A Commitment to Relevance | Baseline 2017 Hornets Offseason Preview

Rich Cho - Baseline 2017 Offseason Preview


Sometime around mid-afternoon on June 22nd, 2011, Charlotte Bobcats newly crowned general manager Rich Cho made his first significant roster move with the franchise.

Cho managed to contrive a scenario in which Charlotte moved up from the 19th to the 7th pick for the measly price of a disgruntled Stephen Jackson*. That’s twelve spots in a good Draft for essentially nothing.

The trade was a high level front office negotiation Charlotte fans were unfamiliar with since the days of Bob Bass. What Cho ended up doing with the fruits of his victory would exemplify the next half decade of his tenure.


Flash forward six years and the Hornets are stuck in the NBA’s middle. Pundits on either side of Team Tank have seen this coming for years. The franchise is consistently too good to finish in the league’s Lottery basement and not good enough to do significant damage in the postseason. Their Drafting strategy of hitting singles and doubles prevent the strikeouts of the past (Adam Morrison) but also eliminates any chance of unearthing the next Greek Freak mid-round.

Charlotte’s roster is stacked with high character guys on guaranteed contracts that range from veteran bargains (Kemba) to slightly above going rate (Batum). No All-Stars on Rookie scale wages, no albatross 35 year olds on max deals. Again, right down the middle. Vanilla.

In an era of extremes, many fans hate this. If you’re not going to be the best, you need to be the worst and hoard draft picks like a prepper fresh off an Infowars binge.

But as we’ve seen with the Suns, Sixers and Magic – three teams that have committed to “The Process” much longer than Charlotte’s single tank season of 2011-2012 – this path is extremely taxing. Longterm tanking shakes a franchise to its very core and the architects in charge rarely survive to see the payoffs (if there are any).

Charlotte never really had a choice in the matter. The city is on its second NBA marriage. Unlike the first, this one had been bad from the start. There was no love affair. No passion. No “good times” to fall back on. They were single, we were single, it looked good on paper. The Bobcats were a disaster from the jump.

The franchise took a sober look at their situation and picked the only direction that offered any reasonable hope of success. Relevance may not be the storybook ending sports fans dream of but it’s a hell of an upgrade from the embarrassment of an eventual second relocation.


It’s important to remember that the 2016-2017 season was disappointing precisely because the team had such high expectations going into it. Any longtime fan of the franchise understands that this was a foreign concept to all involved.

For a decade the only thing one could realistically expect from the Bobcats was to be slightly less bad than the year before. Suddenly, the Hornets were a roster full of competent NBA players on the verge of breaking through 50 wins and making it past the first round of the postseason.

None of that happened and we were all let down by a season of nagging injuries, depth disasters and late game giveaways. Now that the pain has had a chance to wear off, it’s important to remember that the reasons many of us were so high on Charlotte last fall remain intact today.

The Hornets starting five were fantastic whenever they were healthy enough to play together (depending on how you sort, the starters had somewhere between a Top 5 and Top 11 net rating in the entire league) and are all locked up to relatively reasonable longterm deals. The team’s coach is well-respected throughout the league and is entering his fifth consecutive season with the team (a feat only one other Charlotte NBA coach has achieved in nearly 30 years).

The Hornets don’t owe any future first round picks and, aside from a very questionable midseason trade for Miles Plumlee, have rather clean-looking books going forward.

Let’s breakdown the primary culprits for Charlotte’s 2016-2017 swoon:

  1. Health
  2. Depth
  3. Inability to Close Games

A roster can overcome nagging injuries with depth and overcome depth limitations with a healthy core. A roster cannot overcome both simultaneously.

Last season’s enormous cap spike combined with Charlotte’s plethora of unrestricted free agents left Cho searching the clearance aisle to find replacements for Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee and Al Jefferson. He found mostly junk.

Roy Hibbert, either through injury or play style, just couldn’t give Cliff what he needed from a backup five every night. Ramon Sessionsthree-point aberration in Washington proved just that. Marco Belinelli was the best of the bunch but his defensive limitations (combined with the team’s lack of rim protection) overshadowed some truly special offensive performances.

There’s also the fact that each of the departing rotation players (Big Al, Lee and J-Lin) could be counted on to give you late game buckets that Charlotte was desperate for all season.

From CBS Sports – “(the Hornets) were 8-14 in games decided by five points or less, lost all six of their overtime games and went 0-9 in games decided by three or less points, which is the worst record in such games in NBA history.”

And even though Cho faces less unrestricted free agent chaos this summer, the front office is armed with precious few ways to resolve the team’s lingering depth and scoring issues.


When the 7th pick was announced back in 2011, it marked the last time Charlotte swung for the fences in the Draft.

The story goes that Cho had scouted Bismack Biyombo extensively for years, well before Biz’s Nike Hoops Summit explosion that put him on the rest of the league’s radar. Having previously worked under Sam Presti in Seattle and OKC, Cho saw his own version of Serge Ibaka right in front of him; a shot-blocking centerpiece to anchor a defense around.

Never mind that Biyombo had few professional basketball skills. Never mind that Biyombo could barely catch a pass much less rain down corner threes like his Congo counterpart in Oklahoma. Cho was dialed in on this 19** year old’s potential.

Had Cho drafted either Kawhi Leonard or Klay Thompson with that pick (both players were Lottery projected and the ‘Cats needed a wing after trading both Jackson and Gerald Wallace in the previous six months), his legacy would be cemented as Greatest GM in Charlotte NBA history and he’d widely be considered one of the league’s best GMs today.

Instead, Cho’s Bismack Myopia – coupled with a few ping-pong balls the following June – cemented Charlotte’s middle of the pack future and overshadows his otherwise solid reputation amongst fans to this day.

The Biyombo legacy continues to shape the team’s guiding Draft philosophy. Drafting “busts” is simply not an option in the QC; the Hornets have made getting longterm contributions from top picks their utmost priority.

With the exception of Biyombo, every Lottery selection the team has made since 2011 has signed an extension with the team. The player who would’ve been eligible for an early extension this summer, Noah Vonleh, was traded for a key vet (Batum) who signed a new five year deal last July.

In brief, the team has made a commitment to extract longterm value out of their Lottery selections and this longterm value trumps any and everything else – including gambling on high risk/high reward projects.

