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September 29, 2010

Count to 10, Bobcats-style

Ten things worth noting from the Charlotte Bobcats' Wednesday-night scrimmage at training camp:

1. Guest of honor had to be former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, Larry Brown's mentor. Smith has gone through a rough time, health-wise, of late, But at least from afar (the media monitors night sessions from upstairs and there aren't post-practice interviews), he looked well in a Tar Heel blue warmup jacket.

When Smith attended Bobcats training camp two seasons ago, he told Brown he wasn't sure that Bobcats team could win the ACC. Only four players remain from that team and one of those -- Matt Carroll -- left and came back.

2. Brown says Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw are setting the pace at practice. It showed in the scrimmage, when Jackson hit the floor trying to keep the ball in-bounds with such force he slid about 15 feet.

3. Power forward Tyrus Thomas sat out his second straight practice with a sprained right ankle. Looked like Thomas tried to play at night, based on his taped ankles.

4. Javaris Crittenton made a really nice transition play, stealing a Diaw pass, dribbling off in the opposite direction, then beating the last defender with a backward bounce pass to Derrick Brown, setting up a dunk.

5. I've noticed, at least in practice, that Shaun Livingston moves gingerly when the ball is loose and bodies are flying. Can't blame him for that -- after that horrific knee injury, the last thing he needs is to fall awkwardly -- but it is noticeable.

6. Darius Miles might not be real fast anymore, but he has absurdly long strides. I saw him go from above the foul line to the rim in about three steps.

7. Gana Diop twice dropped touch passes that should have led directly to dunks. I thought I was watching Dwayne Jarrett.

8. Brown was more feisty Wednesday than Tuesday. At one point he screamed out, "That's how to get a basket! Don't dribble! Pass to the open man!''

9. Brown prefers drives to jump shots, but that doesn't mean he likes good shooters turning down open looks. "Shoot the ball, Matt,'' Brown screamed at Carroll. "You've been shooting your whole life!''

10. Only one (inevitably longer) practice Thursday, a late-morning session.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 29, 2010 at 08:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

Nazr had to laugh at the irony

 I wrote a story for Thursday's Observer (it should be on-line later today) on center Nazr Mohammed's journey from a misfit on Larry Brown's team to the guy Brown now points to as the standard for hard work.

A tid-bit from that story: I asked Nazr how he would have reacted 2 1/2 years ago had someone told him he'd share a roster with Emeka Okafor and Tyson Chandler and outlast them both.

"I would have told you you were crazy, that there's something wrong with you,'' Nazr replied with a chuckle. "I didn't think I'd last this long, and definitely not starting.''

Posted by Observer Sports on September 29, 2010 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

September 28, 2010

Ten things, Bobcats-style

 Ten things worth noting from the evening scrimmage in the first day of Charlotte Bobcats training camp:

1. Former Wizards and Sixers coach Eddie Jordan was hanging out on court for both Tuesday practices, even working with Shaun Livingston on his shot at the end of the evening session. The Bobcats say he's here as a visitor, and that's plausible. Remember, Larry Brown spent a ton of time at other coaches' practices after the Knicks let him go, and said it was really educational. It's not as if there's an open staff position. Just kinda interesting.

2. For those of you preoccupied with starting Tyrus Thomas: He's second-team, behind Boris Diaw, but gets some reps with the anticipated starters (D.J. Augustin, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace and Nazr Mohammed). I've said it before, I'll say it again: If Diaw is here, he should start, but spend many of his minutes in positions other than power forward.

3. The apparent second-team was Shaun Livingston, Gerald Henderson, Derrick Brown, Thomas and Gana Diop. However shooting guard Matt Carroll and combo-forward Darius Miles gets some reps with this group.

4. There were moments -- brief ones -- when Brown experimented with Mohammed and Diop being in the game together. I doubt you'd see that much in games, but it's good they're practicing what they might do if the opposing team goes super-big. (And the options multiply when Kwame Brown recovers from that ankle sprain).

5. I was in my right mind when I wrote the following: Diop looks in good shape. He said at media day he lost 15 pounds over the summer, and he ran the court well throughout the scrimmage. Miles and Diop hooked up on a pretty lob pass-to-dunk almost immediately in the 5-on-5 session.

6. I'm glad the Bobcats brought Miles to camp, and he can still play. But, barring a bunch of injuries, I don't see how he'll make the team. Right now, he's a luxury without a guaranteed contract. He can't practice all the time because of his knee. He's now more a finesse player than an explosion player. I wish for his sake there was a team in more dramatic need for his talent because he's still good enough to make an NBA roster. Maybe just not this one.

7. To those of us who travel for a living, "Up in the Air'' is hilariously dry wit (though the book is better than the movie). I don't know why anyone else would get it.

