Relatively new Charlotte Bobcat Gary Neal didn’t want to be “that guy.”
He’d never been part of an in-season trade. In mid-February he walked into a locker room full of relative strangers who already functioned as a team. He didn’t want to start out as that guy who shot the ball every time it touched his hands.
That’s good manners, but Neal’s distance shooting was the single biggest incentive for the Bobcats giving up Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien to acquire Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks.
So Neal had to strike a balance between getting along and expressing his talent. It has happened of late; he’s shooting 53 percent from 3-point range during his 13 games with the Bobcats, providing the scoring and spacing the team envisioned when it made this trade.
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“You don’t want to be the guy shooting the ball all the time inefficiently,” Neal recalled of his feelings when he arrived in Charlotte. “You don’t want to start alienating teammates.”
In scope and effect, this deal is similar to the one the Bobcats made a year earlier, acquiring power forward Josh McRoberts. Neither trade involved stars, but each surgically addressed a flaw: Ball-movement in the McRoberts deal, outside shooting in the Neal/Ridnour deal.
While the Bobcats gave up a significant asset in Sessions, coach Steve Clifford said it was a good exchange in part because the Bobcats got two rotation players while giving up one. Adrien seldom played in Charlotte.
Neal’s impact was quick; he’s averaging 12.5 points as a reserve, where the Bobcats greatly needed scoring. Also, his range makes it harder for teams to double-team center Al Jefferson aggressively.
Neal arrived with an immediate role. Sounds appealing, but he said there’s pressure attached to that.
“Personally, I think that makes (a transition) harder,” Neal said. “You have expectations to perform” right off the bat.
Ridnour hasn’t had as quick an impact. Clifford has been patient with Ridnour because he played little in Milwaukee and, as a point guard, he has to learn when and where each of his new teammates wants the ball.
Saturday’s home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers felt like progress in Ridnour’s transition. He finished with six points, two assists and two rebounds in 15 minutes; nothing gaudy, but efficient. He made one particular play – a throw-ahead pass from midcourt to Chris Douglas-Roberts – that led to an easy transition basket.
“It’s a tough spot – you’re suddenly running (a new) team,” Clifford said. “But everybody who has ever played with him, they love playing with him. Luke naturally plays to get other people shots.
“His decision-making is really good. He naturally plays in a way that helps organize your team.”
Ridnour said he’s lucky this was a package deal, that he didn’t have to show up on the Bobcats’ door without a teammate by his side.
“I can’t imagine going through this by myself,” Ridnour said. “Having (Neal) with me – I understood him, where he needs the ball. And just to have a friend, someone to get through it with, made this better.”