And really, can you blame Charlotte for implementing this strategy? Between 2004 and 2011, the Bobcats owned seven Lottery picks. Just two of those picks signed extensions with the team after their rookie deals (Emeka Okafor, Gerald Henderson) and the rest either walked or were traded for nothing of longterm value (we can debate the Brandon Wright > J-Rich > Diaw/Bell swap another time).

Additionally, Michael Jordan’s own Draft trauma serves to only further cement the team’s conservative approach. After Kwame and AMMO, it’s doubtful the G.O.A.T. has it in him for another decade of Crying MJ memes mocking his talent evaluation.

HORNETS 2017 Draft Options

All of this points us in a likely direction for the Hornets to take in June. We know that they crave certainty, we know that they prioritize character, big collegiate program experience and are not above drafting for need. We know that Coach Clifford has at least some minor input into the process.

Couple all this with Charlotte’s cap constrictions and it leads me to believe that if they keep the pick, the Hornets will be motivated to land a guy who has a shot at making Cliff’s rotation as soon as possible.

And thus the dilemma. Two of the top players projected to be around when the Hornets pick at 11 are not rotation ready: Gonzaga’s Zach Collins and Strasbourg’s (France) Frank Ntilikina.

Collins flashes truly incredible skill for a seven footer but needs time to develop both physically and mentally on the court. Zach would also be the third 7 foot white guy Drafted by Charlotte in their previous four Lotteries. Does that mean anything on the court? Other than positional redundancy, no. But optics matter and I’m sure the organization has at least considered the negative fan response.

Ntilikina offers his own challenges. Aside from having many of the same developmental requirements as Collins, French Frank is a primary ball handler prone to Cliff’s least favorite hoops sin: unforced turnovers. The safe money is on Frank investing the first half of his rookie campaign in Greensboro.

Still, Ntilikina is in many ways the team’s best shot at nabbing a potential superstar at a position of need. Six-five point guards with 7 foot wingspans are the rarest of talents, especially those who can shoot, defend and are blessed with lead guard court vision.

Given their pasts, will Cho and MJ gamble on a high upside developmental pick? Or will they continue to play it safe? If they are bold, my prediction is that it’ll either be Ntilikina or Collins.

But if the franchise stays true to form and tries to find a rotation ready, “sure-thing”, I’d rank the rest of their Draft board in the following order:

  1. Donovan Mitchell, Combo Guard | Louisville
  2. Luke Kennard, Wing | Duke
  3. Justin Jackson, Wing | UNC
  4. Ike Anigbogu, C | UCLA

Of the four, I like Mitchell most. He’s a combo guard who can shoot and has the physical profile (6’10” wingspan, thick 215lb body) to finish at the rim and fight through screens. Donovan could play spot minutes at the one next to Batum when Kemba sits and alongside Walker when Cliff plays two points in the backcourt. Donovan also comes across as a very smart, grounded kid in interviews.

Shooting is why the team could go with a locally-sourced wing (Jackson/Kennard). I initially had them rated equally but as I watch them more, Kennard seems the better pro prospect. Luke is a year younger with a much faster, more consistent stroke over his career. He has very good court vision for his size and his ability to shoot, create off the dribble and move the ball with purpose make him an intriguing offensive prospect. But he comes with major defensive limitations; similar to Frank Kaminsky, opposing players simply go through him.

Jackson has better length and (theoretic) defensive potential but turned 22 in March – how much upside is left? Justin’s release is much slower, less consistent and his floor game (aside from a deadly, ridiculously beautiful looking floater) is behind Kennard’s.

Neither wing screams star but they’d have a chance to crack the rotation by at least the following season, when Marco Belinelli’s contract expires. The league has a wing deficit overall (see KCP and Otto Porter’s inevitable max contracts this summer) and Drafting even a middling talent could be one of the few ways of getting one on the cheap.

If the team decides to go with Anigbogu, I’d be a little surprised. The kid obviously has the potential to be a defensive beast – think Ian Mahimni or Hassan Whiteside without the baggage – but he’s got more than just a little Biyombo to his game and I can’t imagine Cho and Clifford going back to that well again unless they are certain he can become at least an average offensive player for his position.


Before we get into free agency or potential trade targets, let’s review Charlotte’s depth chart:

  • PG: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions (TO), Briante Weber (TO)
  • SG: Nic Batum, Marco Belinelli
  • SF: MKG, Jeremy Lamb
  • PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Johnny O’Bryant (TO)
  • C: Cody Zeller, Miles Plumlee
    (TO = Team Option)

The bench has two primary issues to be remedied and one secondary. First, Marco Belinelli and Jeremy Lamb are largely redundant. Both are strictly twos and neither have the physical profile or defensive ability to guard potent, big wings like Paul George or Jimmy Butler should either Nic or MKG miss time or need a rest. Adding a backup wing with decent size is a major priority. Preferably one who can score. More on this later.

The other primary bench issue is at backup point. Hornets fans were spoiled a season ago when the team had a starting caliber lead guard as a backup. Jeremy Lin was more or less the prototypical backup to Kemba: big enough to play alongside Walker, good enough to start when Kemba was hurt and smart enough at both ends of the court that Cliff trusted him to close games. Few of those things could be said about his replacement.

I asked hoops stat savant and friend of the Baseline, Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird – a MUST Twitter follow for Hornets fans) to give me a stat or two that reflects why Ramon Sessions was either under-appreciated or rightfully maligned by fans. Here’s what he sent me:

(if numbers hurt your brain, jump to my summary)

Geisinger on Sessions: The Bad

Ramon’s shooting declined at all levels, including important areas for a guard who made a name for himself as a driver: restricted area (48.9 FG%), inside 10 feet (44.2 FG%), and attempts after 3-6 dribbles (31.3 FG%).

His field goal percentage on drives dropped from 46.6 FG% to 38.3 FG%; his field goal percentage on pull-ups dropped, too, from 39 FG% to 32.9%

FT rate dropped from 47.8% to 44.9%, and so too did his FTA per 100 possessions — from 8.3 to 7.3.