7. (Do-over, because that wasn't about the Bobcats): Javaris Crittenton is intriguing, both in talent and in skill. That will get him tryouts forever. But I'm not sure he does any one thing well enough to make this team. He's not quite a point guard in approach, nor gifted enough as a shooting guard, to make a living as a combo guard. In other words, he's no Flip Murray.

8. The new kid, Division II guy Matt Rogers, is fun to watch in a Jake Voskuhl way.  He's just skilled and long-limbed enough to mess people up. In fact, if he develops Jake's hockey-goon mentality, this is how his career would go: Two months in the D-League, a call-up somewhere (Timberwolves?), then five one-year contracts with five team, after which you retire rich.

9. If Brown says Dominic McGruire is a sleeper, then he's a sleeper. But I'll warn you: The guy has one ugly-looking jump shot.

10. Some of you say Matt Carroll and D.J. Augustin are the only dependable long-range shooters on this team. if you're saying Augustin is better than everyone else, then fine, but don't pair them: Carroll would undress Augustin in a shooting contest. 

Posted by Observer Sports on September 28, 2010 at 09:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Any role for Najera?

 I think by the end of the Charlotte Bobcats' season, if not a lot sooner, we'll think of Eduardo Najera as the player to be named later.

(If you don't know that term, rent Bull Durham, the best sports movie ever.)

Najera won't be playing basketball for three weeks, following surgery for a sports hernia earlier this month. It's not a secret why he's here: To get Erick Dampier's unguranteed, $13 million salary (the great escape from luxury tax), the Bobcats had to take on the contracts of Najera ($4 million this season, and $2.75 million next season) and Matt Carroll (three more seasons at an average of just under $4 million).

While neither of these contracts is cost-effective for the Bobcats, I think Carroll will have a role, if only because the Bobcats' 3-point shooting is so poor. Najera will have a hard time helping, with Boris Diaw, Tyrus Thomas and Dominic McGuire all in front of him at power forward.

Najera has strung together a nice NBA career by being a rugged, if undersized 4. Guys like Najera (Andres Nocioni is another example) compete through collision (think ex-Panthers fullback Brad Hoover, only in shorts and a tank top).

Problem is, any human body experiences only so many collisions before breaking down.

If I were Najera (and if you were Najera), you'd keep showing up until the guaranteed money expires. And you can bet that any time some team asks for a Bobcats player, that team is asked if they'd absorb Najera's contract as part of a deal.


Larry Brown appreciated all his coaching friends, who invited him to practices when he was between jobs, after the Knicks fired him. Brown passed on that gift Tuesday. Former NBA coaches Eddie Jordan (Philadelphia) and Mike Woodson (Atlanta) were both at UNC-Wilmington, observing practice.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 28, 2010 at 04:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Bobcats add Division II's Matt Rogers

The Bobcats signed Matt Rogers, a Division II center from Southwest Baptist in Missouri.

Don't be fooled by the Division II label; I saw Rogers in a Bobcats pickup game last week, and he's got a sweet move to the rim. He's very effective on diagonal cuts. I'm not saying he'll make the final cut with the Bobcats, but based on that pickup game, he's belongs in an NBA camp.

Wouldn't surprise me at all if he goes to the D-League, and plays well enough for an NBA call-up.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 28, 2010 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

September 27, 2010

Misgivings about dealing Diaw

There's a sense of misgiving around the Charlotte Bobcats when it comes to giving up Boris Diaw.

I'm not saying he won't be traded. I'm saying the Bobcats would only trade Diaw for something really good and even then, they're worried they'd end up regretting the deal.

Obviously, the current Bobcats administration isn't gun-shy about making trades. It's become their thing, really. And just as obviously, the Bobcats' long-term commitment to Tyrus Thomas makes him their power forward-of-the-future.

But Diaw isn't just a power forward. He can play any position for at least a few minutes. And he's a ballhandler on a team that enters the preseason shaky at point guard. Diaw is a great safety net for D.J. Augustin or whoever else earns that job.

So they won't give him away easily, and maybe not at all.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 27, 2010 at 11:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

September 24, 2010

A pause, to appreciate Diaw

First off, if I were the Charlotte Bobcats, and I could effectively trade Boris Diaw for Devin Harris, I'd do it.

But reading the comments in reaction to the various blogs I filed today, some of you are roughing up Diaw, and embellishing Harris' talents, way beyond reality.

That's natural. We know all of Diaw's flaws: He's nonchalant. He's a reluctant shooter. He never looks in great shape. Sometimes he acts so laid-back, you'd take a cattle-prod to him if you could.

But I've talked to people in-and-around the Nets about Harris (and that was long before there was any reason to think he'd be a Bobcat). And, like all players, he has flaws, too. He plays inconsistent defense, and he's no longer so committed to driving the ball, versus shooting jump shots. Both those things run counter to Larry Brown's priorities. Also, there isn't much meat on those bones; he's not strong the way Raymond Felton was, in a football-player way.

I don't see any of that as a deal-breaker. Like I said, I'd make this trade if all the other stake-holders agree. But Harris isn't the perfect player any more than Diaw is.

