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Looking for a Clean Break The Bobcats' Blueprint

While most expansion teams enjoy a honeymoon period with their
supporters, the Charlotte Bobcats will operate with a sense of
urgency when they make their NBA debut next fall. They need to
make embittered fans forget the city's previous franchise, the
Hornets, a perennial league leader in attendance before owner
George Shinn alienated the community and then moved the team to
New Orleans.

The importance of expunging the memory of Shinn's Hornets has led
to some promising outside-the-box thinking. When team president
Ed Tapscott was looking for a G.M., he flew to Italy and
interviewed the top basketball mind in Europe, G.M. Maurizio
Gherardini of Benetton Treviso--an indication that the Bobcats
are open to talent wherever they can find it. Though Tapscott
awarded the job to NBA veteran Bernie Bickerstaff, he surprised
rivals by naming Bickerstaff coach as well. Tapscott notes that
expansion teams have invariably replaced their coach within two
years. "Then, when they hired the next coach, that represented a
change of philosophy and the franchise took a step back,"
Tapscott says. Should Bickerstaff, 59, give up his coaching
duties, he can hire his own replacement and keep the team's
philosophy intact.

The league is intent on forcing the Bobcats to build slowly: With
a first-year salary cap of about $30 million (66% of the cap for
the rest of the league) and a mandate that they select one player
from at least 14 teams in the June 22 expansion draft--each team
can protect no more than eight players--they will have little
room to sign major free agents. Charlotte hopes to win fans with
a hardworking team that could contend in the new, weakling
Southeast Division, which includes the Hawks, Heat, Magic and
Wizards. One thing you won't hear from Tapscott is comparisons
with the Hornets, whom he refers to as "the previous regime."

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