When looking at two-man lineup combinations, Sessions had a positive point differential with only one other player: 13 minutes with Brian Roberts. In those minutes, which occurred in garbage time, Charlotte still scored fewer than 1 point per possession.

They did score well with he and Kemba on the floor, though: 116.7 points per 100 possessions (121 minutes). But they still had a negative point differential.

Sesh was just one of just six guys in the NBA this season with more than 800 minutes, a usage rate above 20%, BPM below -3, and a FG% less than 40% (it’s not good company).

(*All of these season comparisons are from 2015-16 to 2016-17. That doesn’t really do Ramon too many favors, because 15-16 was the best season he had in years. The drops wouldn’t be quite as jarring if looking at 14-15 or 13-14.)

Geisinger on Sessions: The Good

Pick-and-roll shooting dropped from 43 FG% to 36.8 FG%, and he dropped from the 74th percentile in PNR efficiency to the 59th percentile. But he still scored 0.82 points per possession out of the pick-and-roll, which is pretty good. He drew a shooting foul on 17.8% of these possessions — good for the fifth best rate in the NBA amongst players with at least 150 PNR possessions.

Now back to the studio. Thanks Brian!

In summary, Sesh regressed beyond even Bobcat Ramon levels and was a slightly below average backup point when he was healthy. The Hornets hold a team option for $6.3m next season and it seems inevitable that they’ll decline it, right?…Right?


As I mentioned before, Cho has done a nice job of locking in a quality starting five. That’s the good news. The bad news is that after the midseason addition of Plumlee, the team is effectively capped out.

Baseline Hornets Salaries May 7 2017

Once Charlotte signs their Lottery pick and exercises team options on Briante Weber and Johnny O’Bryant (both expected), they’ll be around $6 million over the league’s $102 million salary cap.

Add in a full Midlevel offer (which jumps to $8.4 million starting salary this season) and you’re up to $110 million. Pickup Ramon’s team option and you’re at $123 million. The Luxury Tax is $121 million. No, the 36-win Charlotte Hornets are not paying the Luxury Tax.

This would seem to only reinforce Charlotte’s motivation to decline Sesh’s team option, right? RIGHT?!!! (C’MON!!! FOR THE LOVE OF-)

Hey kids! Here’s an exercise you can try at home today: head over to Hoopshype’s free agent page and check out July’s available point guards. Now filter out all the ones who would laugh at the Midlevel Exception. Now sort for fit, experience, cost to value ratio, etc. Here’s what I ended up with:

BASELINE FA PGS: Darren Collison (Full Midlevel), Yogi Ferrell (Restricted, Full Midlevel), Michael Carter-Williams (Restricted, Partial Midlevel or Biannual), Langston Galloway (Partial Midlevel or Biannual), Raymond Felton (Vet Minimum)

BARF. Other than Collison and Ferrell (the Mavs would match that offer in a microsecond), do we know that any of these guys are definitively better options than Ramon? I don’t. Nor would I feel comfortable offering Collison, MCW or Galloway longterm contracts.

If Charlotte is going to upgrade their backup point guard situation it will need to happen via the Draft (Mitchell, Ntilikina or trade up for NC State’s Dennis Smith) or via the trade market. If they can’t find an upgrade via either route, don’t be surprised if Ramon’s option is picked up for next season (No…no…NOOOOO!!!!).


The same Hoopshype > Filter/Sort > Vomit experiment can shed some light on the confusing Plumlee trade as well. Have a look at the following MLE or below centers available this summer:

BASELINE FA BIGS: JaMychal Green, Cristiano Felicio, Alex Len.

Some decent intrigue there to be sure. And yeah, maybe one of them would take the midlevel. Here’s the problem, all three are restricted free agents so, aside from maybe Len, the chances of them actually landing on Charlotte’s roster is slim to none. Sure, there’s always a chance the unrestricted big market peters out and someone like Amir Johnson would take $8m a year but sometimes it peters out and you’re left with Roy Hibbert.

Cho*** likely saw the upcoming big crop, looked at the team’s lack of cap flexibility and decided that it was better to give it a go with Miles. I still hate the trade (especially with Plumlee’s subsequent calf strain and knee surgery) but at least this shows that there was some thought process behind it however flawed.


If the Hornets do use their midlevel this July, expect it to be on a wing. Once you calculate year to year raises, the new, full MLE will be around 4yrs, $37m. Hardly the sort of windfall guys like Allen Crabbe saw last year but with the cap plateauing, it’s feasible that a decent young veteran could lock in to this type of deal.

BASELINE FA WINGS: Ben McLemore (Restricted), Ian Clark (Unrestricted), Shabazz Muhammad (Restricted)****

The above list is essentially a “Second Draft” – young vets coming off rookie contracts who may have some untapped potential to mine. Clark has had some big scoring games with the Warriors but did not receive a qualifying offer from Golden State and one wonders whether or not his limited success was due to the organization or the player (AKA The Ezeli Effect).

McLemore has long been rumored as a potential Hornet trade target and it’s doubtful the Kings would be motivated to bring him back now that Buddy Hield has become their single building block of note.

Of the three, I like Muhammad the best. While he’s nothing like a lockdown defender, he’s strong enough to make big wings work and could offer Charlotte a valuable scoring presence off the bench (think Rudy Gay or a wing version of Big Al). Shabazz is still just 24 and the Wolves upcoming salary situation point to them not matching any offer sheet.

If the team decides to go with a more established wing via the MLE, I could see guys like Thabo Sefolosha or CJ Miles getting a call from the 704.


Wow. We haven’t done this in a while. Longtime readers will know that Bobcats Baseline Fake Trades used to be a near monthly fetish of mine. Lemme shake off the rust and see if I still got any game left…

Miles Plumlee for Brandon Knight

The first of three “Dump Plumlee” scenarios, this one exchanging one crappy contract with another. Charlotte looks at the Draft and decides that they like Collins, Anigbogu or either of the wings more than the PGs.

Knight is still just 26 and could turn it around under Cliff. If Phoenix decides to let Alex Len walk, Plumlee’s second tour in the Valley of the Sun could fill a need behind the aging Tyson Chandler and shed some cash off the Suns’ books in each of the next three seasons.

