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May 30, 2013

Jordan passed on trip to North Korea, Rodman went instead

When an HBO crew approached Bobcats owner Michael Jordan with an opportunity to take a trip to North Korea and talk with the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, Jordan decided against going to Pyongyang.

Maybe Michael was busy?

“Jordan wasn’t interested,” said Shane Smith, the founder and chief executive of the Vice Media Group, the HBO partner that conceived the North Korea trip, according to the New York Times.

According to the article, Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, had a basketball signed by Jordan that was given to the former North Korean leader in 2000 by then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Instead of Jordan, the group turned to one of his teammates from the Chicago Bulls, Dennis Rodman. Rodman became the first American to meet Jong-un when he made the trip to North Korea during the winter.

Rodman called Jong-un a "great guy." Later he was kicked out of a New York City bar for talking about how great Jong-un was.

Rodman recommended Jong-un and Barack Obama make amends by bonding over their shared love for basketball. It'd be interesting to know if Jordan would have given the same advice to the North Korean leader as he did Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Just behave yourself.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 30, 2013 at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

May 29, 2013

New Bobcats coach Steve Clifford sure sounds optimistic about the roster

            New Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford is higher on this roster than most NBA executives would be, higher than I am.

            After Wednesday’s news conference introducing him to local media, Clifford spent about an hour with four Observer writers and editors. Here’s some of what he said beyond what I used in my story for Thursday’s newspaper:

            “The thing that I saw that stands out is there are natural competitors here,’’ Clifford said. “Kemba (Walker), MKG (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), Bismack (Biyombo), And I’ve always been a Gerald Henderson fan. He has an edge to him.

    “You have younger guys – Gerald is the oldest at 23. They’re at the age where they can still make a big jump. But the attitude is already there. You can’t make somebody competitive. You see it all the time in this league. You don’t have to have 15 killers but (some) make a big difference. We can have a great culture.’’

            The Bobcats drafted the youngest players in the 2011 and 2012 drafts, in Biyombo and Kidd-Gilchrist. I asked Clifford about that being a mixed blessing for a coach.

    “They’re 19 and 20, I believe. It still starts with talented and they’re both talented in their own ways,’’ Clifford said. “That’s what makes player-development so critical.

    “Over the summer, it isn’t just the young guys, it’s not just (rookie) Jeff Taylor. It’s Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood. Can they turn back the clock? Can Ben be who he was in Chicago? Can Brendan protect the rim the way he once did? You can’t just connect with the young guys.

    “It’s got to be everybody. The older players play their part, whether it be teaching the younger players or doing their parts when they’re in there.’’

Posted by Observer Sports on May 29, 2013 at 07:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

New Bobcats coach Clifford: I'm inexperienced, but I have a vision

Steve Clifford doesn't have much in the way of a head coaching resume, but he does have a vision.

Molded from 13 years as an assistant coach under five different NBA head coaches, the latest coach of the Charlotte Bobcats said he plans to have a team that's balanced on both ends of the court.

"There are a lot of ways to go as a coach. I have developed definitive thoughts over the years. I think any good coach has a clear and definitive vision… I have that," Clifford said at his introductory press conference Wednesday afternoon. "I have seen what the right amount of work with the right amount of communication can do for a group of players. That’s the coach’s job to set a path and vision."

Clifford, who was most recently an assistant with the Lakers, said he didn't want to be pigeon-holed as a defensive-minded coach, but he extolled the importance of defense in today's NBA.

He cited that, of the eight teams that made this year's playoffs, teams ranked No. 1 through 6 made the postseason. The Bobcats ranked next-to-last in the league in opponents points per game with 102.7 in the 2012-13 season.

"If you look at facts, balance wins," Clifford said. "I know everybody said because of my background, everything is defense. And that’s not always true. The balanced teams are still playing. That’s the challenge for any team. It speaks to utilizing personnel and putting the right lineup out there."

Rod Higgins, president of Bobcats basketball operations, declined to say how many candidates were interviewed for the job. Clifford, the third Bobcats coach in as many years, signed a three-year deal with an option for the third year. 

