Ask Bobcats coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff about his stable of young talent, and he predictably gushes about its potential. Ask him about Charlotte's veterans, and--wait, the team doesn't have any veterans, does it? "Sure we do," says Bickerstaff. "And they're going to play a big role in helping our young guys develop this season."
On the Bobcats the definition of veteran is a 23-year-old small forward who's entering his fourth season. That would be Gerald Wallace, who was the franchise's most pleasant surprise last season. After coming over from the Kings in the 2004 expansion draft, Wallace established himself as a solid frontcourt complement to rookie Emeka Okafor, scoring 11.1 points per game and displaying such strong leadership that Coach Bickerstaff named him co-captain last February. During the off-season G.M. Bickerstaff rewarded Wallace with a three-year, $16 million contract. "Re-signing Gerald was a priority," says Bickerstaff. "He energizes our team when he's in the game, and he's only going to get better."
That's a good thing for a team that includes four starters under the age of 25. Five Bobcats won national titles in college--including a pair of rookies, point guard Raymond Felton and power forward Sean May--but only three have more than four years of NBA experience. "College titles are great, but I told Sean and Ray that we aren't at North Carolina anymore," says Wallace. "This is Charlotte, and we're still an expansion team. We're going to have to earn our respect on the court."
As for the brash Felton, the No. 5 pick who's predicted a trip to the playoffs this season? "A rookie mistake," Wallace says with a laugh. "I'm going to have to talk to him about that." --C.M.
Enemy Lines An opposing team's scout sizes up the Bobcats
"He was already highly touted, but Emeka Okafor turned out to be even better than expected. Still, he's not a franchise player. He might make a couple All-Star teams and play 10 to 15 years, but he'll have a Buck Williams--type career. Though his low-post ability was better than advertised, I don't see him ever becoming the kind of player who can dominate offensively.... Sean May is going to be a backup to Okafor; if they play together, they'll be undersized at both center and power forward. May will have trouble scoring against starters and especially against strong, athletic power forwards.... Raymond Felton was the even-keeled leader who held a very talented North Carolina team together last season, but most scouts had him rated closer to the Number 10 pick than Number 5. To be a topflight NBA point guard, he has to prove that he can shoot and run a team in the half-court.... They re-signed veteran Brevin Knight to serve as a tutor to Felton. Knight is very intelligent, but he's also known as a guy who hasn't handled it very well when his minutes have been reduced.... Primoz Brezec emerged as a good jump shooter who was helpful in the pick-and-pop, but he's neither a defender nor a shot blocker. He's in the bottom third of starting centers in the league."
Emeka Okafor had a double double in 19 straight games, the longest such streak by a rookie since Elvin Hayes had 60 in a row for the San Diego Rockets in '68--69.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004--05 statistics
Record: 18--64 (14th in East)
Points scored: 94.3 (22nd in NBA)
Points allowed: 100.2 (21st)
Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff
(second season with the Bobcats)
Raymond Felton (R)
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (college stats)