Part Three: ’11 and Beyond: From The Ashes, a New CHOpe
Having been so thoroughly fleeced in every trade and flummoxed in every Draft, Jordan & Higgins were at least humble enough to admit that they were clueless.
Just weeks before the 2011 Draft, Trailblazers general manager Rich Cho was fired after less than a year on the job. Blazers owner Paul Allen wasn’t thrilled with Cho’s “communication style” and decided to lay down the axe immediately. Portland’s loss was Charlotte’s gain as Jordan quickly hired Cho to run the Bobcats in the same capacity, “promoting” Higgins to President of Basketball Operations – supposedly due to his steller work as GM. The Cho hiring signified a major shift for Jordan as an owner and he deserves a great deal of credit for it. While Allen fired Cho for not being a “yes man”, Jordan sought out the strong-minded GM for the exact opposite reasons.
Cho’s pedigree instantly re-ignited the hardcore fanbase: armed with an accomplished academic resume in both engineering and law, Cho began his NBA career as a member of the Sam Presti-led Seattle/OKC organization during the mid-’90s. Cho was (and still is) regarded as one of the brightest front office minds in the game – an expert negotiator with a progressive approach towards talent evaluation via proprietary information gathering and advanced statistical analysis. The man’s resume was impressive but the task ahead of him – rebuilding an asset starved franchise – was monumental.
The 2011 Draft: Bismack Biyombo C Congo, Kemba Walker PG UCONN.
Cho made an impressive pre-Draft move just weeks after being hired, somehow upgrading from the 19th overall pick (via Portland) to the 7th spot for the slim price of “downgrading” from Stephen Jackson to Corey Maggette. Armed with picks 7 and 9, Cho went the traditional route, nabbing a big man and a point guard to begin the re-building process.
How It Played Out: After two seasons it seems that Kemba Walker has All-Star potential. Whether he gets there or not depends on the front office surrounding him with some legitimate NBA talent. On any given posession Walker has been the team’s best offensive option; to pass to a teammate has been mostly a perfunctory exercise as no Bobcat outside of Gerald Henderson has managed any sort of sustainable scoring. We know that Walker can run the break, we know that he can get to his spot as well as anyone, we know that he’s a leader. Kemba has the heart to get to the next level but he’ll need help along the way. Regardless, he’s already become the Bobcats’ best draft pick since fellow UConn Huskie Emeka Okafor and for this franchise, that’s a bonafide win.
Then there’s poor Bismack Biyombo. Unlike his NCAA Champion “Thunder & Lightning” classmate, Biz entered the league as an extremely raw 19 year old project. He needed consistency, patience, veteran guidance and attention. What he got was a lockout shortened training camp, three coaching staffs in three years, an unearned role as starting NBA center and the youngest, worst roster in the NBA. Yet, through all of this, Biyombo has improved. Ironically, given Cho’s background in advanced stats, Bismack’s advancements are better evaluated with the naked eye than the spreadsheet. During Biz’s sophmore campaign we witnessed the following: at least three step-back jumpers (including a ridiculous call-off fadeaway on Thaddeus Young), dozens of baby hooks over both shoulders, vastly improved footwork, aggressive putbacks and transition buckets. Biyombo even learned how to go straight up for a dunk off the catch – did he even record a clean catch during his rookie season? Don’t get me wrong, Biz is still extremely limited offensively. The maddening habit of bringing the ball way down after an offensive board is still there. But between the elite defensive flashes, the intellect, the youth (Biyombo can’t legally order a drink until August) and the work ethic, we might be looking at an NBA All Defensive First Teamer in the next few years.
How It Should Have Played Out: As nice as Cho’s inaugural Draft was, he did miss out on a couple of gems. Passing on Kawhi Leonard once can be forgiven (thirteen other teams committed the same sin) but passing on him twice? Selecting Leonard with the Biyombo pick would’ve freed up Charlotte to take Andre Drummond the following season, giving them a nice Leonard/Drummond/Walker core going forward. Cho also passed on smooth shooting Klay Thompson, the crazy energy of Kenneth Faried and do-it-all center Nikola Vucevic. But ultimately, when measured against the team’s lurid Draft history, none of these gaffes even register. A solid first Draft for Rich Cho and a solid start to the rebuilding process.
The 2012 Draft: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist SF Kentucky, Jeffrey Taylor SG Vanderbilt.
How It Played Out: When you build from the ground up, you need everything. Cho’s second Draft was all about solidifying the foundation, regardless of current skill level or position. After losing the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, the Bobcats ended up with whom many believe to be the leader of the 2012 NCAA Champion Wildcat team, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. His rookie season played out much as everyone expected. The shooting wasn’t there yet – opposing defenses needed only to protect the paint when MKG and the rest of his brick-laying squad came to town – but the on-ball defense, rebounding and transition offense were at times stellar. Kidd-Gilchrist achieved these modest feats despite being the youngest player in the league (he won’t turn 20 until September) and while playing for the league’s least credible coach (yet another Higgins catastrophe – but that’s another topic for another column). It was MKG’s relentlessness and work ethic that made him the obvious pick for a franchise in need of a massive culture shift.