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 29, 2013 at 02:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

May 27, 2013

Source: Bobcats to hire Lakers assistant Steve Clifford

Steve Clifford, a veteran assistant coach most recently with the Los Angeles Lakers, has been hired by the Charlotte Bobcats, a source close to Clifford confirmed Monday.

The team provided no confirmation as of early Monday evening.

            Clifford has worked most of the last 10 seasons for NBA coaches Jeff and Stan Van Gundy, with a defensive specialty. He worked for Jeff Van Gundy with the Houston Rockets and then Stan Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic. When Stan Van Gundy left the Magic, Clifford was hired by then-Lakers coach Mike Brown to be his top assistant.

            When Brown was fired and replaced by Mike D’Antoni, Clifford became D’Antoni’s lead assistant.

            Clifford will replace Mike Dunlap, who was fired by the Bobcats following a single 21-61 season. Clifford becomes the third Bobcats coach in as many seasons. Dunlap was hired last June after the Bobcats decided not to re-sign coach Paul Silas, who now serves as a team consultant.

            The Bobcats expressed interest in at least six known candidates for the job. One of their targets, Jeff Hornacek, was named Phoenix Suns head coach last week. Former Suns coach (and Shelby native) Alvin Gentry was told Monday he was out of the mix for the job.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 27, 2013 at 06:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (48)

May 20, 2013

Charlotte Bobcats name-change announcement to Hornets coming Tuesday

    The Charlotte Bobcats will make it official Tuesday that they want to change their nickname, a team source told the Observer Monday.

            Sources already confirmed the Bobcats are moving ahead with plans to become the Charlotte Hornets as soon as the 2014-15 season. That would require NBA approval, but that shouldn’t be much trouble with the New Orleans Hornets giving up that nickname to become the Pelicans.

            Incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said it would take a minimum of about 18 months to rebrand a franchise. That roughly coincides with the timetable to start playing as the Hornets in the fall of 2014.

            The original Hornets played here from 1988 to 2002, and thousands have advocated a name change for the expansion team that replaced the Hornets here in 2004. The Hornets’ teal-and-purple gear is still among the more popular color schemes in the NBA.

    CBSsports.com reported Friday night that the NBA was actively acquiring digital rights to names associated with a new “Charlotte Hornets’’ brand. The Observer confirmed Saturday morning that the team had decided it wants to become the Hornets. A Bobcats source said the timing of Tuesday’s announcement has been in the works for several weeks and is not in reaction to news reports over the weekend.

            Team owner Michael Jordan will be at the announcement, planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Time Warner Cable Arena. That will coincide with the NBA holding its annual draft lottery.

            The lottery will be held in New York at 8:30 and televised on ESPN. As the team with the NBA’s second-worst record last season (21-61), the Bobcats can pick no worse than fifth when the weighted lottery is settled.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 20, 2013 at 05:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (53)

May 18, 2013

Grassroots Hornets name campaigners get their day

Over the past three years, John Morgan, Evan and Scotty Kent have seen their cause go from an internet petition to a nationally recognized Twitter hashtag to television commercials.

Now, the creators of "We Beelieve" and "Bring Back the Buzz" can celebrate.

The Charlotte Bobcats are starting the process to change its name to the Hornets, and the trio of grassroots campaigners couldn't be happier.

"It’s nice to be, 'Mission Accomplished," said Evan, a 21-year-old senior marketing major at Appalachian State and co-creator of Bring Back the Buzz. "We’re excited to make a fan group and just be normal fans again."

Morgan, a 31-year-old elementary teacher in Charlotte, began the "We Beelieve" petition in 2010, and said he got about two hours of sleep last night due to excitement, Facebook updates and texts from friends and reporters.

At the risk of sounding falsely modest, Morgan said he understands his position in the conversation around the name change. 

"I’ve been thinking about it a lot today because there’s been a deluge of people personally thanking me and us and giving us all this affection and 'Way to go guys,'" Morgan said. "I think we kind of brought the conversation into the public consciousness. It was always something to me that just made too much sense, it probably won’t happen. It’s too perfect.

"I think we were a catalyst or a template for people to sort of voice their own desires. If it wasn’t us it would have been somebody else. It was too obvious."

