Nine bungling seasons and countless blowouts later, the Charlotte Bobcats have done nearly everything in their power to incite and enrage the few remaining loyal fans who’ve stuck with the team. Each regime has gotten their punches in – from Bob Johnson to Michael Jordan to Sam Vincent to Larry Brown – each blow more punishing than the last. The franchise’s sole purpose seems to – like some misanthropic Starship Enterprise – perpetually explore the boundaries of that infinite space called “rock bottom”.
I’m starting to wonder if it has ever occurred to anyone in the Bobcats’ front office that the very PURPOSE of professional sports is ENTERTAINMENT, which is an admittedly fuzzy concept to define, but thanks to a near decade of Bobcats ineptitude I sure as hell can tell you what entertainment IS NOT.
It Isn’t Cho’s Fault But It Is His Responsibility
Rich Cho knew he was walking into an ugly situation when he took the GM job two years ago. Larry Brown had strip-mined the team bare of assets in exchange for the franchise’s lone Playoff appearance – a four game beatdown at the hands of the Orlando Magic – after which the team was capped out with ZERO star prospects and low on draft picks: AKA an unmitigated disaster. Like any other progressive-minded GM, Cho’s first move was to break out the analytics playbook, understanding that in order to re-acquire precious assets like picks and prospects, he’d have to pull out the sledgehammer and start swinging. Nearly two years and over a hundred losses later, the roster, the brand and the fan-base have been successfully beaten to a pulp.
I won’t argue against the strategy, it was the only card left in the deck. Consider this: In a DEVESTATING fourteen month stretch from June of ’08 to July of ’09 an MJ-enabled Larry Brown traded a future first rounder for Alexis Ajinca, forced the team to take D.J. Augustin over All-Star Center Brook Lopez, traded cap space for Gana Diop and tossed another future first round pick to Chicago for free-agent-to-be Tyrus Thomas. After re-signing Thomas to a $40 million contract the following July, the capped out Cats had to salary dump future Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler and former number five overall pick Raymond Felton. Today’s putrid, blowout-addicted squad was sown from these very seeds.
Still, Cho knew what he was getting into when he took the job and now after a truly EMBARRASSING, SOUL-CRUSHING stretch of bad basketball, it is his responsibility to turn it around.
The Turbo Button Is Not The Panic Button
First, let’s define “turning it around” as simply being competitive. Quantitatively, let’s say over 30 wins and a -3 point differential or better. That puts you in nearly every game. And yes, I know this goes against the “worst place to be is in the Not-tery” theory (©2011, me) but this is a special situation; call it franchise triage. The Bobcats should aim to have a winning home record next season and minimize blowouts (20 point losses or more) to less than eight.
The fans should feel as if EVERY TIME they attend a game at TWC or tune in via FOX Sports/League Pass the team has a LEGITIMATE SHOT at winning. Every single game. The organization owes this to the people who hand over their hard earned money and valuable time.
Entering the summer, Cho will have a small stash of first round picks, an attractive expiring contract and up to $20 million in cap space to play with: the equivalent of a full nitrous boost in Need for Speed or pocket Aces in Texas Hold ’em. It’s what you’ve been waiting for: HIT THE FREAKIN’ TURBO BUTTON.
Is there a chance Danny Ainge would trade Rajon Rondo for Kemba Walker, cap space and a Top 3 pick? HIT THE FREAKIN’ TURBO BUTTON. Convinced that free agents Tyreke Evans or Al Jefferson are All-Stars? HIT THE FREAKIN’ TURBO BUTTON. Do the Bulls want to salary dump Carlos Boozer or Luol Deng? As long as you can send back Ben Gordon, HIT THE FREAKIN’ TURBO BUTTON.
Will any of these guys get you a Championship? Outside of Rondo, probably not, but the Bobcats are so far from the Playoffs right now that the NBA Finals may as well take place in Middle Earth or Hogwarts. Remaining competitive while building a winner has worked for Houston and Indiana, there is no reason the same strategy can’t work for Charlotte.
I won’t go into my usual roster-bation manuevers until we get closer to the offseason. In the meantime, I can’t express enough how important it is for the franchise to regain a semblance of dignity. To be a joke is one thing but to be a stain on the city and the league? That may take decades to wash off if ever at all.