CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)-While crisscrossing the country in job after job, Larry Brown has always placed heavy emphasis-and criticism-on his point guards.
Raymond Felton, you're next.
Brown's success or failure with the Charlotte Bobcats in his latest reclamation project rests in large part on how he's able to develop the inconsistent Felton and cultivate big man Emeka Okafor.
"I know he's going to make me better," Felton said. "I know he's going to make our team better. I'm very excited and I'm looking forward to next season."
Minutes after Brown began his ninth NBA coaching job in Charlotte this week, he quickly brought up Felton. Brown made it clear the third-year player out of North Carolina will no longer be shuttled between the point and shooting guard, as former coaches Bernie Bickerstaff and Sam Vincent did.
"He's a point guard. And I think he'll do anything you ask him to do," Brown said. "I look at shooting guard with Matt (Carroll) and Jason (Richardson), that's a pretty good position right now. And Jared (Dudley) can play there a little bit. I think if you look around this league, the teams that are successful have great point guards."
Felton hasn't been a great point guard in Charlotte. He's also played under the constant reminder that the Bobcats passed on a deal to package the fifth and 13th picks in the 2005 draft to take Chris Paul.
Instead, the Bobcats selected Felton with the fifth pick and injury-riddled Sean May at No. 13, and have watched Paul become a star with Charlotte's old team, the New Orleans Hornets.
Felton now will be directly in Brown's firing line. A former point guard at North Carolina, Brown has helped a long list of playmakers improve, from Rod Strickland to Mark Jackson to Chauncey Billups. He also has clashed with many, such as Allen Iverson.
Felton's numbers this season weren't bad. He averaged 14.4 points and was eighth in the league with 7.4 assists. But he shot only 28 percent from 3-point range and has been criticized for not getting players the ball in the right spot. The Bobcats went only 32-50 this season despite adding Richardson and re-signing Gerald Wallace in the offseason.
How the 67-year-old Brown works with Felton could determine if he can erase memories of his ugly season in New York two years ago, and help part-owner Michael Jordan improve his battered image as an NBA executive.
"The great point guards can push the ball up the court and defend the pick and roll, they're athletic and tough," Brown said. "And I think Raymond can do all of that. Michael talked to me about that. That's a big challenge, but I really believe he has the ability to be a great one."
Brown has other challenges on a team that has gone 109-219 in its four seasons.
Okafor becomes a restricted free agent in July. The first draft pick in team history, Okafor is a solid rebounder and defender with limited offensive skills. He turned down a big contract offer from Charlotte last summer, and could decide to sign a one-year qualifying offer that would make him an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2008-09 season.
Brown heaped praise on Okafor, a benchwarmer under Brown on the bronze medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in 2004.
"He's a great athlete. He's a better kid. He has a thirst to learn," Brown said. "He'll do anything you ask. I think those players like him are so hard to come by. And he's got a huge upside. I don't think he's even come close to where he can be. Anybody with athleticism and the character he has has a chance to get better."
After a season of constantly changing rotations and animosity under the inexperienced Vincent, Brown appears to have a roster that's good enough to make the playoffs in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
Richardson, acquired in a draft-night trade, made an NBA-high 243 3-pointers this season, fourth most in league history. Despite concerns about his multiple concussions, Wallace is an extremely athletic slasher and has improved his outside shooting.
The Bobcats do need help for Okafor up front. Nazr Mohammed is a serviceable big man, but Brown also helped trade him once when he was in Philadelphia. May, who has missed 188 of 246 games in his three seasons, could provide a boost up front if he can stay on the floor.
Brown also must decide where to play Adam Morrison, Jordan's first draft pick in 2006, who will return from major knee surgery to find a crowd at the wings.
How Brown juggles all these issues will determine if he can resurrect his reputation after the 23-win season with the Knicks.
"Until my last job I thought every night we went out and played harder than our opponent or played as hard," Brown said. "We tried to defend and tried to share the ball. I think that's always been a staple of all the teams I've been involved with."
In all Brown needs Felton to step up,if Felton doesnt we may not make the playoffs,but knowing Felton hes up for the challenge after averaging 14 points,7 assist and 2 steals Brown should make him one of the best in the league.
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