The three men don't even mind having to wait a year and a half for the change to go into effect. The switch from the Bobcats to Hornets is expected to take 18 months.

They're just happy to finally see their work has paid off.

"I said to Evan last night when this is all going down, in a weird way, I’d like to thank (former Bobcats owner) Bob Johnson," Scotty Kent said. "Because if he would have came up with a better name and a better color scheme, we would have never had an opportunity to get the Hornets back."

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 18, 2013 at 12:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

May 09, 2013

The arguments for and against Stephen Curry ever becoming a Charlotte Bobcat

            Would Charlottean Stephen Curry ever come play for his hometown Bobcats?

    During the lockout, when Curry was taking classes at Davidson the fall of 2011, he told the Observer he’s flirted with that thought. But now he’s an emerging star on the Golden State Warriors, and locked up to a four-year, $44 million contract that takes effect next season.

    That means the earliest Curry could become a free agent is the summer of 2017, when he’d be 29 and eight seasons into his NBA career. He could still be in his prime then, and undoubtedly his presence would sell plenty of Bobcats tickets.

    Curry might be the most entertaining player in these playoffs. He’s had some fantastic games as the Warriors’ point guard (44 points and 11 assists in Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs). He was essential to the Warriors beating the Denver Nuggets in round 1, particularly after power forward David Lee went down with a hip injury.

    There are solid arguments on both sides of whether Curry could ever be talked into becoming a Bobcat.

    To the Bobcats’ benefit, Curry isn’t just from Charlotte, he’s still of Charlotte. He and his wife own a home in the area and plan to live there each off-season. He’s very close to his family, which has deep roots in Charlotte His father, Dell, a former Charlotte Hornet, is the Bobcats’ television color analyst.

    By the tine Curry’s upcoming contract extension has expired he’ll be financially set for life. So where he plays after that could center on where he has the best chance to win.

    The Bobcats had the worst record in the NBA over the past two seasons (28-120) but they’re building around youth (Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo) and might have four first-round picks between the 2013 and 2014 drafts. So the tools are there to be good four seasons from now.

    Now compare that to the Warriors: Curry might be Golden State’s best player, but he’s certainly not their only quality piece. Shooting guard Klay Thompson (who’s 23) and small forward Harrison Barnes (about to turn 21) are both talented and young. Lee is a better post-up scorer than any player in Bobcats history. The Warriors traded for a former No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Bogut, to fill a hole at center.

    Beyond all that, Curry is important, if not crucial, to the Warriors’ future marketing. The franchise plans to move from Oakland to a new waterfront arena to be built in San Francisco.

    Curry is wildly popular in the Bay Area. The Warriors’ new ownership group is quite rich – richer than Bobcats owner Michael Jordan – and they undoubtedly see the value, both on and off the court, of retaining Curry.

    Those owners awarded Curry that $44 million extension last fall when he was working through a chronically sprained ankle. Now paying him $11 million a season looks like a bargain on the NBA scale. He’s going nowhere anytime soon.

    So the Bobcats would face long odds in 2017. Certainly offering Curry a chance to come home to play works in their favor. But they'd have to convince him he'd be coming home with a chance to win an NBA championship.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 9, 2013 at 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

May 07, 2013

Stephen Curry makes Sports Illustrated cover


Making the cover of Sports Illustrated has been the unofficial sign for the past six decades that you’ve made it as an athlete.

Well, Stephen Curry has made it.

The Charlotte native and former Davidson standout will be featured on a regional cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated magazine.

The magazine’s NBA writer, Chris Ballard, has the May 13 cover story on Curry, who has led the Golden State Warriors to the Western Conference semifinals.

Curry set an NBA regular-season record this year with 272 made 3-pointers. Monday night he scored 22 points in the third quarter alone to give the Warriors a double-digit lead against the Spurs heading into the fourth quarter. The game went to double-overtime—Curry finished with 44 points and 11 assists—and the Spurs won 129-127.

San Antonio leads the series 1-0 and will host the Warriors on Wednesday night in Game 2.

Said Tim Duncan, arguably the best power forward of his generation, at Tuesday’s Spurs’ practice: “He’s probably the best shooter I’ve ever seen.”