Miles Plumlee, Jeremy Lamb + Protected 2018 First Rounder for Brook Lopez

Not sure if you’ve heard but the Nets are really bad and don’t have any Draft picks. Getting a Top 10 Protected 1st for Brook (who has just one more year left on his contract) would seem like a decent value at this point for the former All-Star center.

There are risks: Lopez turns 30 next April and foot injuries cost him a couple of seasons earlier in his career. His next contract is certain to be pricey.

But the trade could also work out wonderfully. Charlotte has long needed a second primary scorer to pair with Kemba and Brook has transformed himself into a three zone threat. Lopez connected on 134 three pointers this past season and his stroke passes the eye test.

A Lopez/Zeller platoon would give Clifford a ton of flexibility and variety at the five. If the Hornets are committed to being good now (more on this later), then making this type of splash could be their best bet.

Miles Plumlee + Protected 2018 First Rounder for Jeremy Lin

Don’t like Lopez? Miss J-Lin? Why not?

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for Courtney Lee

Let’s bring the band back together! Hell, if Josh McRoberts declines his player option maybe we can… (OK, I’m just trolling now)


Let’s take a break from the fake trades for a moment and focus on The MKG Situation. I’ll say this first, I have no idea what Kidd-Gilchrist’s value is – either to the Hornets or to the rest of the league. A wing who can’t (and won’t) stretch the floor in the modern NBA is offensive kryptonite. That kind of player has to be so special that you’d be willing to shoehorn an entire roster around them and MKG is no superstar.

He’s never lived up to the lockdown defender reputation he had out of Kentucky and the progress he made with his stroke under former assistant coach Mark Price has mostly regressed. Kidd-Gilchrist’s skillset is more suited for power forward in the modern game but his frame doesn’t seem like the kind that could put on the required mass to take a beating every night. Five seasons into his career, MKG is rarely on the floor to close games due to his offensive limitations.

All that said, we’re talking about a guy who doesn’t turn 24 until September (yeah, that freaks me out too). A player who is likely a top three rebounder at his position in the league. A player whose intangibles remain off the charts. And a player who is 1/5th of that very good starting five.

Who knows? Maybe MKG is a late bloomer? Gerald Wallace was well into his mid-twenties before he learned how to shoot threes. That’s the rosy scenario. Or maybe MKG is Jeff Green, a well-liked, talented Lotto pick who is destined to never find his place in the modern pro game.

Ok, one more fake trade and then we’ll wrap.

Frank Kaminsky + Jeremy Lamb for Jahlil Okafor

A 2015 Draft do-over. The Sixers need to surround Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with shooting and the Hornets need volume scoring off the bench.

Having engineered a Top 10 defense around Big Al for three years, Steve Clifford could work his magic and turn Okafor’s career around in the process. Charlotte would also shave off around $4.3 million in salary in this scenario.


Given everything above, let’s outline a few potential depth charts to start next season:


  • PG: Kemba Walker, Briante Weber, Frank Ntilikina (or Donovan Mitchell)
  • SG: Nic Batum, Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb
  • SF: MKG, Shabazz Muhammad
  • PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Johnny O’Bryant
  • C: Cody Zeller, Miles Plumlee


  • PG: Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Briante Weber
  • SG: Nic Batum, Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb
  • SF: MKG, Shabazz Muhammad
  • PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Johnny O’Bryant
  • C: Cody Zeller, Zach Collins (or Ike Anigbogu)


  • PG: Kemba Walker, Darren Collison, Briante Weber
  • SG: Nic Batum, Marco Belinelli, Jeremy Lamb
  • SF: MKG, Luke Kennard (or Justin Jackson)
  • PF: Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Johnny O’Bryant
  • C: Cody Zeller, Miles Plumlee

If Charlotte trades for a center (Lopez or Okafor), Depth Charts A and C stay mostly the same with Cody sliding back to the second unit for Brook and starting over Jahlil.

I can see the tweets now: “that roster ain’t gonna win sh$t, Cavs gonna destroy Bobcats HAHA MJ IS TRASH!!!”

Yes. There is little chance that this collection of talent will challenge the Warriors or Cavs – which places them in the exact situation as 27 other teams.

In the meantime, it would be an amazing feat for the organization to win 50 games and win a round in the Playoffs. Keep in mind that the Queen City hasn’t experienced such things in over fifteen years.

Look at the Wizards. They rose, they fell, then they put it back together and nearly made the Conference Finals for the first time since the 1970’s. DC fans were energized. A long dormant fanbase was given reason to care again. Same goes for the Raptors. Just because you don’t have a superteam chocked full of Hall of Famers doesn’t mean there are no rewards for trying.

Seeing it Through, Building a Foundation

The Hornets made a commitment to Relevancy over a half decade ago and they need to see this through. Get to 50 Wins, Win a Playoff Round, try and make a Conference Finals.

These are giant steps for a once dysfunctional organization incapable of even sniffing respectability. Cho, Cliff and MJ haven’t been perfect in their tenures but collectively, they’ve made the best moves this franchise has experienced in ages. See it through, gentlemen.


*and a little used journeyman backup PG named Shaun Livingston
**yeah, right
***I would be surprised if the Miles trade originated as Cho’s idea
****I’m omitting guys like Jonathan Simmons and Tony Snell from this list because they are RFAs whose teams would likely match an MLE offersheet the instant it was signed


Bonus Geisinger: Just How Good Were Charlotte’s Starting Five?

For lineups with 300+ minutes, the Hornets starters were No. 10 in Net Rating according to NBA.com. But if I set the minimum number to 400 minutes, the starters jump to No. 8. It’s top 5 in terms of net rating for lineups with 500+ mins, too.

Of 500+ mins, the only NBA lineups better than Charlotte’s Starting Five are Golden State, the Clippers, Houston and Washington. Which is why it was such a bummer when Cody Zeller was out and the bench dipped. The Starting 5 allowed 100.7 points per 100, which would rate as the No. 1 team defense in the NBA (Spurs were No.1 — 100.9).

Draft Night Scenarios for the Bobcats


The Final Bobcats Draft

The final Draft in “Bobcats History” is less than a few hours away and everyone’s still confused as to what Cho & Co. have planned. Let’s run through the most likely scenarios:

Is Cody Zeller in the Mix?

