GERALD WALLACE has been to the playoffs before—three times with the Kings—so when Charlotte's leading scorer called the 2008--09 season "a success story," he had some perspective. The Bobcats, who were 7--18 last December, battled back to join the playoff chase until a 1--7 finish prevented them from reaching the postseason for the first time in the franchise's five-year history.
"It was a bummer, of course," says Wallace, "but [first-year coach Larry Brown] immediately came into the locker room after the last game and spun it into a [positive]. To have started the way we did, fixed things, and almost turned it around—we knew [Brown's] system was going to work for us."
Getting to that point required plenty of Brown's signature tinkering. Wallace missed seven games after suffering a collapsed left lung and a fractured rib during a game in late January. Then the team's slow start prompted the Bobcats' brass to fiddle with the roster; Charlotte made three in-season trades involving 11 players and used a league-high 24 players.
"Coach had to put everybody on the same page, teach us about sacrificing for the team," says Wallace. "And that meant clearing some people out." With the addition of swingman stopper Raja Bell last December, the selection of physical Duke guard Gerald Henderson with the No. 12 choice in the draft and the off-season pickup of 7'1" shot blocker Tyson Chandler (acquired from the Hornets for Emeka Okafor), the pieces are now in place to execute Brown's defense-first approach.
That sounds good until you consider that the Bobcats put up a league-low 93.6 points per game last season and that they haven't added any scoring threats. "Our philosophy is [to focus on] defense," says Wallace. "If we're only scoring 80 points but our opponent is scoring 75, what's the difference? You win that game every time."
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: G Gerald Henderson (R), 16.5 PPG; F Vladimir Radmanovic, 6.9 PPG; G D.J. Augustin, 43.9 3FG%; C Nazr Mohammed, 2.0 RPG • New acquisition • (R) Rookie, college stats
COACH: Larry Brown (second season with Bobcats) • 2008--09 RECORD: 35--47 (fourth in Southeast) POINTS SCORED: 93.6 (30th in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 94.9 (ninth in NBA)
Team field goal percentage in the paint, the lowest in the league. One reason the Bobcats missed so often: Their opponents led the NBA in blocked shots (5.95 per game) for the second year in a row.
ENEMY LINES | A RIVAL SCOUT ON THE BOBCATS
Boris Diaw was far and away the team MVP. We knew he was versatile and could create for others, but for him to shoot his threes at 41.7% for Charlotte was a revelation. The big question will be consistency. He also had a big first year with Phoenix in 2005--06, and then he wasn't so good in the second year.... Trading Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler appeared to be about balancing the books: Chandler has one year on his contract and Okafor has five. Okafor is more physical, while Chandler is that long-wingspan defender Larry Brown likes to have at center.... Raymond Felton seemed to be running in sand the last couple of years, but over the second half of last season the light went on for him. I'm still not sure he's a point guard. He seemed to welcome the opportunity to move over and play the two at times.... D.J. Augustin's play more than validated the decision to take him with the No. 9 pick. He has special talents—his speed, his scoring—but his ability to run a team and his defense need to improve, and he may face difficulty in both areas because he's so small.... At least now they have a roster that appears to fit together, with guys who can fill roles and complement one another.
BILL FRAKES (WALLACE)
GERALD WALLACE What can Brown do for him Rebuild with defense.
GREG NELSON (FELTON)