According to the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell (h/t Pro Basketball Talk), Neal's newest team, the Charlotte Bobcats, benched him during the team's Wednesday night victory over the Washington Wizards for "behavioral" reasons.
"I made a mistake," Neal told Bonnell after the game. "Me and coach talked about it and we’ll move forward from there."
What did he do exactly?
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford offered no explanation, calling the ordeal an "internal team matter." Neal wasn't much help, either.
"Just a mistake, something that happened in the confines of the team," he said. "We talked about it, we discussed it and it’s behind us now."
Whatever the case, it's become clear that employing Neal is far from a no-brainer.
Neal arrived in Charlotte at the NBA's Feb. 20 trade deadline after a stint with the Milwaukee Bucks that can be categorized as "disastrous." While in Milwaukee, Neal openly expressed dissatisfaction about his situation, lamenting his decision to leave San Antonio.
"I thought I’d be able to get a consistent 20, 25 minutes a night. But for whatever reason, that hasn’t panned out," Neal told NBA.com's Steve Aschburner in January. "It’s a business. I could have stayed in San Antonio on the qualifying offer, but then you miss out on $6 million."
Aside from being displeased with his role, Neal also clashed with Milwaukee's embattled franchise cornerstone, Larry Sanders.
Following a January loss handed to them by the Phoenix Suns, Neal and Sanders engaged in a shouting match in the presence of reporters, according to the Arizona Republic's Paul Coro. It got so bad at one point, Neal could apparently be heard screaming, "I earn my money. Why don’t you try it?"
No doubt Neal had a point about Sanders, whose season is its own disaster, but Neal isn't in a position of power or prominent enough to be the one calling him out.
More importantly, what gives?
Stories such as these never came out during Neal's three years with the Spurs. Either San Antonio did a phenomenal job at veiling his character issues or Neal is still adjusting to life without coach Gregg Popovich.
Think about it. The Spurs could be the NBA equivalent of the Army or Marines. After spending a large portion of your career under the watchful and disciplining eyes of Coach Pop, the individual freedom that comes with playing outside San Antonio could leave you shellshocked.
Whatever it is that's ailing Neal's psyche, the Bobcats better hope this is a one-time hiccup.
Playoffs are around the corner, and Charlotte will need his scoring acumen if it's to leave any kind of dent in the competition. Mathematically, the Bobcats aren't even guaranteed a postseason appearance, so the last thing they need is Neal making waves.
Maybe this is a case of Neal familiarizing himself with society all over again. Or maybe something is wrong, something we know nothing about.
Or perhaps Neal, a career role player, is simply more high-maintenance than we could have ever imagined.
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