to contain Orlando center Dwight Howard. He posted 45 on the Bobcats Tuesday night, but coach Larry Brown didn't necessarily think his big men strayed from what he expects of them in post defense. Howard was just that good.

Brown emphasized staying attached to Howard, who is such a good athlete his cuts across the lane can lose a defender. And try to limit his catches close to the basket.

 -- Sounds like there was a sense of relief around the locker room this morning that the trade deadline passed without the Bobcats making another deal.

 In the hallway following shootaround, Brown shouted out to point guard Raymond Felton, "Guess I have to put up with you at least a few month months.'' Felton shouted back "Yes, sir!'' looking very pleased he wasn't dealt due to his restricted free-agency this summer.

Posted by Observer Sports on February 20, 2009 at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

February 19, 2009

Vlade on music, books and toy cars

I did a long interview with Vlade Radmanovic Thursday for a story in Friday's Observer. Some interesting things about Radmanovic that didn't fit into the profile:

 -- I didn't expect a 28-year-old to be so into what he called "old school rock.'' He likes Queen, Pink Floyd and Guns & Roses. "To me, good music is good music,'' he explained. "Doesn't matter if it was made now or 50 years ago.''

 -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson gives out books at the outset of every long road trip. The last book Jackson gave Radmanovic before the trade was "The Great Santini.'' Radmanovic figures that's because his father had a military career, but Vlade's dad is nothing like the cold, overbearing character in Pat Conroy's classic.

 -- Radmanovic figures he would have ended up an engineer had he not been a basketball player, because he's always been intrigued by how things work. As a kid, he'd take apart his toys cars to see how the battery energized the motor to make the wheels turn.

 -- He didn't even know the rules, much less any technique, when a teacher convinced him to try basketball in the seventh grade. Four years later, he was an aspiring pro.

Posted by Observer Sports on February 19, 2009 at 07:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)