This was fun.
Typically in April, I'm tired and cranky. I've covered something approaching 80 basketball games since October and, while I'd rather cover a playoff team, a break from the beat isn't unwelcome.
This was different. If the NBA had extended the regular season into early May, I would have enjoyed it, because I'm still curious what the Charlotte Bobcats are becoming.
This is the best they've been. I realize that's worth just 35 victories, but there's a sense of possibility here that didn't exist before. The coach knows what he's doing, with a sense of vision and wisdom.
I'm no cheerleader. Some of you have e-mailed me in the past, furious with what you perceive as my negativity. That might grant me credibility when I tell you Larry Brown is a dynamic coach and this team, as currently constructed, has real possibilities.
That word – team – is important, because they don't act like 15 guys watching out for No.1. The point guard, Raymond Felton, is the second-best teammate I've encountered, behind the incomparable Vlade Divac. Boris Diaw, the most skilled player in this team's five-year history, has one problem: He passes up 50 percent of his shots, trying to present a teammate with a 70-percent shot.
That's a problem you'd like to have, if you're an NBA coach in the current culture.
Strange thing is, I haven't mentioned Gerald Wallace, who is this team's MVP. He was the tipping point, just as Billy King predicted. King, who was Brown's GM in Philadelphia, told me Wallace would either revolt against Brown's coaching style, or become his big project.
I like this team to make the playoffs next season. I like this team to be the sixth seed. Some things could still screw that up: Injuries, of course, or money (a real issue in this economy) or office politics (who owns the team a year from now?).
Anyway, some reflections on the past seven months:
I split the season into three segments. Felton was the first trimester MVP. Diaw was the second. Wallace won the third.
I gave Wallace the nod overall because he adapted to Brown's expectations in such a profound way. He gets the difference between meaningless statistics and impacting games. He's a dramatically more athletic George Lynch, and that gives him the chance to be a special player going forward.
The great relief
The day in February when they traded Adam Morrison.
It was painful watching him shrivel in the face of expectation. He kept fibbing to local media, claiming he had no interest in a trade, when in fact he or his representatives requested one. I don't fault him for that; saying so publicly just would have made a bad thing worse.
It was just so strange, watching the fear and panic every time he missed a shot. I don't know whether his confidence can be salvaged.
Quote of the season
“After he missed those first couple, he didn't even look at the basket. As soon as I heard someone yell at him (from the stands), I ran a play for him. And he didn't touch it.” – Brown on Morrison in late December. It was obvious then this wasn't going to work.
Rush to foolishness
I couldn't get over how quick the national media was to rip the Bobcats for that December trade with Phoenix.
My boss called me the morning after the deal, asking why we seem to be the only media outlet open to the idea this was a good move. I told him Brown's biggest complaint with this roster was ball movement, and Diaw would address that.
That trade was the second-best in franchise history, behind only moving up to the No.2 spot in the first draft to acquire Emeka Okafor.
A final word
I certainly understand center Nazr Mohammed's frustration with not playing. He's a smart guy and has been very classy throughout a situation in which he was effectively demoted to third team.
Still, Brown is right when he says how difficult it will be to find a taker for Mohammed's remaining $13million-plus. It never made much sense, exchanging expiring contracts for Mohammed's deal, and now it looks like an anchor around this team's salary cap.