With the first pick in the second round, Cho nabbed another defense-first wing stopper in Vandy’s Taylor. Armed with tremendous physical size for his position and a solid stroke from long distance, Taylor provides an intriguing “three & D” combination at the two guard spot. He’ll need to improve his handle to thwart close-outs but the defensive intensity is there. This guy could be a legitimate Danny Green-type player in two years.
How It Should Have Played Out: Given his age, it’s still way too early to second guess the MKG pick. Harrison Barnes or Bradley Beal would have immediately provided the spacing and scoring the Cats desperately need. Andre Drummond has the imposing size and hops to be a Dwight/Amare hybrid if he can kick the injury bug. Damian Lillard’s ceiling may have already been reached but he’ll remain one of the league’s top point guards nonetheless.
Regardless of how it all plays out, the 2011 and 2012 Drafts represent a massive shift for the franchise. Cho’s Drafts demonstrate a measured strategy and philosophy. The Bobcats are now in the business of drafting hard-working, uber-athletes with great attitudes and sky-high upsides. Two years later, we still don’t know if the strategy works but, for the first time in franchise history, we at least know there is one.
Up Next: The 2013 Draft – The Final Draft in “Bobcats” History!
On May 31st, 2007 Bobcats expansion architect Bernie Bickerstaff stepped down as both coach and general manager, replaced by former Golden State executive and longtime “friend of Michael” Rod Higgins. Higgins would preside over the next four Charlotte drafts to mostly awful results though it must be noted that many of his personnel moves were likely at the behest of either an absentee Jordan or a certain kvetchy, neurotic head coach. As with Bickerstaff, Higgins’ tenure started out decent enough but nosedived fast.
The 2007 Draft: Brandon Wright PF UNC, Jared Dudley SF Boston College, Jermareo Davidson C Alabama.
Wright (8th overall selection) never played a minute in Charlotte as Higgins used his connections with the Warriors to engineer a Draft Day trade. In exchange, the Bobcats received their biggest “name” player to date, Jason Richardson. A hyper-athletic, sweet shooting two guard, “JRich” had missed a big chunk of games during the Warriors’ Playoff run the previous season and coupled with the sudden emergence of Monta Ellis, was deemed expendable by Golden State management.
With the 22nd overall selection (from TOR via CLE) the Cats picked up blue collar small forward Jared Dudley. Jermareo Davidson, a 2nd round pick selected one spot ahead of future Bobcat Josh McRoberts, was sent to Charlotte as part of the Richardson deal.
How It Played Out: At the time the JRich trade made all kinds of sense for Charlotte. First, having whiffed on Brandon Roy in the ’06 Draft, the Cats desperately needed a floor spacing, high scoring two guard to pair with Gerald Wallace. Second, they needed someone who was ready to do this immediately as both Emeka Okafor and Wallace were already in their mid-20s primes. Finally, the local fanbase hadn’t exactly come out full force for a no-name, no-win team and needed someone at least vaguely recognizable as an NBA player to get excited about.
As a two-time Slam Dunk champion and 20ppg scorer, Richardson was exactly what the doctor ordered. He started all 82 games for the Bobcats that season, averaging 21.8ppg on 44% shooting and a phenomenal 40% from downtown — phenomenal because he shot 599 threes on the year, making 243 of them (that’s more than Kemba Walker and Ben Gordon hit combined during the ’12-’13 season). Richardson rebounded at a high rate (5.4 per), made some spectacular dunks and played hard every night. So why aren’t we talking about JRich as one of the all-time great Charlotte ballers? The answer to that question is precisely what has plagued the Bobcats franchise from the beginning: coaching and management instability.
Earlier that summer, following the departure of Bickerstaff, Jordan began a search for what he called “the next Avery Johnson“, a former player, ideally a point guard, who could relate to and inspire young prospects to win big. His choice was Sam Vincent, yet another former teammate, whose biggest head coaching gig to date was with the Nigerian Women’s National Team. I swear I didn’t make that up. Vincent’s lone season with the Cats went much as you’d expect and less than a year later Jordan replaced Vincent with (very) old chum Larry Brown.
Cut to December 10, 2008: Larry Brown so despised Richardson’s efficient (18.6 PER), exciting all-around game that he sent Jason and promising youngster Dudley (aka the Bobcats entire 2007 Draft) to the Phoenix Suns for role players Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. Despite Richardson’s outstanding first season in the QC, the Cats class of ’07 never really had a chance to shine.
How it Should Have Played Out: It’s easy to say that Charlotte should have kept the 8th pick and selected Florida center Joakim Noah, who went one selection later to the Bulls. But at the time the organization was committed to Okafor long term and there were major questions regarding Noah’s role in the pro game. Had the organization resisted overpaying Emeka (again, they bid against themselves) and not kowtowed to Larry Brown’s every neurotic wish, Okafor would likely still be manning the middle for Charlotte today as a solid Top-15 NBA center. Had the organization stuck with their strategy and either retained Bickerstaff or hired a competent head coach who could work with the roster he was given, the JRich Draft Day trade would look a lot better in retrospect and it’s likely Richardson’s name would be synonymous with the franchise as much as Wallace’s has. The organization could have also given Dudley at least another year or two to blossom before trading him for a greater return.
2007 Draft Fun Fact 1: To date, only two of the twelve Bobcat first round draft choices have signed rookie deal extensions: Okafor and Dudley. That pretty much says all you need to know about the Charlotte Bobcats as a franchise.