Cody Zeller’s name has been linked to the Bobcats over the past 48 hours as a sleeper pick at number four. Not really a surprise as Zeller grades very well statistically (remember Cho’s famed database?). ESPN’s Kevin Pelton posted a great Draft Comp piece yesterday that had Cody’s collegiate numbers near identical to Lamarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh – and neither of those two had a defensive phenom like Bismack Biyombo to develop next two.

Anthony Bennett Destined for Charlotte?

Of course, this all might be a smokescreen to obfuscate the Charlotte’s actual target. Could it be Anthony Bennett? Victor Oladipo? Both of these players are projected in the Draft’s Top 3 but could also fall, especially if Cleveland passes on Nerlens Noel (Orlando would take him at two instead of Oladipo). Bennett and Oladipo can both be plugged into the starting five immediately and help. I’d put Otto Porter and maybe even Zeller in that category as well.

Will Alex Len Slip to the Cats?

Many mocks still have Charlotte staying put at four and taking Alex Len if Cleveland passes on the Maryland center at number one. Next year’s Draft lacks any top tier centers (at least for now) and Cho could elect to grab one while he has the chance. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla – a guy who’s never been known for clickbait – projects Len as this year’s Jonas Valanciunas. That’s a big deal.

If Bobcats Select a Guard

If the Cats go with either Oladipo or Ben McLemore, everyone please send Gerald Henderson a nice thank you/farewell message on twitter. As a restricted free agent, the team will likely renounce Henderson’s rights as soon as free agency begins in July should they select a SG. Don’t worry Hendo fans, my gut feeling tells me that Charlotte will exit the Draft with either a PF or C and Gerald will be back next season.

An Option to Trade Back in the Draft

Trading back could be another option. We’ve known about the Minnesota “Derrick Williams, 9 and 26” proposal for a while. There could be other opportunities as well. If the team isn’t sold on any single prospect, then this might be the best option. UPDATE: Oklahoma City is another team that would like to move up and grab Len. They have the 12th pick and a few other nice prospects in Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb and the Bobcats’ 2nd rounder (via the Byron Mullens trade). If Cho isn’t sold on any of the draft’s top talent, his old boss in OKC (Presti) might be the first call he makes.

Will Rich Cho Want to Trade Up?

Less likely could be a trade up scenario. Could an offer of Bismack Biyombo and the number four pick be enough to trade up to Cleveland’s 1st? If the team is sold on Noel and wants to tank another season in hopes of Andrew Wiggins, this might be their best bet.

Twitter: @baselinebuzz

Gerald Henderson – The Free Agent


Gerald Henderson Illustration by Mike S

With the NBA draft just around the corner, this becomes the most important part of the year for the Bobcats. They have yet another top-five selection—the fifth in their ten-year history—and some key free agent decisions. Most notably former lottery pick Gerald Henderson.

It’s impossible to deny that Henderson has been one of the most successful Bobcats draft picks to date. Which is to say, he’s not a total, unparalleled failure.

Henderson came into the league as an elite athlete known for his defensive acumen. That much hasn’t changed in his four years in the Association, but since he’s been given solid playing time (a.k.a. when Larry Brown left), he’s scored at a very respectable clip, too. He hasn’t put up quite the scoring numbers Kemba Walker has (13.6 PPG vs. 15.2 PPG), but he closes that margin on a per-36 minute basis (16.0 vs. 17.4). Hendo’s been particularly good in catch-and-shoot plays coming off screens—he was sixth in mid-range shooting among shooting guards last year at 43.4%.

But even though he’ll never be a 20 PPG scorer, and his numbers are surely inflated since Kemba Walker is the only other semi-reliable scorer on the team, he’s shown steady improvement each year in the league. From his freshman to his junior year at Duke, he improved his shooting line from .451/.320/.627 to .450/.336/.761, and he showed an even bigger improvement in his first four years in the pros (.356/.211/.745 to .447/.330/.824).

For how little love Henderson gets, he puts up top-15 numbers among shooting guards across the board, making him an above-average starter. 10th in PER (16.48). 11th in scoring (15.5 PPG). 7th in field goal percentage (.447). 14th in free throw percentage (.824). 10th in offensive rebounding (0.8 ORPG). 12th in blocks (0.50 BPG). He doesn’t have a marquee name, and he isn’t (yet) an elite long-range shooter, but you sure could do worse at the 2-guard.

Now, Henderson is a restricted free agent, and the upcoming NBA draft features two young shooting guards who may be available for Charlotte: Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore. One who is very similar to Henderson and one who is completely different.

Oladipo Comparison

First let’s take a look at Oladipo, who has a shockingly similar profile to Henderson.

Both are undersized but long juniors from major programs (6’5” 215 with a 6’10.5” wingspan and 8’6.5” standing reach for Henderson and 6’4” 213 with a 6’9” wingspan and 8’4.5” standing reach for Oladipo). Even Chad Ford’s pre-draft notes on them are eerily similar:


  • Versatile 2-guard, does almost everything well
  • Plays the game very smoothly
  • He’s a great athlete, has NBA strength
  • Has a very consistent midrange jump shot
  • Is quick enough to take his man off the dribble
  • Strong enough to post up guys
  • Excellent rebounder for a guard
  • Good basketball IQ
  • Excellent perimeter defender
  • Needs to increase his range
  • Still not a consistent 3-point threat
  • A bit undersized for his position
  • Very inconsistent in his 2 years at Duke


  • Crazy athletic swingman
  • Explosive leaper
  • Tough, physical player
  • Excellent rebounder
  • Tenacious defender
  • Best motor in college basketball
  • Improving jump shot
  • A bit undersized for his position
  • Can be turnover prone



That’s two different ways of describing the same player. Why draft someone who resembles Gerald Henderson when you could have the actual Gerald Henderson and another player?

There are obviously some differences between them that favor Oladipo (42” vs. 35” vertical and .441 vs. .336 junior year 3-point percentage, although their .338 and .329 3-point percentage throughout college makes it closer). But drafting the Hoosier just seems redundant when there are other players on the board.

The good news (?), though, is that Oladipo probably won’t be on the board when the Bobcats select fourth; Orlando reportedly has an eye on him with the second pick.

