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Critical summer for former first-round pick Ajinca

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Alexis Ajinca made a quick spin move in the post and scored at ease over a helpless defender. Minutes later, Ajinca was berated for not getting back on defense.

The inconsistency in Sunday's practice has come to define the Charlotte Bobcats center. Coach Larry Brown once said he could strangle him. Assistant Dave Hanners calls him unfocused.

What's clear is after two years spent mostly on the bench, the 7-foot-1 Ajinca's NBA future hinges on overcoming the lapses in concentration, judgment and effort.

"Don't tease me," Hanners said. "Do it again and again and again instead of once every five times."

The 2008 first-round pick faces an important week. After appearing in 37 NBA games for 211 minutes in two years and missing the second half of last season following thumb surgery, Ajinca is on Charlotte's summer league team that begins play Monday against Utah.

The Bobcats want to see progress from their spindly legged big man. He's bulked up from 240 pounds his rookie year to 268. Yet he hardly dominated in a four-game minicamp featuring mostly undrafted rookies and journeymen.

"Anytime you have a 7-footer that can shoot, it's always a blessing, a luxury," said Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson, who watched some of the workouts. "But at the same time you've got to get in that paint and be a big man."

Ajinca spent a good portion of a scrimmage Sunday morning watching after assistant Jeff Capel got on him for hustling back in transition.

"You've got to work on your head, on your mind, and just get ready every game to do exactly the same thing you just did the game before that," Ajinca said. "It just depends on me, I guess, to get on my mind what I'm supposed to do, to get rebounds and play defense. Then the points will come."

Ajinca is the reason the Bobcats didn't have a first-round pick in last month's draft. Charlotte in 2008 acquired the 20th overall selection from Denver for a future first-round pick, which the Nuggets later traded to Minnesota.

After taking point guard D.J. Augustin ninth overall, Brown and then-managing partner Michael Jordan wanted a big man. Roy Hibbert went 17th and J.J. Hickson 19th, leaving Ajinca atop Charlotte's draft board because of his long wingspan, quickness, shot-blocking ability and soft outside shooting touch.

A little-known Frenchman, Ajinca arrived not ready physically or mentally to play consistently. He appeared in 31 games as a rookie — mostly getting pushed around in the paint — and had a stint in the NBA Development League before spending the beginning of the summer trying out for the French national team.

Brown went over to watch, and didn't like what he saw.

"I could have strangled him watching him," Brown said before last season. "I was going there to drink the wine and eat the food and enjoy myself. After watching him, nothing tastes good. ... He showed no interest in making their team or playing hard."

Ajinca played in six games at the start of last season before he was assigned to the D-League. He averaged 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocks in 22 games with Maine before tearing a ligament in his right thumb on Feb. 2, ending his season.

He was cleared to play again shortly after Charlotte was swept in the first round of the playoffs by Orlando.

"It feels weird because it's in my head. I'm still scared to get it hit," Ajinca said of his thumb. "It feels OK. I don't feel any difference when I'm shooting or trying to dunk the ball. I think it's going to be OK for the season."

Next season could determine how long Ajinca stays in the NBA. The Bobcats may not pick up the fourth year of his rookie contract, which would mean he'd be playing in the last year of his deal.

"He still has to be focused to be more consistent with his effort," Hanners said. "He plays great for two or three minutes and then he disappears for a little bit. ... It's not because he's a bad guy. He's just a young guy and he forgets, forgets he's not playing hard."

Maybe his new tattoo will help. Ajinca showed up to camp with a Japanese symbol below his right ear that he says means "great talent sent from God."

"Coach is always saying I have good talent, great talent," Ajinca said. "Now I've got to show that talent and work on it to show all I can do on the court. It just depends on me."