2007 Draft Fun Fact 2: The Bobcats are so bad at drafting that picking Dudley one spot ahead of Wilson Chandler isn’t even worth mentioning. Just a run of the mill Bobcat screwup.
Grade: B+ (for the Draft Day haul), F- (for what they did with it)
The 2008 Draft: D.J. Augustin PG Texas, Alexis Ajinca PF France
Brown was hired just two months before this Draft and had already started making demands on Higgins and Jordan to get the players he wanted. Even though Brown had been both a point guard and a Tar Heel himself, he was not a fan of incumbant starter Raymond Felton and wanted the organization to draft a new point man whom Brown could mold from scratch.
The story is by now infamous. The Bobcats were on the clock with the 9th overall pick and had sent a representitive to the podium to relay the selection of Stanford center Brook Lopez. Larry threw a hissy fit at the very last moment and the pick was changed to Augustin, a five foot ten inch sophmore from Texas. But Larry wasn’t done yet. He was convinced that there would be another quality big available later in the first round so urged the Cats to make a blind trade with Denver for the 20th overall pick in exchange for a future first rounder. With that selection, Charlotte selected the great French BMX rider Alexis Ajinca.
How It Played Out: Classic Bobcats. They make a mistake and reach for a point guard in ’05 (Felton), assign him three coaches in four years and decide that he’s a bust. Learning nothing from the experience, they use another Lottery pick to reach for another PG (Augustin) three years later which creates an unnecessary controversy that ends up screwing up both of their careers. Presto! Ah-la-ka-FAIL!
D.J. had some nice moments in Charlotte early (43% 3pt FG percentage as a rook) but never really put it together. To the surprise of no one, Augustin’s size was a major liability on defense and unlike the handful of successful small lead guards, D.J. couldn’t finish anything at the rim. Once defenses figured out that Augustin could only punish them on the perimeter, D.J.’s shooting percentages tanked. Four seasons later, he signed on as the Pacers’ backup for the league minimum.
It is an extemely impressive feat that Alexis Ajinca makes the Bobcats’ Mount Rushmore of terrible draft picks – the exclusive club that it is. What Brown and Higgins saw in Alexis is a mystery: He had no real basketball skills, just a tall lanky man-child who could occasionally hit a jumper. His attitude and work ethic were questioned from the start. Even fellow frenchmen and teammate Diaw seemed to distance himself from the kid. Long story short, Ajinca was jettisoned to Dallas less than three years later as part of the Tyson Chandler reverse salary dump, never to be seen or heard from again.
How it Should Have Played Out: The 2008 NBA Draft may go down as one of the greatest draft classes of all time. We’re only five years in and already have one MVP (Derrick Rose), five All-Stars, at least a dozen legit Playoff-quality starters along with another dozen ten-year career guys. The Bobcats had to try REALLY HARD to screw up a Draft like this – especially since they owned two of the Top 20 picks – yet somehow, some way, Brown and Higgins pulled it off.
Let’s start with the obvious. They should’ve drafted Lopez. It was just as obvious then as it is now: seven footers with skills like Brook’s are a lot rarer than mediocre 5’10” point guards. Case closed. And just how bad was the Ajinca pick? Here are the guys drafted immediately after Alexis: Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee, Kosta Koufos, Serge Ibaka, Nicholas Batum, George Hill, Darrell Arthur. You could’ve picked a random stranger off the street, blindfolded them and had them throw a dart at the draft board and ended up with a better prospect. So yeah, instead of walking away from the decade’s deepest draft with Lopez/Ibaka, Lopez/Batum or Lopez/Hill, Charlotte reached for two guys who’ll be lucky to total nine seasons in the league combined. There are literally not enough F’s or minus signs I can give this debacle.
The 2009 Draft: Gerald Henderson SG Duke, Derrick Brown SF Xavier
How It Played Out: Whoa! What’s this? Did the Bobcats find a way to not completely blow a Draft???!!! While I would’ve loved to have seen the team make an aggressive move up to take homegrown Steph Curry (7th overall), staying put at pick 12 and landing Gerald Henderson was as big a Draft win as this organization has had since its inception (a sad truth). Sure, passing on Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson subtracts some points but the Cats already had two Lotto PGs on the roster and needed some youth at the wings. The best part about Henderson is that he was likely the organization’s second choice as rumors before the draft had Larry Brown very high on Louisville’s Terrence Williams (of course he was). Thanks to former Nets GM Rod Thorn, T-Will went 11th and the Cats dodged a major bullet.
This July, Henderson may very well be, wait for it, the THIRD Bobcats draft pick to sign a rookie deal extension!* It probably won’t be with Charlotte but beggars can’t be choosers. While it’s doubtful Henderson ever earns a trip to an All-Star game, as a plus defending, Rip Hamilton-lite, Gerald has become an honest to goodness NBA player.
*Editor’s Note: Henderson did indeed sign an extension later that summer (3yrs, $18m) – thus becoming the SECOND ever Bobcat draft pick to sign an extension with the team.
It didn’t start out that way. Coach Brown, likely still bummed that he didn’t get T-Will, benched Henderson for most of his rookie season while 2nd Rounder Derrick Brown stayed in the rotation. Midway through year two Coach Brown was ousted and “Hendo” saw his playing time double under new coach Paul Silas. In years three and four, Henderson was a proud co-Captain of Team Tank, providing some of the era’s rare highlights. His reward? At least $5-6 million annually from someone this July. Nice work Gerald, you’ve earned it!