The beauty of Diaw, which gets dismissed far too quickly here, is the guy could play all five NBA positions. That's pretty valuable, particularly with all the potential holes the Bobcats have. One key injury (Jackson or Wallace) would be devastating without someone who could slip into other spots.

Making this deal, if it comes through, makes sense because the Bobcats need a sure-bet at point guard and because Tyrus Thomas is clearly this team's power forward-of-the-future. But anyone who thinks Diaw's versatility wouldn't be missed isn't paying enough attention.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 24, 2010 at 09:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

Augustin might be part of trade talks

I hear if this four-team trade scenario involving the Charlotte Bobcats comes to pass, D.J. Augustin might also be on the way out.

One source -- and not one connected to the Bobcats, so take this as less than certain -- said Augustin would go to the New Jersey Nets and Diaw would go to the Utah Jazz as part of that mega-deal intended to bring Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey.

Here's what I've heard, and take it for granted this is a work-in-progress that might never be consummated:

Anthony ends up a Net, as does Augustin. Devin Harris, as you've already heard, would end up a Bobcat, presumably their starting point guard. I'm also told, for some technical reason, the Bird rights to free agent Jarvis Hayes might move from the Nets to the Bobcats. Derrick Favors and Andrei Kirilenko  end up in Denver and Quinton Ross ends up with the Jazz.

If your reaction to all this is, "Wow, that's a lot of moving parts,'' then your reaction is the same as mine. These complex multi-team/multi-player deals are hard to pull off, and this one has an added complication: Everything hinges on convincing Anthony to commit to a reconfigured Nets roster for the long haul. There's no way Billy King gives up so much unless he has Anthony under a contract extension as part of the deal.

But as far as giving up Augustin in a deal that acquires Harris, I'd say Shaun Livingston can be a solid backup and Augustin might deserve a fresh start in New Jersey. That would certainly be preferable to Livingston and Augustin fighting it out for backup minutes.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 24, 2010 at 03:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (34)

Technically, this is bad news for Jackson

This can't be good for Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson:

The NBA is widening the definition of what should prompt a technical foul, telling referees various "overt gestures'' -- air punches, incredulous arm-raising, slapping your own body to mimic how you believe you were fouled -- are cause to "T'' up a player.

Jackson, the Bobcats' leading scorer, does that constantly, more than any player I've covered (and that's a feat, because former Bobcats point guard Brevin Knight was quite the complainer). Gerald Wallace also does a lot of this, though he's not at Jackson's level of frequency.

I bet there were five times a game last season that Jackson gestured in these ways at officials after feeling he was fouled. That won't do anymore, and I wonder how he'll adapt. Under the old rules last season, Jackson was tied for the third-most technical fouls in the league with 13.

Coach Larry Brown has asked Jackson repeatedly to be less distracted by the officiating when transitioning from offense to defense, with little effect. Maybe the heightened threat of technical fouls will make Brown's point, but fiery is Jackson's way.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 24, 2010 at 10:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

September 23, 2010

Miami exhibition likely on TV

A couple of quick Bobcats notes, off a lightly-attended session of pickup games at the arena Thursday:

-- It's not yet set in stone, but I hear it's likely the Bobcats' preseason game in Miami Oct. 18 will be televised in Charlotte on Fox Sportsouth. Obviously that's the most attractive game on the preseason schedule, not only because of Miami's big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but because all three will likely play real minutes, since the game is in the Heat's home arena.

-- Kansas coach Bill Self was in the practice gym Thursday, apparently to monitor how his former point guard, Sherron Collins, is doing and to hang out with close friend, and Bobcats coach, Larry Brown. Collins suffered a right-leg injury late in the pickup games Thursday, but it didn't appear serious. The trainers did some stretching exercises with him, then sent him downstairs to the locker room.

-- Center Gana Diop was back in the country, working out Thursday. To my knowledge, the only Bobcats under guaranteed contract who haven't participated in pickup games are Boris Diaw and Eduardo Najera. Diaw is likely taking a break, after being a key player for France at the World Championships. I'm told Najera is working out some family issues before reporting for the team physical Sunday.

-- Many of the key players -- Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, Tyrus Thomas and Nazr Mohammed, for instance -- are taking a break before the two-a-days start Tuesday at UNC-Wlmington. That's not uncommon. Among the players at the pickup games Thursday: D.J. Augustin, Shaun Livingston (I'm working on a longer story about his knee injury), Matt Carroll, Collins, Darius Miles and Larry Hughes.

-- You can see the subtle-but-clear effort Brown is making to encourage point guard Augustin to be a leader. If Augustin wants to make this his team, it will happen. But that came more naturally to Raymond Felton, a more confident, out-going guy. I wouldn't call Augustin shy, but he's not the sort to force his personality on people.


Posted by Observer Sports on September 23, 2010 at 09:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)