FD Guest Lecture: Very Cross-Eyed But Extremely Solid
A report from Bobcats camp, by Avery Lemacorn. He's previously posted here about the Hornets and NOLA's revival.
There's the dad with the swishy athletic pants. We were just making fun of kids for wearing it, then we step behind a gray-haired man, corralling his kids into the 5,000 person stadium at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Maybe the words "training camp" inspired some type of slovenliness in the dad, making him reconsider his clothing options. Should I dress respectably or should I bring my tear-offs? Tear-offs it is, because they might ask me to run into the game.
And after the drills start for the Charlotte Bobcats at their scrimmage game, I can catch a glimpse of how that mentality might enter the average fan's subconscious. The masses don't know these players. No one shouts hysterically when 10 young millionaires and 5 six-figure men stroll into the smallest gym they have seen since middle school. The only other cheers come on a couple of windmill dunks made by any player, not Wallace or Richardson or Okafor. So the everyman asks, "Who do I cheer for, who do I follow?" It might as well be anyone.
Which is possibly the reason Larry Brown took this job. While last year was more Planters than pleasure, this year seems to have a relaxed professionalism, not the steady worry from Sam Vincent about how a real head coach was supposed to act in front of Michael Jordan. This is Larry Brown's team. Short and gray, the players look down at him, not away ignoring his edicts. They respect him. And this Charlotte Bobcats could be his Pistons from earlier this decade, when no one believed a team based on defense with no discernible stars could win. There are no immediate egos on the Bobcats, no petulant Stephon Marburys, or shaken Eddy Curry's. No unsteady Luol Deng's or legacy-stricken Dirk Nowitzki's to confuse matters. Instead it's a team of players willing to follow a coach that has won on every level, malleable to his stringent desires. This is Larry Brown's team.
During drill weaves, there is nothing to notice really, except for Adam Morrison. He's back, from an ACL injury. I point him out to my wife. She remembers him from the Gonzaga days on television, with the close-ups of his sketchy moustache. "That's him really?," she asks. "He looks hurt." Indeed he does. He barely stretches with the rest. He limps downcourt unsteadily with a half-jog. It was noted in the local paper earlier that Morrison has rounded out his mustache to a full goatee, and grown his hair out halfway down his back. It's tied up in a ponytail. With seemingly more in common with your car mechanic than anyone on this team, I'm pretty sure Morrison has assumed the style mantle of Scott Pollard. Except Pollard is/was a cult hero, not a top three pick as another questionable choice by MJ.
Speaking of, he is nowhere to be found. Technically, he is a local boy, having gone to Laney High School, the scene of the crime, the place where "Michael Jordan got cut." There are no streets named after him, no bridges, not even a Boys and Girls Club with his moniker. The only monument I've ever found is inside the local city museum, with his kindergarten graduation certificate, and a pay stub from his days as a busboy at a local diner. Perhaps he's wanted those things back and never knew where to look.
During the scrimmage (Felton with the starters, D.J. Augustin with the back-ups), the Pistons model is even more evident. Sean May is looking svelte, and as more than one seasoned Carolina observer notes, this is the best they have ever seen him. May is actually slim, and now in his fourth season, hopefully he can play a full year. The Brown system calls for a Rasheed figure, and May takes and hits shots from around the free throw line. Only once or twice do the blocks come into play, and only after rebounds. Brown was looking for a guy to extend his reach, and May at least seems willing to try.
On the other end, another unlikely figure for this role emerges: Alexis "Sticks" Ajinca. Though his legs look like rebar, he almost takes May shot for shot, both ending up in double figures, with several makes from around the three point line. And it's clear him and Augustin have done more than just toting around stupid luggage. They run picks off one another, and Augustin favors Ajinca over most of his other scrub teammates. It will not surprise me when phrases like "sleeper pick" and "underrated" are bantered around by the pundits for Ajinca.
Wallace, tonguing a bright orange mouthguard like a chew toy ("Is that thing really hanging out of his mouth?" asks my wife) soon grows bored covering Morrison, and starts to float. Brown, apparently emphasizing "team" defense, brings Wallace up for half-court traps, which still doesn't prevent Wallace from flying in for a rebound or a loose ball floating towards the dance team. As the Dog Whisperer likes to say, Wallace needs exercise, discipline, and a job, so Brown has him on the hunt, and pretty much free to roam where he wants to go (or maybe Adam Morrison can't shoot and can't defend). He even brings the ball up a few times, now totally free from his concussion inducing power forward excursions.
All the while, it's clear Felton is passing early and taking supreme care of the ball just not to lose the starter's role. His first dump is always to J-Rich, who then decides what to do. In a few fast breaks, he throws alley oops. Augustin, perhaps not surprising, seems exactly like he did last year at Texas--a complete dictator or perhaps a dutiful floor general, depending on your outlook. He drives deep, getting tangled with May and Mohammed. He throws last ditch passes out of bounds. He never looked frustrated, just a bit out of sorts with what to do with the likes of Morrison, who couldn't make a shot. Towards the end, he instead preferred Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley, who almost rallied the second teamers back to victory along with Ajinca.
My mind begins to wander. I do want to see Augustin, but I'd prefer a lineup of Wallace and Richardson as guards, Ajinca as the out of place 7 footer, and May and presumably Okafor on the blocks. And in a classic Chad Ford overindulgence, for some reason I do believe Wallace and Ajinca could be the mentally stable but physically disruptive manifestation of Howard-Nowitzki. At least it's there in my mind, for a few seconds.
Surprisingly, the Gerald Wallace of the second team is fellow Bama alum Jermareo Davidson. He even has slight dreadlocks like Wallace now. Though making only a fraction of what Morrison does, he has significantly more impact. He is the man for the second team flying through for the putback. He is the guy Brown calls up for the trap. He is the wild and goofy one, joking around and looking slightly physically discombobulated.
J-Rich fits the Rip mode. Augustin/Felton perhaps excel beyond Billups and whatever backup they've had. Wallace has the Prince defense, plus the lackadaisacalness that makes him more fun to watch. Nazr has the Nazr role, which should have been a backup role all along, so hopefully Okafor will be an upgrade. And May will function in the practical Rasheed role (for now), while Wallace takes over the jawing and athleticism. Fill that in with a decent bench of Dudley, Matt Carroll, probably Ajinca, and hopefully Davidson, along with wherever Augustin and Nazr fit in.
Morrison will, Lord willingly, be traded for a halfway decent center and then left to deal with his inner demons of the "way things should've been" and his complex, but more-friendlier-than-ever-imagined relationship with JJ Redick. Also, he will find his own unique kinship with those that wear athletic synthetic tear-offs to sporting events, yet remain firmly on the bench.