McLemore Comparison

Ben McLemore, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. His game is based on shooting instead of defensive intensity, something the Bobcats have been searching for ever since they traded Jason Richardson.

McLemore’s redshirt freshman year was a mixed bag, since he shot 42% from beyond the arc and nearly joined the 50-40-90 club (.495/.420/.870) but also faded in the NCAA tournament and deferred to Elijah Johnson all year. He even had 11 20-point games, although he also had 12 games with 11 or less, including a 2-point performance in the Round of 32 against North Carolina.

McLemore has the raw tools to be an All-Star and a solid defender, but he hasn’t shown the killer instinct of a superstar. Say what you want about intangibles, but McLemore does have one skill the Bobcats desperately need: shooting.

In a vacuum, I like McLemore. But the cost of drafting McLemore isn’t just “missing out” on Anthony Bennett or Alex Len, it’s losing Gerald Henderson, too. Charlotte wouldn’t bring back Henderson after drafting McLemore because there simply aren’t enough minutes for the development of Walker, Ramon Sessions, McLemore, Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Jeff Taylor. McLemore will probably be a good player, but will he be better than whomever else the Bobcats would draft and Henderson? I’m guessing that’s a no.

Gerald Henderson will never be Kobe Bryant, but the Bobcats, according to the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell, understand his value. Three-and-D wings are becoming very important—look at Danny Green in these Finals—and Charlotte understands GH’s value more than any other team.

Interestingly enough, Kemba’s scoring (18.3 vs. 17.8), shooting (43% vs. 41%), three-point shooting (37% vs. 32%), assists (6.0 vs. 5.7), and rebounding (3.7 vs. 3.4) all tick up when Henderson is on the floor.

Gerald’s Price

Henderson won’t cost as much as DeMar DeRozan’s leviathan 4-year $40 million deal—the Raptor was drafted three picks before Henderson in ‘09—he’ll be more in the $5-6 million range, a bit above his $4.3 million qualifying offer. The Bobcats have the right to match any offer another team gives, but it’s hard to imagine him getting an offer much higher than the mid-level exception. The market will likely dictate a four-year pact for about $22 million, although he’s probably worth even more than that.

If the choice comes down to a rookie shooting guard (McLemore) or Henderson and a rookie big man (Bennett, Len, or even Noel), I’m taking the latter every time.

And if that doesn’t convince you, Henderson has my favorite nickname in the NBA: The OG (The Other Gerald). That has to count for something, right?

– Ben

Rosterpalooza ’13 | Version 1.0


No Lottery Luck for the Bobcats

Here’s what the Rich Cho era’s taught us thus far:

1. Full on tanking only works if you absolutely NAIL the Lottery.
The easy part is when Kevin Durant falls into your lap. The challenge is in the mid-Lottery and late rounds, where you find and groom a Russell Westbrook or Serge Ibaka. Charlotte hasn’t done that.

2. Full on tanking without NAILING the Lottery = Toxic Reputation = Lost Opportunities.
Think Brian Shaw would’ve been a better coach than Mike Dunlap? Think James Harden is a slightly better player than MKG? These two missed opportunities are the direct result of the team’s lowly reputation. Desirable free agents, scouts and executives aren’t going to risk their careers in a situation doomed for failure.

Dispelling the Myth

“But we have to be bad to get good!!!” Eh, not exactly. Bottoming out for a year can sometimes work in a Duncan or Lebron Once-In-A-Generation Lottery but good organizations can find and develop guys like Roy Hibbert, Nicholas Batum, Paul Milsap and Ty Lawson late in the first round. “But we want to build a championship team, not a mediocre one!” Newsflash: Only eight franchises have hoisted a Larry O’Brien since 1984, averaging out to a “new” champion every 3.75 years. At this rate, the Queen City can plan on throwing a parade sometime after June 2095. In the meantime, the Bobcats/future Hornets should strive for the more modest goal of being consistently competitive. With name-brand free agents and coaches refusing to lower themselves to the Bobcats current level, maybe we should be saying “You have to be relevant to have a chance at being good” instead.

Two Assumptions

Before I begin the shameless public rosterbating, let’s set the ground rules.

1. The 2013 NBA Draft is superstar-free. Like all drafts, there’s probably a couple of All-Stars tucked away but the mass consensus is that there is no instant franchise changer this year.

2. Big name free agents won’t sign with the Bobcats unless they SEVERELY OVERPAY them. The team will have up to $20m in cap space with little to no chance of signing anyone that matters. Again, if you’re a name free agent and the money was equal (or even slightly better) why on earth would you put yourself in a potentially miserable situation?

So the Bobcats will enter the offseason with $20 million that nobody (of substance) wants and a Top 4 pick in a Draft with no superstars. How in the heck are they supposed to improve?

Bobcats Baseline Presents: Rosterpalooza ’13 – Version 1.0

Part I: The Draft

With the worst record in the league, the Cats are guaranteed to pick in the Top 4. The good news is that there are a few potential All-Stars (Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel) and a few good starters (Otto Porter, Alex Len, Victor Oladipo), all guaranteed to be there when Charlotte picks. The bad news is that players like Porter and Noel basically duplicate what Charlotte already has in MKG/Biyombo so the organization better pray they score in the top two. For Rosterpalooza 1.0, we’re going to assume they pick 1 or 2.

The Case for Marcus Smart.

At one end of the Draft’s risk spectrum sits Noel, a seven footer with no real basketball skills coming off a major knee injury; at the other end a 6’4″, 225 pound, 19 year old point guard/artillery vehicle: Marcus Smart combines Russell Westbrook’s intensity and explosion with James Harden’s strength and handle, he has the potential to be an All-world combo guard in a league that caters to All-world combo guards. Like Westbrook coming out of UCLA, Smart’s shooting and court vision need work – which you can teach. What you CAN’T teach is Smart’s aggressiveness and size. He’ll figure the rest out. You can play him alongside Kemba Walker at the beginning and eventually transition Kemba to his perfect role of 3rd guard/6th man/Closer once Smart gets comfortable running the team. Boom. That’s a hell of a one-two punch.

The Case for Ben McLemore.

