CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Paul Silas sat relaxed and laughing it up with the media Thursday morning, as his Charlotte Bobcats inch closer to the belated start to their 2011-12 basketball season.
Silas has logged a lot of NBA miles as a player and coach, so he's reached a point in his career where he simply isn't going to reveal any stress or major concerns. The man carries a pretty good poker face.
At 68, he's had more winning seasons than not as an NBA head coach, an intermittent stretch that began in 1980, not long after a successful playing career concluded. And he's seen about all there is at this level. He strikes as a realist, one who can't be fooled, but can do some duping himself.
Guys like Silas are often referred to as cagey. He's a master at relaxing players, even rookies who might otherwise be on pins and needles. And when the time calls, Silas is known to reach into his cache reserve at precisely the right moment to affect a needed hint of change.
When he took over for Larry Brown 28 games into last season, Silas evaluated his new team for a while before ordering one of his first mandates: To avoid a seat next to him, players had to take open shots. In addition, they had to convert them.
This eventually infused Gerald Henderson with confidence, especially once his playing time increased after the team traded Gerald Wallace. Overall, though, a calm settled in the organization. Silas was the coach charged with the responsibility of getting the Bobcats back on track, a task he's fully embracing.
"We have some young players who I think are going to develop," said Silas, whose team opens the season Dec. 26. "It's going to take some time, and I think we have enough that we're going to fool a lot of people. I think we're going to be very good."
The NBA pundits disagree. Charlotte, which finished 34-48 last season, is picked by most so-called experts near the bottom of the standings. They are young, though the team brought in forward Corey Maggette in the offseason to give it a bit more gravitas, something the former Duke Blue Devil will certainly provide.
Maggette is entering his 13th season in the NBA, and has been asked to lead the Bobcats as a veteran, but to also produce numbers. The 6-fooot-7 super athlete is just two years removed from averaging 19.8 points per game for the Golden State Warriors. He's averaged more than 20 points three times in his 12 seasons, and is averaging 16.2 points per outing over his career.
Maggette is embracing the responsibilities placed upon him.
"I'm ready. Whatever Paul wants me to do. The situation is for me to do what I do and help the young guys," he said. "We have a lot of talent We have a great nucleus, so it won't be on me, these guys can step up and play."
Charlotte, however, is more about youth. Rookie Kemba Walker, a first-round pick who led Connecticut to the national championship last season, has already had some intense battles with incumbent point guard D.J. Augustine, who's entering his fourth season. Fifth-year forward Tyrus Thomas expects to find a level of consistency and stick with it this season. Henderson (3rd year) could explode.
The third-year man out of Duke averaged 9.6 points per game for the season, but scored 20 or more points seven times after Feb. 15, and also reached double figures in 23 of the Bobcats' final 29 contests.
And, with big man Kwame Brown having moved on, center Boris Diaw must step up down low. He's 29, but a young 29, as he joked. He's averaged 15.1, 11.3 and 11.3 points per night in the last three seasons, respectively, and would serve the Bobcats well if he climbed back toward that 15 figure.
But for Silas, it's about getting better each week. The bench will play, as the 66-game schedule is crunched over a four-month period. Fewer nights in between games means the Matt Carrolls, D.J. Whites, Eduardo Najeras, and Derrick Browns will have plenty of opportunities to help the Bobcats lay down some traction.
And with Silas presiding over the progression, a sense of calm will infiltrate the team and franchise.
"What I do is try to give them confidence that I have confidence in them that they can get it done, that they can do this, that they can be better," the laid back coach said. "And then I want them to have confidence in themselves.
"When they look over and see that I have the confidence that they can make shots, then they'll have confidence in themselves. Normally, most coaches don't give them that confidence, and that's what I try to do."
And that appears to be what this team needs.