Brown, Jordan help Bobcats improve, but more to do

Published 3:44 pm Friday, April 17, 2009

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — The Hall of Fame coach known for his constant demands paired with the six-time NBA champion player with a checkered history as an executive.
The Larry Brown-Michael Jordan partnership had a chance to be explosive, and Brown fired the first shot the day before training camp began when he complained about his roster.
Soon the moves began. Brown shaped the team the way he wanted, the Bobcats used an NBA-high 24 players, set a club record for wins and were in the playoff hunt until the last week of the season.
After a 35-47 season that fell short of the franchise’s first postseason berth, Brown and Jordan still have plenty more to do. But so far the relationship appears to be working.
Jordan, the team’s part-owner with the final say on basketball decisions, signed off on deals that had Brown’s fingerprints all over them. Charlotte traded top scorer Jason Richardson to Phoenix for Boris Diaw and Raja Bell. Diaw, a pass-first power forward, fit into Brown’s offense. Bell, a defensive shooting guard, provided veteran leadership.
The Bobcats later acquired defensive center DeSagana Diop from Dallas. Then they traded disappointing Adam Morrison, Jordan’s first draft pick with Charlotte, to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vladimir Radmanovic.
The deals helped the Bobcats overcome a 7-18 start to get into playoff contention as they adjusted to the new roster and Brown’s demands on offense and defense.
Inexperience in crucial, close late-season losses to Washington, Indiana, Boston and Miami ended their playoff hopes. After they were eliminated, Brown experimented with lineups and Charlotte closed on a four-game losing streak. But there was plenty of optimism as players underwent physicals and exit interviews with Jordan and Brown on Thursday.
It was a far cry from exit interviews last year, where player complaints of Sam Vincent helped lead to his ouster and Brown’s hiring, ending his two-year exile following an ugly season in New York.
Brown will likely push for more roster changes in the offseason. Charlotte also has a lottery pick, but has only a 0.7 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick.
Wallace, who was on the trading block last summer, may be safe from offseason moves. He became a favorite of Brown after changing his freewheeling style and gambling less on defense. Okafor, Diaw and Bell also appear set to start again next season, but there is a question at point guard.
The Bobcats drafted D.J. Augustin with the ninth pick last year, but Raymond Felton kept his starting job. Felton will be a restricted free agent this summer after becoming a better playmaker under Brown.
The Bobcats must also decide on forward Sean May, the 13th pick in the 2005 draft who has been injured and out of shape for most of four seasons. But Brown has said it’s not a given they’ll renounce his rights as a restricted free agent.
The Bobcats have four unrestricted free agents, all young players except veteran Juwan Howard, who said he’d ‘‘love to come back.’’
Center Nazr Mohammed had a much different attitude Thursday. He said if he doesn’t get more playing time he wants out. The Bobcats would likely love to move him and clear the $13.4 million he’s owed over the next two seasons.
A deal could perhaps bring more depth at shooting guard and small forward. Bell turns 33 in September and had two groin injuries and a strained calf after joining Charlotte.
Bell also was in for a shock when he arrived to see the Bobcats’ tepid fan support.
Charlotte did sell out three of its last four home games, but it hasn’t stopped majority owner Bob Johnson from losing millions. Jordan has said he’d be interested in someday buying a controlling interest.
Of course, the team would be more popular if Jordan and Brown can get them into the playoffs next season.