How it Should Have Played Out: Ideally, the team would’ve used the 2010 pick that they swapped for Alexis Ajinca to trade up five spots for Steph Curry. One can only imagine how the QC’s favorite hoops son would’ve have ignited the fanbase new and old. Watching Steph swish deep threes while wearing his dad’s old Hornets #30 would’ve made even the most hardened of Charlotte NBA fans misty. Actually, no, don’t imagine it. It’ll just make you sad. And then angry. And then sad all over again.
In May of 2010, the Charlotte Bobcats made their first ever Playoff appearance. The series wasn’t competitive – they were swept by the Orlando Magic in four games – but young franchises traditionally celebrate their initial break-throughs into the post-season, toasting their efforts as the first of many appearances to come. But this wasn’t the case with the Bobcats at all. In fact, the appearance signaled the beginnings of a very dark time in Queen City hoops history. A time the franchise is still mired in today.
In order to achieve their lone Playoff cameo, Michael Jordan and Rod Higgins had sacrificed the franchise’s future with short-sighted, cap-killing trades and draft pick give-aways while handing over whatever talent that was left to a senile phony of a head coach primed for sabotage. Suddenly, all of the franchise’s past blunders would collide, setting them on a collision course with rock bottom.
The 2010 Draft: No Pick.
How It Played Out: Want to know how the Charlotte Bobcats became the national laughingstock they are today? Let’s take a short detour back to the year 2010 and see how Jordan & Higgins demolished the franchise’s future in Four Easy Steps…
STEP ONE: The Bobcats didn’t have a first round draft pick that year because they had traded it two seasons earlier for Alexis Ajinca.
STEP TWO: The team traded ANOTHER future first round pick at the Trade Deadline for Tyrus Thomas. And since you can’t trade a future first round pick for a restricted free agent then have him walk, MJ and Higgins promptly signed Thomas to a 5-year $40 million contract that July.
STEP THREE: The Tyrus contract was bad news for 2005’s fifth overall pick (and starting point guard) Raymond Felton. The team was in major cap trouble and had another Lottery point guard (D.J. Augustin) already on the payroll. Just five years earlier the team had choosen the Felton/Sean May combination over Chris Paul and now both were gone via free agency netting zero compensation in return.
STEP FOUR: Having dedicated over half of their cap space to the legendary likes of Gana Diop, Nazr Mohammed, Boris Diaw and the noveau riche Tyrus Thomas, Jordan & Higgins decided to make a final major move to trim salary. Their solution: Trade Tyson Chandler to Dallas for the instant cap relief of Erick Dampier’s unguaranteed contract and over $20 million worth of Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera. The trade was ridiculed from the moment it happened and only looks worse with time. Let’s break it down:
Jordan & Higgins had painted themselves into such an unnecessary salary corner over the years that they had to choose Diop and Mohammed over future Defensive Player of the Year Chandler. That’s a tragically terrible move on its own but IN ADDITION to this devestation, they were somehow talked into taking on three more years of dead-weight, end-of-the-bench salary in the forms of Carroll and Najera. The trade was so lopsided that it actually swung an NBA Championship ten months later. It was simply the worst transaction in franchise history (which is no small feat) and possibly the league’s worst trade since Boston’s McHale/Parish heist of Golden State thirty-five years earlier.
Now back to the 2010 Draft…
How It Should Have Played Out: Had the Bobcats not traded their pick, they would have selected 16th overall. Kevin Seraphin, Eric Bledsoe and Avery Bradley were picks 17, 18 and 19 respectively. None are likely to be All-Stars but each is a bonafide rotation player and are drastically more talented and valuable than Alexis Ajinca ever will be. Between his lowly Drafts, questionable trades and a blatant display of nepotism (wasting a roster spot on his son Cory over two seasons), it is absolutely ASTOUNDING that Rod Higgins still has a job in the league – with the same team no less! All I can say is, those compromising photos of MJ better be worth hiding.
GRADE: F- (for the Draft),
F————————————-(for the Higgins Era)
NEXT UP IN PART THREE: MJ HIRES A SMART PERSON TO PRESS RESET!
It starts with the city itself. Once a shining example of the NBA’s ever-growing popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Charlotte finds itself today as a middle aged divorcee six years into a rebound marriage, unsure if it was ever cut out for this pro basketball city thing to begin with.*
The team’s first All-Star and only remaining original member was a bargain bin castoff selected in the expansion draft. Young Gerald Wallace was worth less to the Sacramento Kings than shedding $1 million from their bloated payroll.
Even though he is only one of a dozen or so current NBA players who can score twenty points a night while preventing his opponent from doing the same, Stephen Jackson was exiled from Golden State for what amounted to a $5 million expiring contract and a poor shooting, non-rebounding Eastern European caveman.
Once universally revered, hall of fame head coach Larry Brown arrived in Charlotte a tarnished brand. In a League where head coaching vacancies are filled annually by the same retread Temp Agency, Brown had to practically reach out to an old friend in order to secure a job and begin rebuilding his reputation.
And finally there’s Jordan. A man who could do no wrong on the court is now the man who can barely do anything right off of it. Joining the names Ehlo and Russell in the MJ ethos are new ones like Kwame and Morrison. For the first time in nearly 30 years, Michael Jordan has something to prove in the game of basketball.
