CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Practice had long since ended Thursday, and Charlotte Bobcats forward Emeka Okafor was still on the court, playing a competitive, rotating one-on-one competition with three teammates.
The first draft pick in franchise history was laughing and joking as sweat soaked through his jersey. There was little evidence that just hours earlier Okafor had turned down a contract offer from the Bobcats, meaning he'll become a restricted free agent on July 1.
``I definitely want to be here long-term, and the Bobcats want me to be here long-term,'' Okafor said after the workout. ``It's just the way things go sometimes. Everyone is in a great mood. Everybody is cool.''
Still, the stalemate was unexpected. In a news conference in March, Bobcats part-owner Michael Jordan listed ``tying up Okafor'' as one of the top offseason priorities. The day before training camp began, Okafor said ``there's no doubt in my mind we'll get something done'' before the Oct. 31 deadline.
But early Thursday morning, the key cog in the Bobcats' defense was without a deal.
``Our offer was commensurate with our respect for Emeka as a basketball player, his overall character and what he brings to the Charlotte community,'' Bobcats vice president of basketball operations Bernie Bickerstaff said. ``We both had different ideas on economic value, but we both agree that neither were insulting.''
The 6-foot-10 Okafor will make just over $5.4 million this season in the final year of his rookie scale contract. The two sides can't negotiate again until July 1.
And while the Bobcats can match any offer from another team next summer, the uncertainty of Okafor being in the last year of his deal weighs upon the Bobcats as they begin the season Friday at home against Milwaukee.
``I don't think it's going to be a distraction for me, the team or for Emeka,'' insisted Bobcats coach Sam Vincent. ``He knows what he has to do.''
Bickerstaff and Okafor wouldn't reveal the financial figures of the Bobcats' proposed deal. Okafor's agent, Jeff Schwartz, did not return repeated phone messages during the negotiating period.
``The Bobcats made a fair offer,'' Okafor said.
But it was less than the maximum amount the Bobcats could give the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft. In July, Orlando gave Dwight Howard, the No. 1 pick in that draft, the maximum five-year deal worth about $85 million.
Okafor's numbers don't match up to Howard's. The former Connecticut star has averaged 14.5 points and 10.9 rebounds in three seasons. He's not the offensive threat Howard is, and there are questions about his durability after he missed all but 26 games of the 2005-06 season with an ankle injury.
Still, he's the anchor of the Bobcats' defense. The Bobcats lost seven straight games late last season when he was sidelined with a calf injury to end their slim playoff hopes.
Okafor, who has 347 blocks in three seasons, is not alone among the rookie class of 2004 that didn't come to terms. Chicago's Luol Deng and Ben Gordon are without new deals, so is Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala.
Note:Bobcats F Adam Morrison is tentatively scheduled to undergo surgery on Nov. 10. Morrison is out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a preseason game.
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