Imagine Ben Gordon if he were 6’5″, incredibly long and a plus defender. That’s Ben McLemore. He’s not going to put the ball on the floor and create but as a catch and shoot Ray Allen type, McLemore will open up driving lanes for Kemba and MKG, bust zones and double teams and roll off screens for set plays. AKA: all things Charlotte desperately needs.
VERDICT: McLemore’s elite skill (shooting) make him the slightly safer pick and yes, the Bobcats certainly could use some floor spacers but consider this: spot-up shooting is relatively cheap and fairly abundant – skip down to the free agent shooters list below to have a look – you don’t need to spend the 1st or 2nd overall pick in the draft on it. Most of all, Marcus Smart’s size and position could be franchise-defining. He could legitmately be the Westbrook of the Eastern Conference. You can’t pass up that opportunity. If he’s on the board, pick Marcus Smart.

RESULT: Charlotte drafts Marcus Smart, G Oklahoma State.

Part II: Trades

What’s the best way to fill up $20 million in cap space with quality players who wouldn’t sign with you otherwise??? Why, trading for them against their will, of course. But first, a little housekeeping…

$8,000,000.00 per season.

Amnesty Tyrus Thomas.

Like Thomas himself, this move is a no brainer – and also a litmus test. If the Cats don’t amnesty T-Time, we know that Michael Jordan isn’t serious about the team – which would work out just fine for us, we can all check out and follow the Heat, Celtics or Lakers like most NBA fans in Charlotte. That said, I fully expect Tyrus to be gone at the soonest possible moment. And to that I say, good riddance.

Trade Ben Gordon to Chicago for Carlos Boozer (and a little something extra).

A salary dump for the Bulls, shedding Boozer’s deal gives them big cap space next July to re-sign Luol Deng or another near max player. Even if Chicago refused to give Charlotte’s 1st round pick back outright, perhaps they’d be willing to tighten the restrictions to virtually guarantee the Bulls would never receive it in the Lottery. That may seem like small compensation for taking on Boozer’s final two years/$30 million but consider that:

A. The first year is only $2 million more than the Cats would have to pay Gordon anyway – a guy who has attempted to sabotage the lockerroom along with half the games he’s checked into AND…

B. Boozer’s skill set and position are exactly what Charlotte needs: rebounding and post scoring. Think of it this way, would you rather pay Al Jefferson $60 million over 4 years AND pay Gordon $13 million next season OR only pay Boozer $30 million over two? Not to mention that Boozer’s contract expires the very same July the Cats will need to re-sign Walker. Did I mention Boozer instantly becomes the best Power Forward in Bobcats history?

RESULT: Charlotte acquires PF Carlos Boozer via trade.

Trade Portland’s First Round Pick to OKC for Kendrick Perkins and Jeremy Lamb.

Perkins is a one-dimensional player overpaid by at least 40% and with the Thunder approaching the tax line, his final two years, $17.5 million will need to go. So why are the Bobcats giving up a first round pick to take him on?

One of the many photos of Kendrick Perkins squeezing a basketball really hard.

For one, Perk would help bring some real interior defense (as opposed to “defensive potential” defense) to a team that desperately needs to get better on that side of the ball. Again, his contract is perfectly timed with Bismack Biyombo’s extension so the team could make their decision after Biz learns a thing or two apprenticing under Kendrick (first lesson: “defense” is more than just trying to block every shot).

But the real prize here is Lamb. Charlotte gets a Ben McLemore without having to draft one. Long and rangy, Kemba’s former UCONN teammate, has vast defensive potential and can score off the dribble or in the mid-range game. Acquiring Lamb would allow Charlotte to let Gerald Henderson walk, replacing Hendo at around 1/6th the cost.
It’s a deal that nets the team two quality starters and all they have to give up is a mid-round pick and cap space nobody wants. Win-win.

RESULT: Charlotte acquires C Kendrick Perkins, SG Jeremy Lamb via trade.

Part III: Free Agency

Quick roster assessment after the moves:
Guards: Ramon Sessions, Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jeremy Lamb
Wings: MKG, Jeffrey Taylor
Power Forwards: Carlos Boozer
Centers: Kendrick Perkins, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood

There’s an obvious need for depth at Power Forward and you’d love to have a long distance shooter at the SF spot, thus…

Sign a Shooter.

Free Agent Gunners Available this Summer: Kevin Martin, JR Smith, Rip Hamilton, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow, Nick Young, Carlos Delfino, Martell Webster and… RAY ALLEN HIMSELF! Who needs “the next Ray Allen” when you can get the original at a discount.


Why not sign this guy?

All these guys can absolutely light it up from beyond the arc, all will be available in July and a few will come dirt cheap. Of the bargain gunners, I like Delfino. He’s 31 and probably has another season or two of quality game left. Carlos gives the team another ball handler who can play either wing positions and is an underrated defender who can absolutely stroke the 3-ball when he gets hot. He signed a one year $3 million deal with Houston last July, so another one year, $3.75 million overpay from Charlotte will probably get it done.

RESULT: Charlotte signs G/SF Carlos Delfino.

PF Depth.

Byron Mullens or Josh McRoberts? Do we even need to have this conversation? Josh McRoberts has been a perfect fit since his arrival. His abilities as a ball handler, floor spacer and playmaker have vaulted the former Dukie from the end of Orlando’s bench to Charlotte’s starting five. Two years, $7m should do the trick and you could even go three if the team was sold on him as their Nick Collison – Josh is amazingly only 26 years old.

RESULT: Charlotte re-signs PF/C Josh McRoberts.

Let’s Roster-Assess Once More:
Guards: Walker, Sessions, Smart, Lamb
Wings: MKG, Delfino, Taylor
PF: Boozer, McRoberts
C: Perkins, Biyombo, Haywood

That’s a quality 12 man roster that, depending on the young players’ development, could certainly challenge for a Playoff spot in the East and could be one of the Conference’s best teams for a decade. Check out the salary structure:

Nerd Numbers

In July of 2015, Charlotte could have up to $30 million in cap room. Some of the money will go towards re-signing Kemba but the team will have enough prospects and wins under their belt to lure the big name, max-players that they can’t today.

In the meantime, Charlotte goes into next season with:
+ An incredible young backcourt of potential All-Stars Walker and Smart, a veteran playmaker in Sessions and a major prospect in Lamb.