A BRIEF, PAINFUL RECAP
Successful small market teams (OKC, San Antonio, Portland, Utah, Orlando) use the same formula and we all know it: BUILD THROUGH THE DRAFT. Draft stars to cheap rookie deals, treat ‘em well, sign ‘em to big contracts before they hit free agency and keep drafting young talent and signing mid-level free agents to pair with them. Rinse and repeat.
The Bobcats are currently the worst drafting franchise in the NBA. It’s not even up for debate. In six plus years of existence, not once has one of their draft picks sniffed an All-Star game – and the ‘Cats have had more lottery selections than anyone else in that span. Indulge me for another brief and painful recap:
2004: Emeka Okafor. GRADE: a solid double. Could have had more picks and taken Big Al or Iggy if Bob Johnson had a clue about running a business, “hmm, buy a pick from Phoenix for $2 million to draft Jefferson, Deng or Iguodala or build a brand new cable sports network from scratch? What’s the main draw you ask? Charlotte Bobcats basketball of course! Brevin Knight every night!”
2005: Ray Felton/Crab Bread May. GRADE: a sacrifice bunt. Felton a below average starter for a few years, May on his way to hosting Man vs. Food: EXTREME CARBS!
2006: Adam Morrison. GRADE: whiff. Not only a whiff but a McGwire Whiff. The kind where the guy is on ‘roids and whiffs so hard that he blows out both knees in the process. Embarrassing. 2007: Jason Richardson/Jared Dudley. GRADE: RBI single. Could have been worse. At least realized that they didn’t know how to draft and received a couple non-bust assets in return.
2008: Augustin/Ajinca. GRADE: whiff. Not as bad as the Morrison knee blowout but a close second. Passed on Brook Lopez and threw away a future first rounder in order to select Freedom Fries. Jordan was on record as saying that the team sat out the 2010 draft because “Tyrus Thomas was our first round pick.” No, Michael. Alexis Ajinca is your 2010 first round pick. Ugh.
2009: Henderson/Brown. GRADE: promising single right up the gap. Henderson looked good in some late season action and is at least athletic enough to belong in the League–although his complete lack of an outside shot scares me. Derrick Brown has the Gerald Wallace “I’m not intellectually capable enough to realize I shouldn’t be any good” gene – and this is no insult to Crash, look at how the book-smarts have hampered Okatron 2000’s career. Higher grade for this draft if LB actually plays them next year.
2010: Ajinca by proxy. GRADE: Freedom whiff.
So there you go folks, somehow with all of this draft day carnage in their immediate past, the Charlotte Bobcats attained a winning record in 2009-2010 and stole the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. So how in the hell did they do it?
GIVE US YOUR UNDER-PERFORMING & YOUR OVER-PAID
Nazr Mohammed, Tyson Chandler, Gana Diop, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw. What’s the single thread that ties these players together? Why, it’s the fact that their former teams handed them massive contracts and then immediately realized that they’d made a mistake. “Oh crap, we just signed Joel Pryzbilla to a nine year $80 million contract. Quick, get Jordan on the phone!”
So in a silly season which saw half of the League’s teams trade away wins for cap space, the Bobcats “philosophy” of taking on bad contracts to win now was just wacky enough to propel them into the postseason. While other GMs plotted for future dynasties, Jordan mortgaged the farm on the more modest and attainable goal of simply making the Playoffs. It worked. The ‘Cats finished the season as one of the Association’s top 15 teams.
Could it be that MJ and crony Rod Higgins are sharking their peers by making fiscally questionable deals to upgrade the team’s talent pool? Have the ‘Cats created a new “Freakonomics” meets “Moneyball” model that challenges the importance of the amateur draft and free agency? Is Michael Jordan stealthily playing checkers while the rest of the League plays chess? Or will all of these questionable contracts and draft day screw-ups eventually cripple the team, making future trades difficult and free agent additions impossible?**
If Jordan and Higgins are intent on foregoing the tried and true paradigm for small market success and continue with their merry spending ways, then I present to you, without further ado…
THE SUMMER OF 2010’s MISFIT TOY CANDIDATES:
What makes a Misfit Toy candidate? Simple: you have to be way overpaid and way underperforming. If you fit this description then I hope you like pulled pork BBQ ‘cause your probably coming to Carolina!
Ben Gordon 4 yrs: $47 million
Y’think Joey Dumars is just a tad bit regretful for signing a 6’3” sixth man shooting guard to a $60 million deal? Gordon is way overpaid for his production but could be exactly what the doctor ordered on a team like the Bobcats: Electric bench and fourth quarter scoring. The ‘Cats are desperate for it. That said, Dumars is notoriously tough to trade with. Wonder if a combination of Boris Diaw and Gerald Henderson might get this done.
Monta Ellis 4 yrs: $44 million
We’ve been speculating on this one for years. Ellis hogs the ball and jacks up shots at an unprecedented rate. Not good on a team with lots of offensive options like Golden State but could be an absolute godsend for the Bobcats, who spent the vast majority of last season spastically passing the ball around on offense like it was a live hand grenade. Again, wonder if Diaw and Henderson or Chandler’s expiring could get this done. The W’s are a mess in the front office right now, Higgins could potentially steal something else in return (pick, prospect).
