It’s been the same story for almost the entirety of the Charlotte Bobcats’ existence: On paper, they’re supposed to be better than this. With a 12-22 record, the ‘Cats are second-to-last in the Eastern Conference (ahead of Washington) despite a talented and allegedly deep roster featuring Emeka Okafor, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, Ray Felton and rookie D.J. Augustin.
Gerald Wallace, the best overall player in Charlotte alongside Okafor, has been there since the beginning. Taken in the expansion draft when the Kings left him unprotected, “Crash” has established himself as one of the League’s most versatile forwards and best defenders, and is averaging 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals this season. But so far, his team has racked up more Top-5 draft picks than playoff appearances. Last week I talked to Gerald about the Bobcats’ present and future, his role in the whole thing, and adjusting to Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown…
Dime: The biggest story surrounding the Bobcats so far has been the Jason Richardson trade. How has the team played since picking up Boris Diaw and Raja Bell?
Gerald Wallace: It’s been a process, and it was pretty much the same when Jason was here. It was a process going through learning new players and new coaches, us trying to adjust to the coaching staff and the coaching staff adjusting to us. I think right when we were getting it turned around, all of a sudden the trade happened, so now we’ve gotta do it again. Fortunately, Raja is already familiar with Coach Brown’s system. Boris is still finding his way.
Dime: What have you learned about Bell and Diaw that you didn’t know before?
GW: Raja, I already knew a lot about him. With Boris, I didn’t know he could handle the ball and lead the break as well as he does. I also didn’t know he was such a good passer. I think a lot of guys on the team were shocked that he’s such a good passer. It’s something we had to adjust to.
Dime: Before and after the J-Rich trade, your name has popped up in trade rumors. What’s that like trying to play through that?
GW: I think at one point it used to be stressful, but you just take it, get up every morning and do your job. There are worse off things you could be in this world. A lot of people are getting up every day and don’t even have a job. So you can’t let it stress you out; whether you get traded or not, you still have a job.
Dime: Name one player on the Bobcats who’s really impressed you this year.
GW: I think D.J. Augustin. I didn’t know how good a player he was gonna be. I didn’t know much about him since I don’t watch college basketball; I thought he was undersized, but he’s got a lot of heart and determination. He’s amazing me now. Emeka is also playing pretty good. He’s continuing to grow and progress and work on his post game.
Dime: What about yourself? Was there any one thing you wanted to improve going into this season?
GW: I kind of work on everything. The main thing for me has been trying to adjust to Coach Brown and do the things he’s looking for in a player like me.
Dime: What are those things?
GW: You’ve gotta ask him that.
Dime: What’s been the biggest thing Coach Brown has brought to the table?
GW: Just the intensity, the intensity in how he is and the way he wants us to play. That’s the main thing he’s brought to the Bobcats organization.
Dime: Between you, LeBron and Josh Smith, who’s the best at getting those highlight-reel blocks?
GW: That’s for you guys to decide. I don’t get to watch them play every night; I don’t really watch the highlights, either. I don’t really watch sports like that, unless it’s football or baseball.
Dime: You guys are only 3-4 games out of that eighth spot in the East. What’s the attitude around this team on whether you guys can pull it off and get into the postseason?
GW: It’s early; the playoffs isn’t even a thought for us right now. We just want to continue to get better and improve going into the All-Star break. Once you get to All-Star, then you evaluate yourself and the things you need to do to start looking at the playoffs.
Dime: You said you don’t really watch the NBA. That said, how do you mentally prepare yourself for an upcoming opponent as far as scouting?
GW: I don’t. My thing is, you play one game at a time. You can’t look ahead like that. I look at the scouting report in the morning before shootaround, get my rest and come out and play the game. You can’t say, “Oh, I’m gonna stop this guy tonight,” ’cause any guy in the NBA can get 30-40 points on any night. You just stay within the concept of the team defense instead of trying to make it an individual goal.
Dime: How have you noticed teams guarding you as you’ve become a better scorer throughout your career?
GW: I think it’s pretty much the same. I draw more attention now, they might focus more on me, but the primary things are the same. They want to force me to take the jump shot, but if that’s falling, then they just want to keep the ball out of my hands.
Dime: What has to happen in order for this season to be considered a success?
GW: You’ve gotta win. That’s obvious. Just come out and win, and if you win more games than you did the last year, that can be a success.