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Fowler: New Bobcats Neal, Ridnour get out of NBA Jail

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/22/22/40/iSakQ.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Bob Leverone - AP
    New Charlotte roster additions Luke Ridnour, left, and Gary Neal watch their teammates from the sideline on Saturday night. They’re expected to be on the floor soon.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/20/23/51/bZkZ2.Em.138.jpeg|473
    Matt Slocum - AP
    Milwaukee Bucks' Gary Neal was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats Thursday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/20/21/25/MrIot.Em.138.jpeg|200
    David Zalubowski - AP
    Former Milwaukee Bucks guard Luke Ridnour

Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour are smiling a lot these days, which is what you would do too if someone had just traded you from Milwaukee to Charlotte.

Milwaukee is a mess. The Bucks are the NBA’s worst team – 10-45 as of Monday – and it’s not even close as to who is the second-worst. I feel sorry for Ramon Sessions, a fine player who the Bobcats shipped to Milwaukee just before last week’s trade deadline.

Neal and Ridnour, on the other hand, just had their “Get Out of NBA Jail Free” cards handed to them.

“For me and my family, we were just pure excited,” Ridnour said. “It was a tough go out there in Milwaukee.”

“As a player, it’s exciting to have every game mean something,” Neal said. “That’s what you want.”

The Bobcats are 27-30, on a four-game win streak and solidly in the playoffs if they began today. Charlotte is not San Antonio – where Neal played the previous three years before this one – but it sure ain’t Milwaukee, either.

Ridnour will do what Sessions used to. In his 11th NBA season, Ridnour is a pure point guard – a pass-first player who will sub in for Kemba Walker at the point when Walker needs one of his infrequent breaks.

Neal’s role will be to take advantage of the open three-point shots afforded by all the attention teams must pay to Al Jefferson inside. Best-case scenario: He becomes a Dell Curry-esque sharpshooter off the bench. Worst-case: He misses his first 20 treys and takes a seat beside Ben Gordon.

Neal has confidence in himself, though. You’d have to after taking the road the undrafted Neal took to the NBA: three years overseas first in Turkey, Italy and Spain before he ever made it to the league.

“I’m not the most physically gifted guy,” Neal said. “I’m a 6-4 shooting guard who can’t jump out of the gym. I’m not the quickest guy. But I compete, night in and night out. And I’ve got a work ethic so that when you get your shots, you have put the work in to make them.”

Neal also realizes how fortunate he was to land in San Antonio – widely considered the NBA’s model franchise – for his first NBA job in 2010. “If my first situation had been Milwaukee, maybe I’m there one year and then back overseas,” he said. “But I was blessed to get on a great team.”

Neal should be in Charlotte next year, too, as he is signed through 2014-15 at $3.25 million per season. Ridnour’s contract expires at the end of this season. I ultimately like this deal because it gave the Bobcats two rotation players in exchange for one in Sessions but whether it actually works out hinges on how well these two play.

They have caught another break besides getting relocated. The Bobcats have the rarest of weeks. They don’t play again until Friday. Neal and Ridnour are taking a crash course in terminology until then, when they will be thrown into the rotation.

“It’s like training camp for me and Gary,” Ridnour said. “But we’ll pick it up.”

They better. Their first four games will be against the NBA’s best four teams by record: San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Miami and Indiana. Ready or not, here it comes.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler
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