Baron Davis 3yrs: $41 million
A blast from the past, a former home grown product entering the end of his career. Still has the size and offensive firepower to occasionally dominate a game. Couldn’t be any worse than Felton and is so overpaid that the ‘Cats could conceivably unload Diop’s longer deal in exchange.
Al Jefferson 3yrs: $42 million
Not sure exactly why Big Al is being shopped so fiercely this summer. Who knows what goes on in the mind of David Kahn. If the rest of League’s GMs are playing chess to MJ’s checkers, then Kahn is playing badminton. Al would be a huge upgrade at the PF spot for the ‘Cats but not quite sure what the T’Wolves would want in exchange. I’m praying that Kahn would ok a deal that would send out Jefferson and Ramon Sessions (Andre Miller: The Next Generation) for Tyson and Nazr’s expirings (plus a future first rounder).
Emeka Okafor: 4yrs, $52 million
Tied with two others on this list (see below) for the worst contract in the League. Obviously, it was the Bobcats who signed him to it. Was such a poor fit in New Orleans that Charlotte actually won the trade by taking back 6ppg/6rpg, semi-crippled Tyson Chandler in exchange. Hate the contract but could live with ‘Mek’s 16 + 10 if the Hornets threw in Darren Collison. Diop/Mohammed/Augustin for Okafor/Collison anybody?
Rashard Lewis: 3yrs, $65 million
Sole possession of 2nd Worst Contract in the League. He’s paid over $20 million a year over the next three. Yeah, you read that right. Rashard should gift half his salary to Dwight Howard every season. Without D-Ho backing him up in the lane, Lewis’s skinny frame and lack of defensive skills would make him an absolute liability. Don’t think the Magic would trade him (they’re firmly in “go for broke” mode) but his offensive skills and outside shooting would fill a need for the ‘Cats.
Elton Brand: 3yrs, $51 million
Here we go, a good old fashioned back to the basket All-Star power forward. Only problem is that Elton hasn’t been the same since an achilles injury derailed his career a few seasons ago. He’s a round peg in a square hole with fast paced Philly but could regain dominance in Larry Brown’s grind it out half-court offense in Charlotte. Would Diaw/Mohammed (expiring) be enough to get it done?
Hedu Turkoglu: 4yrs, $43 million
We’ve been hearing this rumor for a solid month now. Hedu and Jack to Charlotte for Boris, Diop and D.J. Doesn’t make a lot of sense mainly because Hedu can only play small forward, doesn’t defend or rebound well and is essentially not very good. He’s basically Boris with a worse contract and poorer defense. Jack and Ray Felton may as well be the same player. Dud. Oh and Hedu is one of the other “Worst Contract in the League”ers. The other one?
Gilbert Arenas: 4yrs, $60 million
I’ve already written about this in length so I won’t rehash it here. If MJ could swing a deal featuring Diop, Diaw and Mohammed for Gilbert and an asset (prospect or pick) then do it. It’d be the biggest gamble in MJ’s tenure but he’s shown that he’s most definitely the gambling type. An Arenas/JAX/CRASH/Tyrus/Chandler core could win 50 games this year as long as everybody stays relatively healthy. The team would also retain the young talent on the roster and pick up either a pick or a young player like Javale McGee or Blatche from the Wiz for their troubles.
Allen Iverson: free agent.
We couldn’t leave out good old AI. He’s a free agent and has declared himself ready take on the League again. The dude has hit rock bottom. If you’re gonna take a flyer on him then now is the time to do it. If he would accept a smaller (possibly bench) role and play nice with his new teammates then I can’t think of a better way for him to end his career than with his old coach in the Queen City. He’d also come cheap. Think: Flip Murray Advanced.
Don’t be surprised if Jordan pulls off a deal for one of these misfits sometime between now and the end of next month. MJ sat out the draft and one gets the sense that both he and Trader Larry are chomping at the bit to make yet another move for an overpriced toy in need of a new home.
Until then, Enjoy the Offseason Bobcats fans…
*I find it ironic that throughout Charlotte’s twenty plus years of NBA basketball history the vast majority of the city’s successful players have come via trade or as castaways: Monster Mash, Eddie Jones, Mase, Vlade Two Packs, Easy E Campbell, P-Whipped Rice, Curry 1.0, Don’t Tell Me No Bogues, Crash and JAX. Doesn’t that sort of represent how the city’s success was built as well? Sure, there are some shining examples of homegrown talent but the vast majority of the Queen City’s brain pool came here from somewhere else looking for a new start. Buffalo, Rochester, Jersey, Pittsburgh, WV, Ohio, represent BABY BABY! UH!
**The good news is that the team drafts so poorly that they’ll never have to worry about re-signing their own talent on the open market. “What’s that? Raymond is an unrestricted free agent? He might sign with another team? Huh. Anyways, so you’re telling me that a poached egg is actually boiled? I always wondered how they did that…”
While most of the NBA will focused for the next couple of weeks on the machinations of a once-in-a-generation free-agency class (Lebron, D. Wade, Bosh, Joe Johnson, Amare, Carlos Boozer, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki), or the summer league debuts of their full-of-promise lottery picks (John Wall, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, Wesley Johnson, DeMarcus Cousins), the Bobcats are going to be taking a hard look at Darius Miles.
