|Felton's play could determine if Jordan's Bobcats reach playoffs|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 25 October 2007 01:41|
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Michael Jordan landed his go-to scorer in Jason Richardson, re-signed Gerald Wallace and proved the Charlotte Bobcats are finally willing to spend money to win.|
But Jordan's other offseason decisions - bringing in an unproven coach, not signing a big man and putting the offense in the hands of erratic point guard Raymond Felton - leave the Bobcats with many questions as they try to reach the playoffs for the first time in an improved Eastern Conference.
Season-ending knee injuries to Adam Morrison and Sean May in the preseason didn't help, either.
Jordan, the Bobcats' part-owner with the final say on basketball decisions, was looking for the next young star coach in the mold of Avery Johnson when he chose Sam Vincent to replace Bernie Bickerstaff, who stayed with the team as Jordan's top aide.
Vincent, Jordan's former teammate in Chicago, has extensive overseas coaching experience and toiled in the NBA Development League. But Vincent's NBA experience consists of one year on Johnson's staff in Dallas - where he wasn't even the top assistant.
``Sam is a defensive-minded coach and I love what I've seen so far,'' center Primoz Brezec said. ``Guys are playing hard and I'm really excited.''
Vincent wants to take advantage of the Bobcats' athleticism with an up-tempo style. He sees them at their best when Wallace and Richardson, acquired from Golden State in a draft night trade, are on opposite wings on the fast break.
But to make it work, the speedy Felton will have to get them the ball at the right time, and make enough shots to keep defenses honest. And Felton is clearly the starter after the Bobcats bought out Brevin Knight's contract.
Vincent wants Felton to make better decisions, part of the reason he hired former point guard Phil Ford as an assistant. Felton, the fifth pick in the 2005 draft, shot just 38 percent from the field last season and was even worse than that for much of the preseason.
``We want him to be aggressive. But we want him to understand when he has numbers and when he doesn't,'' Vincent said. ``And we need him to get us back out and get into our offense and be able to get us good shots when those situations aren't there.''
The offense will revolve around Richardson, who provides the Bobcats with an elite scorer for the first time. Charlotte has been known for playing teams hard in its first three seasons, only to wilt down the stretch when no one was there to take the big shots.
Richardson, who has averaged 18.3 points in his six-year career, helped Golden State knock off top-seeded Dallas in last season's playoffs. He thinks the Bobcats have the ingredients to go from a 33-win team to a dangerous playoff one - if he and Wallace work out the kinks with Felton.
``We're getting a feel for it, but I think we can be a lot better with it,'' Richardson said of the fast break. ``I think we can understand each other a little bit more. Raymond's got to understand that me and Gerald are taking off. Me and Gerald have to understand that we've got to wait for Raymond to get the ball before we go.''
While Vincent wants to run, he's spent a lot of time on defense.
Emeka Okafor is expected to be the defensive stopper. Entering his fourth season, Okafor has dropped 10 pounds to adapt to the new offense, but he's expected to carry the load in rebounding and shot-blocking.
Okafor doesn't have much help up front. Brezec is coming off what he called a ``nightmare'' season and is a suspect rebounder. Still, he's expected to start at center, in part because of the failed preseason experiment with the quick and lean Ryan Hollins in the middle.
There is also a lack of depth, with May out for the season after undergoing microfracture surgery. Othella Harrington missed the preseason to rehab a knee injury, and rookie Jared Dudley has been sidelined with a toe injury. Yet the Bobcats resisted signing another veteran big man, despite Vincent's concerns.
Injuries, a constant problem for the Bobcats in the first three seasons, showed no signs of letting up. Morrison, the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft, was lost for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in an exhibition game. Morrison had been playing well after an up-and-down rookie season and was expected to provide energy off the bench in place of Richardson and Wallace.
Depth could be a problem at nearly every position, with journeyman Jeff McInnis set to be Felton's backup, and Matt Carroll and Walter Herrmann the only proven scorers off the bench.
But whether Jordan can be successful in his second chance to run a team after he was fired in Washington may depend on Felton.
Richardson has said he thinks the Bobcats can be the Golden State of the East: An undersized, athletic, running team that can surprise. But the Warriors have a proven point guard in Baron Davis. Felton has yet to establish himself.
And the key decisions rest with the 44-year-old Vincent, whose last head coaching job was in Forth Worth in the D-League.
``Our work ethic has been great,'' Vincent said. ``Offensively we've got a pretty good system in place. Defensively, we can get better.''
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