Cho's immediate influence with Bobcats on display


by Mike Cranston | Associated Press

Posted on June 24, 2011 at 10:08 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Rich Cho was still general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers when he went to Spain last month to look at a player who had intrigued him on video and at a recent camp.

Cho watched the lanky Bismack Biyombo of Congo work out, had dinner with him, met with his agent and left for home convinced the Blazers had to try to move up in the draft to take the relatively obscure 18-year-old big man.

"On and off the court, I really felt like he had the DNA of a player that would be a great fit for any organization," Cho said.

That organization turned out to be the Bobcats. After getting fired by Portland and quickly hired for the same job by Charlotte last week, Cho went into overdrive to persuade owner Michael Jordan to gamble on the athletic shot-blocker.

Cho's hard sell led to the three-team trade that sent top scorer Stephen Jackson to Milwaukee Thursday so the Bobcats could acquire the seventh pick from Sacramento.

"He was definitely who we targeted," Cho said of Biyombo.  "All the intel we acquired we really felt that Detroit was going to take him at eight so we had to get ahead of them at seven."

Charlotte then took another Cho favorite, Connecticut point guard Kemba Walker, two picks later in a clear sign of Cho's immediate and strong influence within Jordan's suddenly new-look franchise.

"What we want here is sustained success," Cho said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but these are two really good building blocks."

The sight Friday of the youthful Biyombo and Walker -- who was already showing off a jersey with Jackson's old No. 1 -- was a striking signal of just how quickly and completely Charlotte has overhauled its roster. Only two rotation players, power forwards Boris Diaw and Tyrus Thomas, remain from the 2010 playoff team that was swept by Orlando in the first round.

Left is a roster that combined for 62.4 points of NBA scoring last season amid hints the Bobcats are only looking ahead to what's expected to be a stocked draft and free-agent class in 2012.

Walker, though, isn't ready to write off next season.

"We're going to come to this team with positive attitudes," Walker said, looking at Biyombo on the same podium. "We're going to come in willing to learn and we're going to push guys. Like me, I'm going to push D.J. (Augustin). He's going to push other guys, like Tyrus (Thomas). I'm looking forward to it."

Walker, who averaged 23.5 points last season while leading UConn to the national title, would seemingly be counted on to pick up the scoring slack along with veteran Corey Maggette, who was acquired from the Bucks in the Jackson trade.

How the 6-foot-9 Biyombo, an athletic rebounder with a large wingspan and a subpar offensive game, will fit is more of a mystery.

When asked during Friday's press conference if he could play center, Biyombo replied confidently, "I'm ready to go." That prompted a playful fist pump from coach Paul Silas, who was seated in the audience.

But even though Charlotte is without a healthy center under contract for next season and has an abundance of power forwards, Silas said earlier he'd hesitate playing Biyombo in the middle.

"Really, I'm going to look at the 4 more than anything," Silas said.

Then there's the "dispute," according to Cho, regarding a potential buyout in Biyombo contract with his pro team in Spain.  But Biyombo insisted that wouldn't keep him from reporting to Charlotte when the labor stalemate ends.

"I'm going to play in the NBA next season for sure -- 100 percent," Biyombo said.

Cho needs that to get his Charlotte tenure off to a good start after making this gamble on another Congo native. Cho was in Oklahoma City's front office in 2008 when the Thunder took Serge Ibaka in the first round.

The Bobcats would take something resembling Ibaka's production from Biyombo, who broke into laughter Friday as he retold the odd relationship with Cho that has spanned two teams and three continents.

"He was like, 'Man, when I was in Portland I wanted to move up. Now I've got No. 9 and we're going to pick you up.' I said, 'OK, no problem,"' Biyombo said. "Then after the workouts he's like, 'No, no, no, no, you're not getting to 9. I'm going to have to move up again.'

Biyombo said when the Bobcats made the deal he immediately knew he was headed to Charlotte. Walker had got no similar assurances from the Bobcats.

"I was just praying. I was nervous," Walker said. "When the commissioner called my name I was shocked."

Now the 6-foot-1 Walker will join the 6-foot Augustin as 1-2 punch of undersized point guards on a rebuilding team.

"In practice they're going to be going at each other," Silas said. "You're going to have two quality guys at that point. Now we have to find a way to play them both together."

How Walker and Biyombo develop will go a long way in determining if Jordan's latest overhaul -- he's approved 16 trades since joining the franchise in 2006 -- will finally lead to a success on the court for a team that has never won a playoff game.

"To be able to get both of them," Cho said, "was like a home run for us."