PROJECTED STARTINGFIVE with 2006-07 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS:G Matt Carroll, F Walter Herrmann, G Jeff McInnis, F Jared Dudley (R), C RyanHollins *New acquisition (R) Rookie
Record: 33-49(11th in East) Points scored: 96.9 (18th in NBA) Points allowed: 100.6 (21st)Coach: Sam Vincent (first season with Bobcats)
The day after hewas traded from Golden State to Charlotte, in June, Jason Richardson was stillstewing over the deal as he drove to his hometown of Saginaw, Mich. "I hadbeen in Golden State for six years, and it was kind of a shock," saysRichardson, who was dealt for the rights to No. 8 pick Brandan Wright on draftnight. Then he got a call from Bobcats co-owner Michael Jordan. "Michaeltold me how important I was to the team," says the 26-year-old Richardson."He said they were looking at me as a [player] to take the franchise to thenext level. It definitely made me feel a lot better."
Charlotte hopesRichardson can fill a role that Jordan played in his early days with Chicago:the go-to guy on an up-and-coming team. He may not be a defender of MJ'scaliber, but Richardson is a 6' 6" former slam dunk champ who scores(18.3¬†career average), hits the boards (5.4¬†rebounds) and wearsnumber¬†23. He and versatile small forward Gerald Wallace should provide ahigh-flying perimeter tandem in the manner of Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
One thingRichardson won't do yet is guarantee a playoff spot, which he did after GoldenState missed the 2005-06 postseason; the following year he led the Warriorsinto their first playoffs since 1994. With forwards Sean May (microfracturesurgery on right knee) and Adam Morrison (torn left ACL) out for the season,the Bobcats' frontcourt is thin. Otherwise Charlotte is on track to contend fora playoff spot soon, having improved its win total in each of its first threeseasons (18¬†wins to 26 to 33) and stockpiled young talent such as EmekaOkafor, Raymond Felton, Matt Carroll and Walter Herrmann.
"We're youngand athletic, with guys who can get up and down the floor," saysRichardson. "I think we can make the playoffs." His new boss doesn'texpect anything less.
An opposing team'sscout sizes up the Bobcats
The big unknown isfirst-year coach Sam Vincent, whose only NBA coaching experience was as anassistant in Dallas last season. . . . Emeka Okafor gets the most out of hisgame as a defensive presence, a shot blocker and a rebounder. But he justdoesn't have the scoring mentality, and the proof is that his team doesn't goto him a lot down low because they know what he can and can't do. . . . Pointguard Raymond Felton should be a backup in this league. He's not good enough tostart--a little too offensive-minded and a little slow. He's more of a powerplayer than a speed player: He uses his body, and he gets inside, but then hedoesn't get to the rim as much as he pulls up. . . . Gerald Wallace is a brightspot: a fringe guy who has become the best player on the team. He can score intransition, shoot the three, post up in the block and slice to the basket offthe dribble. . . . I don't see them going anywhere unless Vincent has a magicalfirst year. If not, the Bobcats will still be a team without a lot ofupside.
Gerald Wallace setthe Bobcats' scoring record last season by averaging 18.1 points. Since2004-05, when Charlotte joined the NBA, every other team has had at least oneplayer average 20 or more points.
STARTING LINEUP: BOB ROSATO; JOHN W. MCDONOUGH; KENT SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (2); BROCK WILLIAMS-SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
NOAH GRAHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
VISIONARY Richardson isn't ready to make another playoff guarantee just yet.