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September 30, 2013

In some fantasy land, we're all Gana Diop

            Former Charlotte Bobcats center Gana Diop is getting a training-camp tryout with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Intellectually that makes perfect sense. It doesn’t cost them a cent, and with Andrew Bynum’s health an open question, why not investigate someone that big and that strong and that….

            OK, I’ll say it….disinterested.

    I like Gana a lot – as a person, not a player. When the Charlotte Bobcats foolishly traded for him, I called someone who knew Gana’s game intimately. I asked if this could possibly be a good use of resources. Here’s what I heard: “Nicest person in the NBA, but has nothing left.”

            That was years ago. It was laughably accurate.

            Every time Gana would get another chance, as in every time the Bobcats made a coaching change (which isn’t so uncommon, you know?), I’d walk over to him for an obligatory chat. I would constantly hear the following: “I know I can still play when I’m in shape.”

            I’m sure that is absolutely true, and would have had some merit had Diop ever taken steps to be in shape. You know how many times I watched him off in a corner, doing some agility drill with some frustrated assistant coach? The problem – and this says far more about guaranteed contracts than Diop’s reaction to them – is NBA front offices (Dallas, New Jersey, Charlotte, in this case) kept enabling this incredibly lucrative Ponzi scheme.

            Diop’s NBA value became a sink hole, a write-off, a punch line. Meanwhile, a nice guy who escaped from African poverty made tens of millions.

            If I were Diop I would have made more of an effort to justify all that money, if only out of pride. But the far greater silliness was teams making huge bets that somehow Diop would stop being that guy.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 30, 2013 at 10:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

September 25, 2013

Charlotte Bobcats' Steve Clifford's candid take on first season as an NBA head coach

    New Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford says he’ll be fair and open with his players. That doesn’t mean Clifford sees his job as making every player happy with his role.

            “Whenever coaches say every player has the chance for playing time, they’re lying to you,’’ Clifford said during a Wednesday luncheon with Charlotte media.

            “This can’t be like intramurals (where everyone gets in games) because guys stink when that happens. Some guys are going to have to play well with less minutes.”

            This is Clifford’s first season as an NBA head coach. It’s clear he has strong convictions. He and his bosses -- front-office executives Rod Higgins and Rich Cho – believe this team’s biggest strength can be its depth. But that creates complications as far as different players’ minutes expectations.

            Clifford said his job is to figure out which combinations maximize the chance to win a game. That isn’t the same as playing the most talented players all the time.

            “I’m playing guys who it feels right in here,’’ Clifford said, pointing to his heart. “I told the guys I will play players who give us the best chance to win. Not necessarily the best players, but the players who give us the best chance to win.”

            Training camp opens Tuesday at UNC Asheville. Clifford told the Observer last week he’s penciled in four players as starters: Point guard Kemba Walker, shooting guard Gerald Henderson, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and center Al Jefferson.

            The power forward spot is up for grabs between rookie Cody Zeller, the fourth overall pick, and veteran Josh McRoberts, re-signed this off-season. Clifford wants to see how Zeller and McRoberts each fits with the four starters. But he’s not coy in saying sooner or later Zeller has to excel for this team to reach its potential.

            “If we’re going to be really good in the next two to three years, Zeller has to be in the middle of it. He’s more talented,’’ Clifford said.

            McRoberts dramatically improved the Bobcats’ ball-movement after a mid-season trade from Orlando to Charlotte. As Clifford described, “McRoberts makes people better by the way he plays.’’

            However, it’s clear Clifford is sold on Zeller’s future: “He’s the most talented rookie in the league. And his intangibles are off the roof.”

            Clifford inherits a team that went 28-120 over the past two seasons and is on its third head coach in as many seasons. Clifford’s predecessor, Mike Dunlap, did a good job developing young players, particularly Walker. But some of the veterans – shooting guard Ben Gordon and center Brendan Haywood, for instance – seemed to be marginalized.

            Clifford says he sent the message they all come in with a clean slate.

            “There are guys I’m going to like more than the previous (coach),’’ Clifford said, “and guys I’ll like less.

            “You need to help Ben Gordon turn back the clock five years (to when he excelled with the Chicago Bulls). And for McRoberts to have a year he hasn’t yet had. We had a good off-season and we upped our talent.”

            At times last season Dunlap went small to try to overcome a limited roster. Sometimes that meant playing point guards Walker and Ramon Sessions together. Other times it meant playing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at power forward.

            Clifford said going small is not typically a winning formula. He mentioned that nine of the past 10 NBA champions finished top-10 in the NBA in defense.

            “To play great defense you must have great size,” Clifford said.