After the Memphis Grizzlies played “the island” to Miles’ John Locke in the 2008-09 season (“Don’t tell me what I can’t do!”), Miles added some more paperwork to his knucklehead file with a marijana arrest. That, and the fact that Miles apparently managed to corrupt OJ Mayo in the few months they shared a locker room led to Miles being out of basketball for the 2009-10 season.
But Miles resurfaced in May at a Bobcats Free Agent Mini-Camp, where Larry Brown gushed that he’d been angling to get Miles on his team since he came into the league. Miles stated that the reason he wanted to try to come back was so his 2 year old son could see him play. That’s nice, but I’ve seen enough Outside The Lines segments to know that it’s code for “I’m broke.”
Challenging Miles for the title of “Shadiest Character Wearing a Bobcats Practice Jersey in Orlando” will be Shawne Williams. Williams was the 17th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, but has bounced around the league his whole career, last playing 15 games with the Mavericks in the 2008-09 season. Why, you might ask? (Fast-forward to 5:00)
Larry Brown brushed off concerns about Williams’ shady past (present?) by focusing on his need to get in shape if he wants a chance at an NBA career. Not selling drugs will help, too.
In addition to Miles and Williams, actual Bobcats Gerald Henderson, Derrick Brown and Alexis Ajinca will be in Orlando making their cases for expanded roles in the upcoming season.
Our (not-so) long, regional nightmare is over. Tyson Chandler has reportedly decided not to exercise the option in his contract that would have allowed him to forego the last year on his contract and become a free agent tomorrow. Tyson is due $12.6 million in 2010-11 to finish off the contract he signed years ago with New Orleans.
Caught up in the Summer of 2010 Free Agency Frenzy, Chandler’s camp leaked word to the media a few weeks back that he was considering opting out and testing free agency. The argument for doing so was likely two-pronged.
1) So many teams have made so much cap space this summer that one or two are likely to whiff on the big name players (coughKnickscough) and then scramble to spend their money on second (or third) tier free agents. So in effect, yes, Tyson was eyeing Lebron’s sloppy seconds. Additionally, he may have been hoping the Cats would simply resign him to a new long-term deal, a la what Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce are doing this summer. And…
2) A long term contract negotiated this summer may be better than one negotiated next summer, as the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is due to be renegotiated in time for next summer and will likely limit some of the financial/contractual perks that players currently enjoy.
Chandler opting out would have been a Catch-22 for the Cats. Basically, it’s tough to lose a starter to free-agency without compensation, especially a starting big man. Nazr Mohammed and Theo Ratliff played center-by-committee admirably last year when Chandler was out, and we’re all hoping we can get something out of Alexis Ajinca this year, but to lose Tyson outright to free agency would have left us weakened down low.
On a positive note, it would have opened up a chunk of room under the salary cap with which to sign a free agent. But for what? The position that the Cats most need to upgrade at is PG, and there aren’t any decent free agent PGs out there.
So it looks like Tyson will be collecting his $12.6 million from the Cats while roaming the paint at the Cable Box next year.
Or will he?
It’s been widely rumored that the Cats are looking to deal this summer. Makes sense, it’s the only avenue we have to upgrade/remix the roster. And a decent, reasonably useful, legitimately-sized center on a big expiring contract is just the kind of guy that other teams would likely be willing to trade for.
After passing on the 2010 NBA Draft last week, the Bobcats have signed several undrafted rookie free agents to their summer league roster. Ridiculous Upside is all over the topic; check them out to find out the destinations of all the other “worth a look in summer league, but not worth drafting” type of guys.
The biggest name attached to the Bobcats so far is former Kansas point guard Sherron Collins. Despite a storied career at Kansas, Collins went undrafted mostly due to his size. He’s a bit short for the NBA at 5’10-11″, and struggled with his weight and conditioning throughout his college career, sometimes pushing 220+. Collins left a bad last impression when he played poorly as Kansas was knocked out in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.
He then showed up at the NBA draft combine this spring weighing 217 pounds (not good when you’re supposed to be in the best shape of your life) and further compounded the problem when he weighed 229 pounds at a group workout in New Jersey a few weeks later. The excuse of a nagging groin injury didn’t ease scouts’ concerns, and Collins’ draft potential was effectively torpedoed.
Nonetheless, he’s strong, surprisingly quick, and (2010 NCAA tournament aside) knows how to win. KansasCity.com reports that Collins has signed a free-agent contract with the Bobcats, which gets him a spot on the summer league team and not much else. Here’s hoping that Collins gets in shape and impresses. Larry Brown always has room for another point guard (especially with Felton likely leaving via free agency). Plus, if Collins makes the team, then we can recycle our old Sean May fat jokes!
The Bobcats have also reportedly gotten commitments from several other undrafted rookie free agents:
Another guy to keep an eye on is Mikhail Torrance, a 6’5″ PG from Alabama who impressed at the Portsmouth Invitational Camp this spring. The words “6’5″ senior point guard” alone probably make Larry Brown start drooling. Bonnell floated his name over a month ago; because of that and the fact that Torrance was widely expected to be a solid second round pick, I figured he was the target the Bobcats were aiming for when talking about buying a second rounder.
However, some sort of cardiac issue scared off GMs in the second round, and Torrance went undrafted. He is now supposedly mulling multiple summer league offers, hopefully in addition to getting that ticker checked out. Only the Miami Heat are mentioned, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the Bobcats are one of the other teams interested.
