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Jordan’s Bobcats hope for repeat trip to playoffs
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Fans buying the new NBA video game with Michael Jordan on the cover have the option of adding the former superstar to their favorite team.
In real life, Jordan knows it’s not that easy to upgrade the roster. Not with a salary cap, luxury tax and a balance sheet full of red ink.
Jordan’s first full season as majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats begins next week after an offseason that saw point guard Raymond Felton leave in free agency, center Tyson Chandler dealt essentially for cap space, and two potential trades to improve the backcourt fall apart.
It’s left uncertainty and depth issues as coach Larry Brown begins his third season charged with getting Jordan’s club back to the playoffs while playing in the same division as the superstar-filled Miami Heat and powerful Orlando Magic.
“We’ll be OK,” Jordan said. “Obviously, we don’t have the marquee three All-Stars, but we’ve got a good young nucleus with something to build upon.”
Buoyed by a trade early last season for Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats rode the eccentric Captain Jack and All-Star Gerald Wallace to a 44-38 record and the franchise’s first playoff appearance. But not long after Jordan bought the team, Orlando quickly ended Charlotte’s season with a four-game sweep in the first round.
Soon the salary cap-strapped Bobcats made no attempt to keep Felton, who signed with New York. They also traded Chandler, acquired last year for Emeka Okafor, to Dallas for Erick Dampier and his $13 million, non-guaranteed contract.
The Bobcats couldn’t find another taker for Dampier and waived him. It got the Bobcats below the $70.3 million payroll threshold that would have triggered the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax _ something Jordan said he wouldn’t pay _ but made journeyman Nazr Mohammed the starting center.
D.J. Augustin is now the starting point guard after a poor sophomore NBA season. That’s because deals for Toronto’s Jose Calderon and New Jersey’s Devin Harris collapsed after extensive talks.
“I’m always looking to better the scenario if any other All-Star point guards become available,” Jordan said. “Sure, I’d be willing to talk but as of right now I’m happy with what I have.”
The good news is Augustin is having an impressive preseason. After acknowledging his confidence was shot last season, he’s making better than 50 percent of his shots, something Charlotte never enjoyed with the poor-shooting Felton.
“He’s in much better shape. He’s much stronger and quicker than he was,” Brown said of Augustin. “He’s got to facilitate more and the only way that’s going to happen is for him to be more aggressive offensively. But I’m sure that’s going to come. He’s had a terrific preseason.”
Behind Augustin is uncertainty. Shaun Livingston is returning from a devastating knee injury in 2007 and has missed most of the preseason, and Sherron Collins is an undrafted rookie.
The Bobcats are in good shape at the wings with Wallace and Jackson, who averaged 21.1 points with Charlotte. Boris Diaw, involved in both the Calderon and Harris trade talks, could see his playing time reduced after the athletic Tyrus Thomas signed a five-year, $40 million deal.
Mohammed provides an offensive spark. There are questions behind him with newly signed Kwame Brown (ankle) missing the preseason.
“We’ve made progress in a lot of areas, but we’ve got a lot of progress still to be made,” said Brown, who flirted with leaving in the offseason. “Under the circumstances with the new people we have and all the injuries, I think we’ve done as well as can be expected.”
But it may not be enough to get Charlotte into the postseason as it plays in the same division as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard?
Jordan has made 13 trades involving 35 players since gaining control of basketball operations in 2006. Since the ownership change in March, the Bobcats have sold 2,000 new season-ticket packages and gained 45 new sponsors as Jordan seeks to make the franchise profitable for the first time.
With those folks to please and with the impatient Brown seeking reinforcements, the team that hits the floor Oct. 27 at Dallas may not be the finished product.
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.
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