            Clifford said he’s developed relationships over the summer with the players so that Tuesday in Asheville shouldn’t feel like the first day of school.

            “Not like they don’t know me and I don’t know what they can do,’’ Clifford described. “Coaching is about people: Communicating with your players. If they don’t think you have the knowledge, they don’t listen anymore.”

Posted by Observer Sports on September 25, 2013 at 04:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

September 24, 2013

The backstory on Kemba Walker successfully recruiting Al Jefferson for the Charlotte Bobcats

29w3d.St.138When Charlotte Bobcats president of basketball operations Rod Higgins texted his point guard, to tell him the team was signing center Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker replied this way:

“I almost shed a tear when I saw this.”

A low-post scorer like Jefferson can make Walker’s job so much easier. Higgins detailed Tuesday how central Walker was to successfully recruiting Jefferson, a potential game-changer for the Bobcats.

At Walker’s post-season exit meeting with Higgins and general manager Rich Cho, Walker was asked what upcoming free agent might be most helpful. Walker pulled out his phone, called up a list of those players, and said Jefferson was clearly at the top of his choices.

So Higgins reminded Walker that he and Jefferson share an agent, Jeff Schwartz, so it was now Walker’s job to start the sales pitch, months before Jefferson officially became a free agent July  1.

Walker went to work, scheduling a meal with Jefferson in New York City to express what a good fit this could be. The Bobcats followed up on that effort by immediately making a pitch at midnight the first day of free-agency. Jefferson flew in for a visit, expressed his desire to sign here and the deal was done.

What are the Bobcats getting?

“Al addresses so many needs for us,’’ Higgins said a week out from the start of training camp at UNC Asheville Oct. 1. “Once we decided to amnesty Tyrus Thomas, ownership gave us the green light to find a difference-maker. He is a difference-maker.”

Jefferson will force opposing teams to double-team him in the post, which should create better shot opportunities along the perimeter. New coach Steve Clifford says Jefferson “instantly’’ becomes the Bobcats’ best offensive player.

Higgins said the cherry on top, in regard to Jefferson, is he should be good for young big men Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo.

“Al is also a mentor. He said he loved working with Enes Kantor and Derrick Favors (on Jefferson’s former team, the Utah Jazz),” Higgins said. “He can be a big plus for Cody and Biz.”

Some other comments from Higgins and Cho Tuesday:

 -- Cho said the NBA player Zeller reminds him of most is Portland Trail Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge.

Cho on Zeller: “He’s a pretty unique player with his size – a legit 7-foot – and he can run as well as any 7-footer out there. He can hit a perimeter shot; 18-20 feet and out beyond the arc. He has a very, very high basketball IQ.”

-- Both Higgins and Cho said they’re pleased, but not surprised, by how well Jeff Taylor played in Las Vegas Summer League and at Eurobasket (where he led the tournament, averaging 21 points for Sweden).

“He really works hard,’’ Cho said. “He’s in here all the time. Right after the season he was in here a lot.”

-- Higgins said signing Jefferson and drafting Zeller doesn’t mean the Bobcats have lost enthusiasm for developing Biyombo.

“Biz fits in well with us. He’ll get opportunities to grow,” Higgins said. “Biz still has a tremendous upside.”

-- Asked about Clifford, Higgins said, “He’s a very smart guy, a great competitor. His philosophy is going to stand out right away.”

-- Higgins wouldn’t identify a goal, in terms of wins this season, but he said, “I would presume we’ll be much improved.”

Posted by Observer Sports on September 24, 2013 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

September 23, 2013

Charlotte Bobcats will bring ex 1st-rounder Patrick O'Bryant to training camp

    Three years removed from his last appearance in an NBA game, former first-round pick Patrick O’Bryant will get a training-camp look with the Charlotte Bobcats.

            Rod Higgins, Bobcats president of basketball operations, confirmed Monday that O'Bryant, a 7-footer out of Bradley, has been invited to camp at UNC Asheville next week. O'Bryant, 27, was originally drafted ninth overall in 2006 by the Golden State Warriors. Higgins was in the Warriors’ front office at that time.

            O'Bryant did little his first two seasons with Golden State, and the Warriors chose not to pick up the third-season option on his rookie scale contract. He later played with the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors. His best NBA season was 2008-09, when he averaged 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds with Toronto.

            O'Bryant later played internationally (Greece and Latin America) and in the NBA’s development league.

            The Bobcats have 13 guaranteed contracts going into camp, with the NBA maximum roster limit at 15. New coach Steve Clifford has said rebounding and 3-point shooting are his areas of concern going into camp. Whether O'Bryant could address the rebounding concern is an open question.

Posted by Observer Sports on September 23, 2013 at 03:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)