After not fielding a summer league team last year in a sad attempt to save some of Bob Johnson’s cash, the Bobcats will again be a part of the Orlando Summer League this summer. The Cats had previously confirmed that Alexis Ajinca, Gerald Henderson and Derrick Brown will be a part of the summer league squad. Games start on July 5th — just a week away — so be on the lookout for more news this week about a few more additions to round out the roster.
Chapter III: Prescription B (Not for the Faint of Heart)
Alright. We’ve made it this far. First I stated the problem. Next was an easy and elegant solution. Now we go all in.
1. The Bobcats are capped out before re-signing Tyrus Thomas or Raymond Felton.
2. Team needs more consistent play from the PG position, more scoring from the low post, and more scoring in general.
3. Team has no draft picks and few assets outside of their core players to trade in order to improve.
On the evening of June 24th, the Washington Wizards will select Kentucky PG phenom John Wall with the first overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. It’s a no-brainer. After trading away stalwarts Antwan Jamison, Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler during the season, the Wizards are marching confidently along the rebuilding path. Wall will step in and immediately be the team’s poster boy for the future. With one timely drop of a ping pong ball, things suddenly look rosy in the District. There’s just one small, $80 million, gun-brandishing problem. His name: Agent Zero.
Step 1. Charlotte trades Boris Diaw, Nazr Mohammed and Gana Diop to Washington for Gilbert Arenas, Javale McGee and a first round draft selection (2012).
The Wiz are posturing something ridiculous about having Gilbert move to the off-guard position in anticipation of John Wall. Uh, yeah. Does anybody really think that Washington wants The Outlaw anywhere near their new Savior? Sure, taking on a poo-poo platter of Diaw, Diop and Nazr while giving up a potential star in McGee and a high draft pick would suck but let’s face it, having Arenas anywhere near the Wiz bench pretty much negates any new excitement that Wall would bring to the team. Gilbert is a 28 year old Point Guard with $80 million dollars left on his contract who was just released from a halfway house and has had three knee surgeries in the past three seasons. If somebody is willing to take a guy like that off their hands AND save the organization $35 million in the process, you gotta make the move, right?
So why would I propose such a trade for the Bobcats?
First off, let me just say that Gilbert is a PR nightmare for certain but if Charlotte fans were willing to accept Stephen Jackson (y’know, the guy who charged into the stands and attacked fans only to later one up himself by unloading a gun at a strip club), then I think we can deal with a some of the Arenas quirkiness from time to time.
Secondly, well, there’s quite a few positives so let me just list them:
1. Bobcats get to unload The League’s Worst Contract a.k.a. Gana Diop a.k.a. Black Shrek.
2. Diaw’s exit clears space for Tyrus Thomas to start.
3. Team replaces Raymond Felton with an electric scorer (and, when motivated, an underrated defender) in Arenas.
4. Javale McGee is one of the League’s best offensive prospects at the Center position.
5. The draft choice that the Bobcats receive would recoup the one that the team traded away in the Tyrus Thomas trade.
6. The trade would save the Bobcats over $3 million in cap space next season, allowing the team to add depth via free agency.
Obviously, the biggest drawback to the trade is long term money. Gilbert will be 32 years old when his deal expires in the summer of 2014 (see chart). He’ll be paid over $22 million for that season alone. Ouch. Yeah, the numbers are ugly. The move is overly aggressive and could either propel the team deep into the Playoffs (if Arenas stays healthy and focused and McGee develops) or could cripple them for the next three seasons. MJ is known as a gambler, I think he’d be inclined to make the move.
Step 2. Charlotte Re-Signs Tyrus Thomas.
Same as in Prescription A. Three years, $18 million sounds about right. A starting spot might pique his interest in returning.
Step 3. Sign a backup Power Forward.
As discussed in Prescription A, possible low-cost candidates include Drew Gooden or Kris Humphries. I like Humphries potential.
Step 4. Fill out the bench.
Arenas’s scoring abilities sort of negates the need to bring back Flip Murray. The team could go in another direction here and sign a veteran “pure-playmaking” PG in the mold of Eric Snow as well. Theo Ratliff has at least another year in him and could serve as a mentor to McGee and Ajinca.
The move is ballsy. Could a volatile nucleus of Arenas, JAX, CRASH, Tyrus and one or two of their youngsters (most likely McGee and Henderson) be enough to propel the Bobcats into contention in the East over the next few seasons?
The risks are HUGE. Zero could play another stupid prank or blow out his knee(s) again. Jax could unload one of Gilbert’s guns in a public place. Crash may wonder openly why he’s the only sane person in the locker room. The team would be capped out until 2013.
But take a look at the depth chart going into next season:
If the ‘Cats can win 44 games with last year’s squad then upgrading via Arenas and McGee while having Thomas and Chandler (contract year) for an entire season could very well propel the team to 50 plus wins and home court in the first round of the Playoffs. The team would also have enough draft picks and young prospects on the roster to make a move for a veteran during the following summer if they so choose and make a run for local favorite (and certain turnstile mover) Seth Curry after he completes his second and final year at Duke in the 2012 NBA Draft.
As for Prescription C, I’ve decided to save that one for later. Let’s see how the Draft and the early days of free agency play out first.