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Coming of Age (Or Not) In the NBA
January 26, 2009
Three years ago they turned the college season into their personal stage as they waged a dizzying game of can-you-top-this? These days former lottery picks J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison are battling just to get on the floor
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January 26, 2009

Coming Of Age (or Not) In The Nba

Three years ago they turned the college season into their personal stage as they waged a dizzying game of can-you-top-this? These days former lottery picks J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison are battling just to get on the floor

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THE STANDARD-ISSUE NBA warmups are made of a polyester material that wicks sweat off the body. They're Adidas brand, manufactured in China and designed for comfort and durability. If Adidas needs an athlete's testimonial, the company could do worse than approach Charlotte Bobcats forward Adam Morrison or Orlando Magic guard J.J. Redick. To their dismay, both players have spent vast amounts of time wearing the apparel, sometimes going entire games without molting their sweats. � You remember Redick and Morrison, right? Together they hijacked the 2005--06 college basketball season, not only captivating fans with their velveteen shooting and abundant scoring but also polarizing them with their distinctive styles and colorful personalities. Redick was the cold-blooded gunner from Duke with limitless range and comparably vast self-belief. Morrison was the free spirit from Gonzaga, whose ironic mustaches and hairstyles fit with his rambling, idiosyncratic game.

Together, RedMo, as SI once called them, played a transcontinental game of can-you-top-this? that season. As Gonzaga coach Mark Few put it at the time, "It's nothing short of what Bird and Magic did for college basketball [in 1978--79]." One night Morrison was banking in a game-winning three-pointer against Oklahoma State. Another night Redick was lighting up Wake Forest for 32 points. There was a certain gilt by association, as it were, and it was fueled by a friendly rivalry. After games Redick and Morrison would repair to their respective off-campus apartments, spark up the Xbox and engage in marathon sessions of Halo 2. The next morning they'd text each other with trash-talking recaps.

Fittingly, Morrison and Redick were named the Co--Players of the Year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. That summer they were both lottery picks in the NBA draft. At the league's rookie orientation program, according to an NBA executive, a speaker asked players whether they envisioned scoring prolifically in their first season. Among a group that included Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay, only Morrison and Redick raised their hands.

MICHAEL JORDAN has effectively demonstrated that possessing basketball talent and assessing basketball talent are altogether different things. As a Washington Wizards executive, Jordan spent the No. 1 choice in the 2001 draft on Kwame Brown, who's now playing for his fourth team; hired unproven coach Leonard Hamilton, who lasted just one season; and traded guard Richard Hamilton, who became an All-Star with the Detroit Pistons. In his first personnel move as the Bobcats' head of basketball operations, Jordan selected Morrison with the third pick in 2006.

Morrison began his career embedded in Charlotte's rotation. Two months into the season, he turned in a 30-point game; it stands as his career high. As Morrison's liabilities on defense were made apparent, his minutes tailed off, though he still averaged a respectable 11.8 points for his rookie season.

In October 2007 Morrison landed awkwardly in a preseason game and tore his left ACL, resulting in surgery that caused him to miss the entire season. When he returned last fall, the Bobcats had a new coach, Larry Brown, and Morrison was a forgotten man. Through Sunday he had averaged just 4.9 points in 15.3 minutes, playing—or not playing—behind Raja Bell and Matt Carroll, neither of whom was drafted out of college. (Even in the first game after Carroll was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks last Friday for center DeSagana Diop, Morrison played only seven minutes and scored one point.) "I feel like I'm the same player I was in college, but it's much different playing 38 minutes and playing short minutes," he says. "It affects your mentality."

Specifically, Morrison is beset by a vicious cycle common to bench players: The less they play, the less confidence they have; the less confidence they have, the less they play. Such a dynamic scorer in college, the 6'8" Morrison has been reduced to a spot-up shooter. Typically, he stations himself on the wing and waits for a pass from a teammate who's drawn the defense. Yet even on the occasions when the ball arrives, Morrison often defers. In a game against the New York Knicks last month he missed all three shots he attempted, including an air ball. Brown recalls that in hopes of breaking Morrison's slump, he ran plays specifically for him. "[Adam] didn't even touch the ball," Brown complained to reporters. "He just doesn't have a lot of confidence in himself. He has the ability to score but not if he doesn't look for his shot."

In fairness the 24-year-old Morrison is returning from a major knee injury, and, for all intents, is only in his second season. He claims to be fully recovered, but Brown isn't so sure. "I watch Adam, and when he gets tired, he rarely jumps off that leg, taking runners, not being nearly as explosive."

And therein lies another issue. Brown, 68 years old and unmistakably old school, tends to build his teams on a foundation of speed, length and defense—not exactly Morrison's defining traits. Brown also tends to be partial to mature players; when he describes Morrison as "a good, goofy kid," it comes across as backhanded praise. " Adam Morrison," says one Western Conference executive, "is not a Larry Brown kind of player, not at all." Bell, a well-liked veteran who joined Charlotte from Phoenix last month but has already taken on a mentoring role with Morrison, sounds a similar theme. "A guy like Adam with a variety of shots, it will take opportunity and timing," he says. "He needs someone to trust him to do it night in, night out. Once he gets opportunity, we'll see that player who had that swagger about him at Gonzaga."

Reticent and uneasy, Morrison is philosophical about his situation. The losing, he says, is more difficult than any personal shortcomings. (At week's end the 16--24 Bobcats had more defeats this season than Morrison endured during four years at Gonzaga.) Discussing his struggles is, understandably, not a favorite conversation topic. Though slump-shouldered and looking downward, he seeks no sympathy. "The way I look at it, I couldn't ask for anything more out of life," he says. "The money? The lifestyle? In this economy with people getting laid off? Everyone in this league is blessed. I can't get too down."

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