CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -After a painful growing process, Charlotte Bobcats owner Bob Johnson thinks his rookie coach is starting to figure it out.
Sam Vincent, in his first season as an NBA head coach, struggled early to set a rotation and get his players to adjust to his style. The fourth-year Bobcats, looking to reach the playoffs for the first time, got off to a horrible start amid questions of whether they erred by not bringing in an experienced coach.
But slowly, the Bobcats have become competitive. They're 5-4 in the past two weeks with wins over league leader Boston, division leader Orlando and playoff-bound Denver.
While they're still only 16-25 as they begin the second half of their schedule Wednesday against Dallas, Johnson is convinced Vincent was the right choice for his fledgling franchise.
``The thing that has struck me most is that Sam is beginning to really take a firm grip on how he manages the team, on how he coaches the team,'' Johnson told The Associated Press on Tuesday. ``I think he's gotten over, or at least it seems like he's gotten over, that first-year-coach-in-the-NBA jitters.''
Vincent, a former NBA Development League coach whose NBA experience consisted of one year as an assistant coach in Dallas, made some curious early moves.
He talked about wanting to play Raymond Felton exclusively at point guard, only to change his mind a week later and make Felton the starting shooting guard.
After forward Nazr Mohammed was acquired in a trade with Detroit, Vincent said he didn't think Mohammed and fellow big man Emeka Okafor would play well together. They've since played at the same time, with good results.
Jason Richardson, acquired in a draft night trade with Golden State, took a while to build a rapport with Gerald Wallace. But in the past 13 games, Richardson is averaging 24 points and Wallace 25. On Tuesday, Wallace was selected the Eastern Conference player of the week.
Watching it all has been Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television who is involved in numerous other businesses. While he's taken to politics of late, campaigning for presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, Johnson has still kept a close watch on the Bobcats and Vincent.
``I think the way that Gerald Wallace and J-Rich are playing is another example of the team gelling,'' Johnson said. ``I think you can give Sam some credit for that.''
Vincent said Monday he had hoped to be at about .500 at the halfway point.
``It's still not bad in my eyes,'' Vincent said. ``I think the guys are starting to play their best ball. We've beat some pretty good teams. We've lost some close games. I think this team has shown progress, steadily, over the course of the year. I have every reason to believe that we'll continue to progress.''
But the improvements may have come too late. Charlotte has played more home games (26) than any other team in the league and has only played one road game against a Western Conference opponent.
That will soon change. With their home arena set to host the circus and three college basketball tournaments over the next two months, the Bobcats will play 21 of 29 games on the road starting next week.
That's why hiring the inexperienced Vincent, a former first-round pick of the Boston Celtics, was a gamble. Johnson and part-owner Michael Jordan, who makes the final call on all basketball decisions, had to have known that Vincent would need to grow into the job right when the Bobcats needed to feast on a slew of early home games.
``That's probably a better question for Michael, but yeah, anytime somebody moves from having never coached at the pro level, it's new,'' Johnson said. ``It's a new town. It's a new ownership relationship he has to establish with Michael and myself. It's a new team.
``I've been pretty impressed with what I've seen over the last couple of weeks.''
Johnson, the league's only black majority owner, remains confident the Bobcats will thrive in Charlotte. The Bobcats rank 24th of 30 teams with an average crowd of 14,226.
``We've got some work to do to bring in more fans, to give them more enthusiasm about being a part of the Bobcats experience,'' Johnson said. ``To get them to get more engaged, we're working very hard on that.''
Talks are ongoing with Time Warner Inc. about an arena naming rights deal that would also release the Bobcats from a poor television contract that prevents wide distribution of their games.
``I remain very, very optimistic that this is going to be one of the most successful franchises in the NBA,'' Johnson said.

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