Bobcats’ draft night decisions are up for debate

Published 7:12 am Saturday, June 28, 2008

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte Bobcats nearly moved up in the draft. They almost dealt Gerald Wallace, and dangled other veterans as trade bait.
In the end, managing partner Michael Jordan kept their two first-round picks, and his selections left plenty of room for debate.
As undersized point guard D.J. Augustin of Texas and relative unknown Alexis Ajinca of France were introduced to the media on Friday, general manager Rod Higgins was left defending the decisions made a night earlier by the elusive Jordan, who didn’t attend the news conference.
Augustin, who won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard last season, was taken with the ninth pick ahead of 7-foot center Brook Lopez of Stanford.
While Higgins said Augustin vs. Lopez was a ‘‘very close call,’’ Augustin is the pass-first point guard new coach Larry Brown craves. The pick came after the Bobcats discussed trading Wallace to Toronto for point guard T.J. Ford. The deal fizzled and now Ford is set to move to Indiana in a proposed trade involving Jermaine O’Neal.
The near deal for Ford and Augustin’s selection leaves questions about Raymond Felton’s future. But Higgins denied a report they were discussing sending him to New York for forward David Lee.
Three years after he was the fifth overall pick, Higgins insisted Felton remains an important cog.
The Bobcats also needed a big man. But while centers DeAndre Jordan of Texas A&M and Kosta Koufos of Ohio State and forward Darrell Arthur of Kansas were still on the board at No. 20, Higgins said it was ‘‘worth the chance’’ to take the 7-footer Ajinca.
Rail thin and inexperienced, the 20-year-old averaged 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 24 games for Hyeres-Toulon in the French ProA league last season. But he sports a 7-foot-8 wingspan and first the caught the attention of the Bobcats’ full-time European scout, Rich Sheubrooks. Brown said Ajinca then ‘‘blew me away’’ with his athleticism in his pre-draft workout.
But it’s questionable whether he’ll be able to contribute next season — and if it was worth giving up a future first-round pick to Denver for the extra pick this year.
It’s clear there are few untouchables as Brown starts to mold the roster in his record ninth NBA head coaching job.
Wallace involved in trade talks comes a year after he signed a six-year, $57 million free-agent deal. It raises questions whether Brown and the athletic, if erratic, Wallace will be a match.
The summer will likely be busy. The Bobcats can begin negotiating with restricted free agent Emeka Okafor on Tuesday. While Felton is eligible for a contract extension, Higgins said ‘‘the extension doesn’t have to happen this summer.’’
It could be an interesting season if Felton sticks around, in the final year of his contract, playing with the speedy and athletic Augustin.
While draft night raised eyebrows around the league, the mood was bright inside Time Warner Cable Arena Friday. Augustin (No. 14), Ajinca (No. 21) and second-round pick Kyle Weaver of Washington State (No. 25) were all smiles as they showed off their new jerseys and posed for photos.
Notes: Higgins said the team picked up the second-year option on F Jermareo Davidson’s contract. … The Bobcats made a qualifying offer to C Ryan Hollins, a restricted free agent. … Davidson, F Jared Dudley and perhaps Hollins will join the three draft picks on the Bobcats’ summer league team.