Charlotte Hornets

Bobcats center O’Bryant: Preseason is the time for a make-good contract

Free-agent center Patrick O’Bryant did a terrible job of making a first impression on the NBA seven years ago.

He hopes this Charlotte Bobcats training camp becomes his do-over.

The Golden State Warriors drafted him ninth overall out of Bradley in 2006. Being chosen that high left him with a sense of entitlement. It killed his career and still hangs with him after several seasons playing in Greece, Puerto Rico and the development league.

“I think I had a mentality of, ‘I’m the top draft pick, so they’re going to give me everything. I don’t have to work for it.’” O’Bryant recalled after practice Monday. “That was a completely wrong assumption on my part. It ended up that I had to play overseas for a few years. I got a really bad rep and now I have to work past that – prove to people I am different.”

O’Bryant is one of three players with the Bobcats on unguaranteed contracts. The others are Jeff Adrien, a holdover from last season, and rookie James Southerland.

An undersized forward-center at 6-7, Adrien has grown accustomed to constantly having to prove himself. Southerland, a 6-foot-8 3-point shooter, went undrafted out of Syracuse.

O’Bryant seems the most interesting of the three because he once had every advantage entering the NBA and threw all that away.

He’s remarkably candid in describing that.

“I have to show great work ethic, which has been one of my biggest faults to date – that I tend not to work very hard,” O’Bryant said. “I’m trying to show I turned the corner on that and prove I’ll do whatever it takes to stay in this league.”

He probably won’t make his point in games. O’Bryant has played only six minutes in the team’s first six preseason exhibitions. So he is treating practice like his stage.

“It’s definitely different. I spend a lot of time thinking, ‘Do they need me? Do they not need me?’” O’Bryant said.

“I’ve got to constantly make sure I’m having good practices, be in the right spot on defense, running the plays right, getting in the extra work before practices with Coach (Patrick) Ewing and the strength coach.

“I have to show them I’m getting better in every way possible.”

Southerland might be a rookie, but he, too, gets the dynamic of living without a guarantee.

“You’ve got to play like every day is your last,” Southerland said. “You can’t afford to mess up, so you need to lock in every single day.”

There are plenty of examples of players who built long careers by stringing together gigs season-to-season. Bobcats point guard Jannero Pargo has lasted nine seasons doing just that. Coach Steve Clifford said if there’s anything to be learned from Pargo’s longevity, it’s the importance of the right attitude at the end of the bench.

“He has an incredible love for the game. Jannero year-round loves practice. Those are the guys you want on the team because it’s contagious,” Clifford said.

“There are guys, who are outstanding players, who will always be a 13th, 14th or 15th guy. Year after year after year, they are in that uncomfortable position of not knowing where they will be and how long they will be there.

“It’s not an easy life, but relative to the real world it’s not terrible.”

Improved defense

It’s pretty clear the Charlotte Bobcats have played improved defense this preseason.

It’s certainly quantifiable:

As of Sunday, the Bobcats were giving up the fewest points per game in the NBA at 82.7. They’re the only one of 30 teams not to allow 90 or more points in any game, one of two teams (with Chicago) not to allow 100 or more.

Their field-goal percentage defense (39.5 percent) is third-best in the NBA and they have committed the fewest personal fouls (17.3 per game) in the league.

Coach Steve Clifford says his players have taken to heart his defensive priorities: Minimize transition baskets, minimize points in the paint and don’t foul needlessly. While it’s dangerous to conclude too much off preseason numbers, they appear to be on the right track.

-- Rick Bonnell