The shooting guard finished the regular season seventh in the league in scoring at 22.9 points per game. His 27.1 points per game in this postseason is ranked third, and his 9.6 assists per game in this postseason is the best among all players.

Curry is the second Davidson Wildcat to be featured on the cover of SI. Mike Maloy was on the cover of the Dec. 2, 1968 edition.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby graces the other regional cover of this week’s SI.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer staff on May 7, 2013 at 07:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

ESPN's Hubie Brown speaks on Bobcats' search for a new head coach

HubieHubie Brown’s advice to the Charlotte Bobcats: Take a thorough look at what your best players do best, then match a new head coach to that description.

Brown is a former NBA head coach who is now a game analyst for ESPN. During a media conference call Tuesday he was asked several questions about how the half-dozen NBA teams hiring a new head coach should proceed.

“Too many times a coach’s style doesn’t match the players already under contract, particularly the top three players,’’ Brown said. “The style of play is critical in relation to the players on the roster. If it doesn’t match, you’re just wasting time.

“Management has got to look at (each candidate’s coaching style) and ask, ‘Does the glove fit?’’

The Bobcats are about to hire a head coach for the fifth time since 2007. They fired Mike Dunlap in April after a single 21-61 season.

Six Charlotte candidates have become public so far. At least three of those – Nate Tibbetts (a Cleveland assistant) and Alvin Gentry and Elston Turner (both previously with Phoenix) -- are expected to interview this week.

Brown was asked if there’s much difference between hiring someone with previous NBA head-coaching experience, versus hiring an assistant. Brown said there’s a misconception about assistants that they’re all the same in experience.

“When Chicago hired Tom Thibodeau it was an incredible bonus,’’ Brown said. “He’d been a major factor, running defenses and video (for various coaches) -- 20 years of major responsibility. So when he got the opportunity he was totally ready to be the head man.

 “The backgrounds of various assistants are totally different.’’

Brown said part of the challenge for the next Bobcats coach is making this team entertaining while it’s learning how to win:

“The style of play has to entice people to watch it. That people enjoy watching while you’re still working with a young team (buys the time) to improve week-to-week. A coach has to sell that whether he’s an assistant or has been a head coach.’’

Posted by Observer Sports on May 7, 2013 at 04:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

May 05, 2013

Sampson, McLemore? Not so different

    I’ve never met Kelvin Sampson. Couldn’t care less personally whether he’s the next Charlotte Bobcats coach.

            I’ve never met Ben McLemore. Couldn’t care less personally whether he’s the Bobcats’ lottery pick in June.

            I bring that up because some of you have a big problem if Sampson even interviews with the Bobcats. Yet I suspect no one would have a problem with McLemore being the Bobcats’ lottery pick.

            I get frequent tweets and emails saying the Bobcats have no business even interviewing Sampson for their open head-coaching job. I ask why and I get a diatribe about how he wrecked Indiana with his cheating ways.

            Let’s say that’s true. So I ask you, is that really relevant to being an NBA coach?

    Dwane Casey became a punch line in college basketball, and now he’s coach of the Toronto Raptors. A pretty good coach, I’d say. If Casey doesn’t make it, it will have nothing to do with his improprieties at Kentucky. In a dignified, patient way, he outgrew all that.

            Here’s the way I look at it: I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Sampson to go from being a Native American in North Carolina to be Oklahoma’s and Indiana’s coach. I’ve no doubt he cut corners to advance in college basketball. Certainly not saying that’s OK.

            However he’s done really good work in Milwaukee and Houston as an NBA assistant. To dismiss that to the extent that he shouldn’t even get an interview for a pro coaching job seems creepy.

            Now, let’s get back to McLemore. USA Today reports that his AAU coach took thousands of dollars in trips, perks, whatever from people who ultimately wanted to direct him toward certain NBA representation. Does that surprise me?  Of course not. The AAU flesh market used to turn high school seniors into money. Now the flesh market turns college freshmen into dollars.

But to suggest McLemore and Sampson are so dissimilar that it doesn’t say the same thing about the scummy atmosphere of high-end college basketball is just plain vapid.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 5, 2013 at 02:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)