Bobcats face uncertainty after disappointing season
By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer Apr 17, 6:48 pm EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—The large calendar inside the Charlotte Bobcats’ locker room noted that on Thursday players would have exit interviews with part-owner Michael Jordan.
The spot for Friday had the message, “start working for playoffs.”
That work will wait at least a year and may involve a new coach after the fourth-year Bobcats fell short of their goal of reaching the post season for the first time.
A day after the Bobcats finished 32-50 with a meaningless win over Philadelphia, players trickled into the arena Thursday to meet with Jordan, who has the final say on basketball decisions.
First-year coach Sam Vincent was there, too, although no decision on his future was announced. Jordan, as is his custom, declined an interview request.
“Sam did the best job that he could with the personnel he had, the coaching staff he had,” said Jason Richardson, who led the team with 21.8 points per game. “He did what he was supposed to do. We didn’t achieve the goals we were capable of, but he did his job.”
Jordan, whose resume as an NBA executive is less than stellar, gambled by hiring Vincent last year. He had never been an NBA head coach and had spent just one year in the league as an assistant.
Predictably, Vincent had growing pains. He couldn’t come up with a consistent rotation, with 3-point specialist Matt Carroll and rookie Jared Dudley getting little playing time early. He kept shuttling Raymond Felton between point guard and shooting guard.
Even though the Bobcats went 13-11 after March 1, their horrible start prevented them from seriously threatening for a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference.
“Coming in and having to work for Michael, who is arguably the best player ever, and knowing that’s your boss and you’ve got a big set of eyes watching everything you do, puts its own pressure on you,” Vincent said. “So I think there were just a lot of adjustments to make in this first year. I think we all got through it, the coaching staff and players, with a pretty solid season.”
But nowhere near Vincent’s lofty playoff goals. Despite acquiring Richardson in a draft-night deal with Golden State and re-signing Gerald Wallace, the Bobcats finished with one less win than last season under Bernie Bickerstaff.
But Jordan deserves some of the blame, too. He didn’t address the team’s obvious lack of depth up front until the December deal that brought in Nazr Mohammed from Detroit.
Mohammed put up decent numbers, but he’s due more than $6 million a year through 2010-11. He also failed to prevent Charlotte from giving up a staggering 999 offensive boards.
Richardson was clearly the bright spot. He hit an NBA-high 243 3-pointers, the fourth most in NBA history. He shot a career-best 41 percent from behind the arc and had 16 games of 30 or more points.
But the Bobcats didn’t have a player who could defend big men who played on the perimeter. Season-ending knee injuries to Adam Morrison and Sean May cost them depth. They got next to nothing out of aging and injured veterans Othella Harrington and Derek Anderson.
Besides Vincent, Jordan and the Bobcats have a few big decisions to make. Big man Emeka Okafor becomes a restricted free agent on July 1. Okafor averaged a steady 13.8 points and 10.7 rebounds a game and is the team’s top interior defender, but he is limited offensively.
Felton, entering the final year of his rookie contract, is eligible for an extension. Felton averaged 14.4 points and 7.4 assists per game, eighth in the league. But three years after he was the No. 5 pick in the draft, there are still questions if he’s a true point guard.
“He’s still young,” Richardson said. “I definitely believe he’s going to be the point guard of this team.”
Wallace averaged 19.4 points, but missed 20 games, including a stretch midway through the season after he was knocked unconscious by an inadvertent elbow. It was Wallace’s fourth concussion in four years, a sobering thought a year after the Bobcats gave him a six-year, $57 million deal.
Recent deals will limit what the Bobcats can do this summer. Richardson, who is owed more than $40 million over the next three years, leads the bloated contract parade and Charlotte is right at the salary cap limit.
But Richardson took on a leadership role late in the season, and was making plans Thursday to work out with Felton and Wallace over the summer.
“I have some of the best teammates I’ve had in my career,” Richardson said. “It’s just about us trying to win. Once we do that, we’ll start getting more fans here and people will start believing in us more.”
The Bobcats need a power forward and a backup point guard. They also need area fans to care. The team ranked 24th of out of 30 teams in attendance, have anemic television ratings, few corporate sponsors, and have lost millions.
Jordan, who filled the front office with loyal friends, now must decide on Vincent. He also needs to open cap space and make the right choice in the draft.
“I think next year is going to be our breakout year,” Felton said. “Next year, it’s definitely unacceptable for us not to make the playoffs.”