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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

John Blanchette: Bobcats don’t need Morrison comparisons

John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

Much has been made of Adam Morrison’s various basketball influences and prototypes, and in fact Morrison has often joined in the parlor game. For everyone’s sanity, however, a moratorium eventually had to be placed on any further comparisons to Larry Bird, except perhaps in terms of upper lip ornamentation.

Then, on the eve of Wednesday’s National Basketball Association draft, Morrison threw this one out there, with both humility and humor:

“I like to consider myself a really poor man’s Dirk (Nowitzki),” he said. “Like dirt poor.”

In the wake of his selection by the Charlotte Bobcats with the No. 3 pick of the draft, a slew of other names were dropped in an attempt to define Morrison – Rip Hamilton, Tom Chambers, Reggie Miller and Bird again.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think Adam Morrison was more derivative than Creed.

But no name association was quite so juicy as the one that linked him with Michael Jordan – unavoidably, it turned out, since Jordan was the newest member of the Bobcats, as part owner, before Morrison came on board.

“We’ve had the addition of two competitors – first Michael Jordan and now Adam Morrison,” said Bobcats coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff. “So that’s our profile, and he fits our profile.”

Well, that’s a hell of a profile, isn’t it?

No one in their right mind will dare extrapolate it beyond the link of employer to employee – but then, minds haven’t been right since all these ‘Stache-inations began last November. At least Morrison is casting it in a reasonable light.

“It would be awesome if I could get some hands-on instruction from Mike,” Morrison said. “Any time the greatest player of all time is telling you what to do … if he told me how to tie my shoes a certain way, I would probably listen.”

Given Jordan’s previous dabblings in the managerial realm with the Washington Wizards, it might be a good idea if he limits his input to lacing for the time being. Surely it was a good sign that he was reported to have merely “signed off” on the selection of Morrison, which was more of a groupthink pick, since people kept bringing up Kwame Brown, Jordan’s previous draft board disaster.

Why, you’d think he’d passed up himself to take Sam Bowie, as Portland did back in 1984.

But the fact is, Bobcats majority owner Robert Johnson sought Jordan’s involvement not for his track record on personnel matters but for aspects that mirror why Morrison was an attractive addition to the Charlotte building program: marketing leverage and mettle.

It is by no means a slight to Morrison to point out his public appeal, since it’s based on his game. Yes, the mustache resulted in the silliness required for such a national dither and the Gonzaga uniform added little-engine rooting interest, but without the theatrics, flair and fearlessness that marked his every court appearance, Morrison is more novelty than nova. The Bobcats picked him because he can play – he will also fill a seat or two.

But Rudy Gay and Brandon Roy can play, too, and the Bobcats passed on them and took Morrison because of something else Bickerstaff saw.

“His courage is really significant,” he said. “Here is a guy who believes that he belongs. He reminds me and has the mentality of a guy I coached in Seattle, Tom Chambers. They play with that chip on their shoulder – they believe they belong in this league.”

It is mind-boggling that this is not a unanimous opinion, but such is the public ramp-up to any draft, which inevitably deteriorates into a fault-finding expedition. Morrison was a natural target. His often casual approach to defense was ammunition enough, but then he had the temerity to weep uncontrollably after the Zags were ousted from the NCAA tournament in gut-shot fashion by UCLA.

He got a little defensive about his defense – “The guys I score 40 on, are they bad defenders?” he started to ask, knowing that a couple of them would also be drafted.

As for the tears, “Obviously, a lot of people have cried after games,” He said. “I’m glad that Michael Jordan viewed it as a positive.”

Which he did.

“I heard some people joking about that,” Jordan said. “All great players want to win, where they’ve gone through those periods of being tearful or they’ve felt low, myself included. It’s a sign this kid cares about the game of basketball.”

He can also shoot it and play it. Morrison worked hard last off-season to improve at moving without the ball, to the point that Bickerstaff compared his ability at coming off screens to that of Hamilton and Miller. In the short interim between the end of the season and draft day, he made incremental gains in vertical jump and strength.

The defense?

“We’re critical of it also,” admitted Bickerstaff. “But he’s willing. We talked about how Larry Bird found a way to make first-team All-Defense. He wasn’t a great athlete, but he figured it out.

“So what we’re about here is what he can do, and when you go out and scout players you try to find a player who does something better than anybody else and then you improve in the areas that he’s weak in.”

In the end, those are the only comparisons that count.

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