Bobcats off to a slow start|Players’ effort is an issue for Brown

Published 11:59 am Tuesday, December 14, 2010

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — Michael Jordan spoke confidently in late October, insisting that despite key personnel losses in the offseason, his Charlotte Bobcats were a ‘‘better off team than we were last year’’ and should ‘‘at minimum, make the playoffs.’’
Fast forward to Saturday night. After the owner watched his listless team pummeled by the Boston Celtics in an all-too-familiar performance, a fuming Jordan walked into the locker room and took over the postgame address from coach Larry Brown.
Among the topics Jordan talked about were playing harder and more focused, taking responsibility and stop pointing fingers, according to players and coaches.
‘‘What I heard Michael say is basically what we’ve been talking about, but obviously when he says something we all should listen,’’ Brown said. ‘‘I’m to a point now that I’m going to play the guys that do it because the results would probably be the same. I’ve got to start playing the guys that do what we ask.’’
Jordan’s first full season as majority owner is off to a rough start, and there are plenty of reasons:
— His vagabond Hall of Fame coach, who was reluctant to return this season, acknowledges he can’t get his team to play hard as he laments the flaws on the roster.
— The franchise’s lone All-Star, Gerald Wallace, is a shell of his former self, missing 13 of 15 shots in Saturday’s loss.
— The top scorer, Stephen Jackson, has been kicked out of a game and suspended from another for yelling at officials. He also leads the team in turnovers.
— Wallace and Jackson have been critical of point guard D.J. Augustin, who got the job after Raymond Felton wasn’t re-signed.
— After essentially traded Tyson Chandler for salary-cap relief, there’s no center Brown trusts to play big minutes.
— Hopes to pull offseason trades to improve the roster, including dream scenarios to get either Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul in exchange for Erick Dampier’s non-guaranteed contract, were thwarted.
It’s added up to an 8-15 record, with a new low reached Saturday night when the Bobcats needed a late flurry to reach 60 points against the Celtics. Brown on Monday didn’t even bother to show the video of that 31-point loss before practice.
‘‘We don’t have five guys on the same page, don’t have five guys thinking team first,’’ Wallace said. ‘‘We’ve got five guys thinking ’I’ first.’’
For sure, this team is nothing like the club that finished strong last season, won 44 games, and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The chemistry between Jackson and Wallace has disappeared. The defensive intensity — last season no team allowed fewer points per game — is gone. Often, just getting a shot off before another turnover or the 24-second clock expires is an accomplishment.
‘‘Whoever we have, we have and to say it’s D.J.’s problem, that’s not going to get anything accomplished,’’ Brown said in response to Wallace and Jackson going public with their frustrations. ‘‘The only way if you maybe have some deficiencies is you play harder, you compete harder, you execute better.’’
A day before training camp opened, Brown said, ‘‘I died,’’ when Felton left for New York in free agency. The move was largely due to financial issues. Past trades had put the Bobcats close to the luxury tax threshold, an area Jordan said the money-losing Bobcats wouldn’t venture into.
Now Felton is perhaps on the best streak of his career. He’s averaging 18.4 points and 8.7 assists for the Knicks, who have won eight straight games in a dramatic turnaround.
Augustin is averaging 12.7 points and 6.3 assists and missed all eight shots in Saturday’s debacle. Brown said backup point guard Shaun Livingston, working his way back from a devastating knee injury is playing at ‘‘YMCA league speed.’’
Jackson is averaging 18.2 points, but has a team-high 73 turnovers and has struggled to click with Wallace.
‘‘It’s everybody’s responsibility, but I guess it’s directed at the leadership which is me and Gerald, so I guess it’s me and Gerald’s fault,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘We’ve got to find a way to get it done, I guess.’’
Wallace has suffered the biggest decline. With teams stacking the middle, he’s made a habit of barreling into defenders for charges. He’s shooting 42 percent from the field.
‘‘With all due respect to Michael, it’s not embarrassing to him. It’s embarrassing to us and our families,’’ Wallace said. ‘‘We’re the ones out there on the court playing lackadaisical, playing like we don’t care, with no effort and no fight.’’
Meanwhile, the 70-year-old Brown has looked despondent in media sessions of late after taking much of the summer before deciding to return for a third season.
Even though Brown is only 10 wins shy of supplanting Don Nelson as the winningest coach in NBA and ABA history, there’s little to be happy about around Jordan’s Bobcats these days.
‘‘Our second team kicks our first team in practice,’’ Brown said. ‘‘What does that tell you?’’