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Kickin' It Up

Newly empowered to run and shoot, D.J. Augustin has raised his game, and the Bobcats', a notch

A coach without a team is still a coach, which is why from his home in Lake Norman, N.C., about 35 miles north of Charlotte, Paul Silas watched the Bobcats with an analytical eye. He saw a roster loaded with athletes unable to run, a smooth shooter unwilling to shoot and an erosion of the confidence that came with the franchise's first playoff appearance last season. "I was surprised at the way they were playing," says Silas, who succeeded Larry Brown as Charlotte's coach on Dec. 22. "I just remember thinking, They are better than this."

Silas hasn't tried to reinvent the wheel, just grease it. He snared his son, Stephen, off the Warriors' staff, and for four days of practice before the Bobcats' next game ordered him to put the team through every conditioning drill Don Nelson ever taught Stephen. "They weren't equipped to run," says Silas. "Too many guys played with their hands on their knees. This team should get a lot of easy baskets."

The playbook is still largely the same, save for a few new UCLA sets and one very important mandate: If you're open, shoot. Kwame Brown at the elbow? Shoot. Gerald Henderson on the baseline? Shoot. "If a player feels like the coach doesn't have confidence in him," says Silas, "he won't have confidence in himself." That message was delivered with added emphasis to point guard D.J. Augustin. Under Larry Brown, Augustin played with his head on a swivel, fearing that a quick miss would result in a quick hook. Now, though, Augustin says, "[Silas] told me if I'm open and I don't shoot, I'm going to have a seat next to him."

Silas has empowered the third-year guard in other ways. Brown called most of the plays, but Silas lets Augustin run the show. Instead of trying to mold Augustin into a traditional playmaker, Silas has tapped into his skills as a scorer. In the 28 games before Silas took over, Augustin averaged 12.6 points on 41.9% shooting. Over the last 22 he is averaging 17.8 points on 45.0% shooting. "Coach Brown had beat him up so much, he had started going into a shell," says teammate Stephen Jackson. "Coach Silas has opened it back up."

Ultimately, there are only so many cosmetic changes Silas can make. He can't conjure another scorer to complement Augustin and Jackson. He can't turn Kwame Brown into a post presence, though new assistant Charles Oakley is determined to try. But talk of trading Jackson and forward Gerald Wallace has cooled as the team has played its way into postseason contention—at week's end the Bobcats, 9--19 when Brown was let go, were a half game out of the eighth spot. Making the playoffs might be enough for the 67-year-old Silas, who was 12--10 at week's end, to have interim removed from his title. "I only wanted to coach in Charlotte," he says. "I love seeing guys improve. And I think this team can still be a lot better."

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SCOUT'S TAKE

Cav-Nots

On the Cavaliers, who last Saturday set the single-season record with their 24th straight loss:

"The thing about [coach] Byron Scott's Princeton offense is that it only works if you execute and play hard. They are lazy. Antawn Jamison is jacking up shots early in transition, and there are a lot of guys who look like they just don't care. If I were Byron, I would be pissed that they aren't playing hard. They could be winning more games if they started Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker [who was dropped from the starting lineup for two weeks], but they keep running Manny Harris and Christian Eyenga out there. I don't look at either of them as building-block players. It looks to me like they just decided to throw the young guys out there so they have an excuse when they lose."

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Photograph by KENT SMITH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

BREAKOUT A part-time starter in his first two seasons, Augustin is averaging 14.9 points—up from 6.3 last year.

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ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES