Stalled talks lead Bobcats to pick-up

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte Bobcats thought the answer to their depth problems at center was to waive Erick Dampier to clear salary-cap space and then re-sign him for less money.

When Dampier wouldn't agree to a new contract, the Bobcats looked at the next-best option. It just so happened to be Kwame Brown, considered Bobcats owner Michael Jordan's worst move as an executive.

Jordan signed off anyway, and now they're reunited -- nine years after Jordan's much-criticized decision to draft Brown No. 1 overall when he was running the Washington Wizards.

Charlotte's strange offseason continued Tuesday when Brown signed a one-year, $1.3 million deal, then met the media wearing shorts with Jordan's Jumpman logo on the side.

"We're always going to be linked, so why not come here, right?" Brown said, smiling.

Meanwhile, Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins says they'll try to trade Dampier -- and his $13 million non-guaranteed contract -- after Sept. 13 when he can be included in multiplayer deals.

"It's going to take a while," Higgins said. "Now that we've got another center, waiving him for the sake of waiving him doesn't make a whole lot of sense for us. We're going to continue to talk to teams to try to improve our roster."

The Bobcats believe the 28-year-old Brown, despite his history of underachieving, can help make up for the loss of Tyson Chandler and Theo Ratliff in the offseason.

Coach Larry Brown likes long, athletic centers -- and reclamation projects. Although Higgins acknowledged a pudgy-looking Kwame Brown must get in better shape, they believe he can fit in a rotation with Nazr Mohammed and DeSagana Diop despite suspect offensive skills.

The 6-foot-11 Brown played in just 48 games last season with Detroit, averaging 3.3 points and 3.7 rebounds. Over his nine-year career with four teams, Brown has averaged 6.7 points and 5.4 rebounds -- hardly what Wizards fans expected when the Georgia teenager became the first player to skip college and be the first pick in the NBA draft.

With all that baggage, why would Brown come to Charlotte, where the old stories from Washington are sure to resurface? Why would Brown want to be asked again about being considered one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history?

"I think a lot of people speculate about my relationship with Michael. But obviously I'm here, so it can't be as bad as you guys think," Brown said. "It didn't work out the way I wanted it to in Washington, but I'm excited about another chance to come out and turn this thing around."

Jordan, who rarely gives interviews, didn't attend the media availability and wasn't available for comment.

"The funny thing about it is we've been talking about Kwame for two years now," Higgins said. "Obviously, Michael has to sign off on the deal, so he was well aware. He gave it his blessing, and we're trying to go forward now."

Higgins' next big move involves Dampier, acquired last month in a five-player deal that sent Chandler to the Mavericks. Dampier's non-guaranteed contract is a big chip for the Bobcats, who are desperately trying to get under the NBA's luxury-tax payroll threshold of $70.3 million.

Charlotte could simply waive Dampier and get under that figure, and they had planned to do that and re-sign him. Because Charlotte is over the salary cap, it only can offer Dampier $2.2 million this season, what's left over from the $5.7 million mid-level exception after the Bobcats struck a two-year, $7 million deal with point guard Shaun Livingston a day after the Dampier trade.

The 35-year-old Dampier rejected that offer, but agent Dan Fegan said his client hasn't completely ruled out returning to Charlotte if he's waived.

"It's not a closed deal from our perspective," Fegan said. "I understand what Rod Higgins is trying to do. I have a good relationship with Rod, and I'm sure we'll figure it out."

It just could take a while.

If the Bobcats can't get anything in return for Dampier, they'll go into camp with major questions at center and point guard after Raymond Felton signed with New York.

"We're always looking around the league with how we can improve, but I think this is going to be an opportunity for someone to step up," Higgins said. "That's the beautiful thing about competition. Looking at our roster, that competition is really going to be at [point guard] and [center]."