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Ford charged with making Felton a better playmaker

Charlotte assistant coach Phil Ford and Raymond Felton talk during training camp in Wilmington, N.C.
Charlotte assistant coach Phil Ford and Raymond Felton talk during training camp in Wilmington, N.C.

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Growing up with a rabid North Carolina fan as a father, Raymond Felton heard plenty about Phil Ford.

"My dad was always, 'Phil Ford. Phil Ford. Four Corners. Best point guard to ever play at North Carolina,"' Felton recalled Wednesday. "My dad used to talk about him a lot."

Felton followed in Ford's footsteps by playing college hoops at North Carolina, where he befriended the school's all-time leading scorer, who was then working on the Tar Heels' radio broadcasts. Ford gave him tips at practice, and Felton used the advice to help guide the Tar Heels to the 2005 national championship.

Two years later, Felton is the Charlotte Bobcats' point guard, and Ford is the team's new assistant coach, given the task of making Felton the heady playmaker Charlotte needs to reach the playoffs for the first time.

"Raymond is a pro and I'm a pro. We know when we step on the court, even though we're friends, my job is to make him a better basketball player," Ford said.

One of the first things Sam Vincent said when hired as the Bobcats' new coach was how important it was for Felton to lead his up-tempo offense. So Vincent thought it was essential to have an ex-point guard on his bench.

He was able to lure the 51-year-old Ford away from his Isiah Thomas' staff in New York, and quickly told him to work with Felton.

"The one area that we feel like Raymond can improve in is just some of his point guard playmaking decisions," Vincent said. "We want him to be aggressive. But we want him to understand when he has numbers and when he doesn't."

The speedy Felton has averaged 12.9 points and 6.3 assists in his first two seasons after being the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft. But Felton has been criticized for his decisions on the floor. He's forced up shots and hasn't gotten the ball in the right place at the right time. Last season he shot just 38 percent from the field and committed 230 turnovers in 78 games.

"A lot of that had to do with some decisions, shot selections," said Ford, the NBA's rookie of the year with the Kansas City Kings in 1979. "A lot of times he was caught with the ball in his hands and the shot clock running down and he was asked to create and force shots up. Hopefully this year we're going to put him in positions where he takes good shots."

And, more than likely, not as many shots. With the acquisition of Jason Richardson and the re-signing of Gerald Wallace, the Bobcats have two primary scoring threats. Plus, shooters Matt Carroll and Adam Morrison are available off the bench, and Vincent talked Wednesday about getting forward Emeka Okafor the ball more.

Whether the new-look Bobcats gel will rest on a 6-foot-1 point guard that loves to run, but is still learning to make the right split-second decisions.

"When to force it and when not to force it. When there's an open lane and when there's a closed lane. When it's a good shot, when it's a bad shot," Ford said. "There are so many mental aspects of the game that you have to start considering. We're going to work on some of that stuff."