+ Gerald Wallace 2.0 (MKG) improving at the 3 spot with a change of pace ballhandler/shooter in Delfino to back him up.

+ A real deal post presence slash double-double guy in Boozer with McRoberts as a solid backup at Power Forward.

+ One of the league’s elite defensive centers (Perkins) mentoring a still young defensive prospect (Biyombo) with Haywood staying on as an emergency big.

+ Better protection on their 1st round pick owed to Chicago should Charlotte not make the Playoffs and a likely Lottery selection from Detroit still owed to them. They can use either of these picks on a young big to eventually replace Boozer/Perkins.

Part IV: The Final Step

Decide if Dunlap is the guy.

I don’t know the specifics of Mike Dunlap’s contract but it’s doubtful someone at his experience level has any guaranteed money in year two. Dunlap has done his best and is obviously someone who works hard and loves the game but this franchise must decide if he’s the leader this young squad needs or if the job is better left to a veteran coach like Jerry Sloan, Mike Brown, Nate McMillan or Stan Van Gundy: All of whom may find this much-improved Bobcats roster to be surprisingly enticing.


Stay tuned for Rosterpalooza ’13 Version 2.0 aka “The Re-sign Gerald Henderson Edition”

Charlotte Bobcats Post-Trade Deadline Blueprint


Byron Mullens, Kris Humphries and Ben McLemore are key Bobcats offseason targets

The NBA’s Trade Deadline has come and gone with the Bobcats keeping most of their 13-win roster intact. They are still young, they are still inexperienced and they are still pretty bad. There is reason for hope however as the team’s lack of major activity at the deadline essentially telegraphed the front office’s plans going forward. Let’s take a look at the potential blueprint:

First order of business: Roster Assessment (Now – May)

The Bobcats front office must determine what they have and what they need heading into the offseason.

  • PG: Kemba Walker is awesome. Ramon Sessions is very good. Next.
  • SG: Gerald Henderson becomes a restricted free agent in July; Ben Gordon enters into the final year of his contract.
  • SF: MKG is potentially awesome; Jeffrey Taylor is signed for two more seasons at around $800k per. Next.
  • PF: Byron Mullens becomes a restricted free agent in July. Tyrus Thomas is, well, let’s get to that later.
  • C: Bismack Biyombo is young, good at many things on defense, bad at many things on offense. Brendan Haywood is a cheap backup signed for two more seasons.
  • Jeff Adrien, Gana Diop, Reggie Williams and Josh McRoberts are expiring contracts.

Second order of business: Draft Lottery, 2013 NBA Draft (May-June)

The Bobcats have THREE different scenarios which they could explore heading into the draft, one VERY likely, the others less so.*
DRAFT SCENARIO ONE: Shooting Guard (80% Likely)
With Henderson looking for a big raise, the Cats could leverage the Class of 2013’s strengths by drafting his replacement. If Charlotte nets the 1st or 2nd overall pick, they’ll likely have a shot at Kansas guard Ben McLemore. If not, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo or UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammed would be the runners-up.
DRAFT SCENARIO TWO: Center (10% Likely)
The Bobcats determine Biyombo’s lack of offense outweighs his defensive potential and select either Indiana’s Cody Zeller or Maryland’s Alex Len.
DRAFT SCENARIO THREE: Power Forward (10% Likely)
The Bobcats get the feeling that Byron Mullens would rather play elsewhere or is looking for far more money than Charlotte is willing to pay. In this case, the Bobcats select Larry Johnson-lite, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett.
LIKELY RESULT: Charlotte selects Ben McLemore, SG Kansas.
(*I’m presuming Portland’s pick owed to Charlotte falls inside the Top 12, allowing the Blazers to keep it)

Third order of business: Pre-Agency, Free Agency, Offseason Trades (July)

FREE AGENCY Step one: Once the team has drafted a SG, they’ll attempt to find a sign & trade partner for Gerald Henderson, if only for the trade exception. Should the process become drawn out, Charlotte could opt to simply renounce Henderson’s rights, freeing up his sizable cap hold ($7.75m).
FREE AGENCY Step two: Enter into negotiations with Byron Mullens. Rich Cho has always been high on the artist formerly known as BJ, the question is how much is he going to cost. Anything less than $6 million per season is probably a bargain. More than $7.5 million is overpaying. 4 years, $26 million or 2 years, $13 million sounds about right.
FREE AGENCY Step three: Amnesty Tyrus Thomas. This will be a bitter pill for Michael Jordan to swallow as he’ll have to pay Thomas $18 million over the next two seasons to play for another team (presumably overseas or in another dimension) but removing T-Time from the payroll would put the Bobcats around $9 million under the cap AFTER signing their Top 3 pick and Mullens.
FREE AGENCY Step four: Aggressively shop for an All-Star or future Lottery pick using Ben Gordon’s expiring contract ($13.2m) and the $9 million in cap space. With the new CBA penalties for luxury tax payers, someone is likely to bite. For example: a Gordon for Carlos Boozer swap could alleviate tax problems for the Bulls and return Charlotte’s future 1st round pick owed to Chicago.  If this fails…
FREE AGENCY Step five: Absorb an expiring contract with cap room (ala Kris Humphries) and parlay both Humphries and Gordon into a very real $20-$25 million in cap room the following summer (July 2014). This prevents the team from overpaying UFAs this July when half the league’s teams will have cap space with few high-level free agents to spend their money on (aka overpaying).


Bobcats Salary Blueprint

Select Image to Enlarge the Chart

Re-Assess: Training Camp (October)

Worse case scenario, the Bobcats enter camp with:
PG: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions
SG: Ben McLemore (or Victor Oladipo), Ben Gordon
SF: MKG, Jeff Taylor
PF: Byron Mullens, Kris Humphries
C: Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood.
On the surface this is basically the roster they field today, behind the scenes however – between the draft picks owed and the unbelievable amount of cap space the team will have in July of ’14 (the year BEFORE they have to extend either Kemba or Biyombo) – the team could be setup for a near decade-long Playoff run. This is a far cry from where the roster was just two short seasons ago when Larry Brown left the team capped out with precious few assets.
Cheer up, Bobcats fans. It may take another 36 months but the team is on track to generate some serious Buzz for a very long time.