After three years of relying on rookies and other inexperienced players, the Charlotte Bobcats hope veteran Jason Richardson will be the piece to turn the struggling franchise around.
Richardson and the Bobcats begin the new season on Friday night when they host the Milwaukee Bucks.
Richardson was traded to Charlotte on draft night from the Golden State Warriors, where he spent all six years of his career. Bothered by an assortment of injuries, he played a career-low 51 games last year and averaged 16.0 points - his lowest in four seasons. He was still an integral part in helping the Warriors upset the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, however, averaging 19.5 points while shooting over 51 percent.
Richardson admitted after the trade that he wasn't originally thrilled with the news.
"It was tough to finally get to the level you want, and then you're shipped off," he said. "But you realize it's still a business. Now it's happened. It's over with. I've still got a contract. I've got my health. And I've got a new NBA team. What more can you want?"
The young Bobcats hope Richardson can bring the same outside shooting and consistent scoring he gave the Warriors.
Charlotte needs some stability after a tough offseason. Adam Morrison and Sean May were lost for the year with knee injuries and the Bobcats are working with new coach Sam Vincent.
Vincent, who replaces Bernie Bickerstaff, has overseas coaching experience, but his time managing NBA teams is limited to one year on Avery Johnson's staff in Dallas.
Nonetheless, Richardson sees potential in Charlotte because of its core of young players like Raymond Felton and Gerald Wallace, who averaged 14.0 and 18.1 points per game, respectively.
"Just imagine a healthy team, adding me to the mix, and the guys really wanting to make an attempt to get to the next level," Richardson said. "We have an opportunity to do something good this season."
The Bobcats announced Wednesday that Emeka Okafor, the first draft pick in franchise history, turned down a contract extension, meaning he will become a restricted free agent on July 1. The forward had said in the offseason that he expected the two sides to come to an agreement, but they failed to get one done before the Oct. 31 deadline.
Despite the uncertainty, Vincent doesn't believe it will have much affect on the Bobcats.
"I don't think it's going to be a distraction for me, the team or for Emeka," he said. "He knows what he has to do."
As Charlotte tries to improve on last season's 33-49 record, the Bucks look to rebound from last year's miserable season and a tough loss to open their campaign. Milwaukee finished 28-54 in 2006-07 after losing four of its five opening-night starters for significant time.
The Bucks got off to a rough start Wednesday with a 102-83 road loss to the Orlando Magic. Milwaukee shot just 37.9 percent from the field and made only 13 of its 22 free throw attempts.
Michael Redd, who was sidelined for 29 games in 2006-07 by a strained tendon in his left knee, led the Bucks with 25 points - 12 in the first eight minutes - and Bobby Simmons added 18 points off the bench. They were the only players for Milwaukee to score in double figures.
"There is nothing wrong with being upset about the loss, but you know we have more games and we could play a lot better," said Desmond Mason, who scored six points and grabbed six rebounds. "We are a better team than we showed tonight and we need to bounce back against Charlotte."
The game marked the NBA debut of Milwaukee first-round pick Yi Jianlian, who scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and grabbed three rebounds. He played 25 minutes, limited by foul trouble.
"If I can control the fouls, I can play much better," Yi said.
The Bucks and Bobcats split four regular-season games last year.
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