Rookie Mistake

Standard

Greetings, and welcome to my first post for Baseline Buzz!

First, a brief history: I have been a Charlotte Basketball fan since 1988. My family owned season tickets during the franchise’s golden age (top row section 238, seats 1 and 2). I was at the playoff game when Zo hit the shot to beat the Celtics, and I was at every home playoff game in 2001 when the Bugs swept the Heat (and would have beaten the Bucks if Sam Cassell would have kept his glad-hands off the refs’ backsides). During the decade I lived in San Francisco, I bought NBA League Pass every year specifically for the purpose of watching every Bobcats game, and I was surely the only person to ever purchase a ticket to a game in Oracle Arena to cheer on Gerald Wallace. And no disrespect to Muggsy, Kendall, Johnny Newman, LJ and Zo, but I believe the greatest Hornets lineup of all-time was Baron Davis, David Wesley, Jamal Mashburn, PJ Brown and Elden Campbell (and the best bench player on that team was Eddie Robinson, for what it’s worth).

With Adam’s departure from Baseline Buzz, I am stepping in midseason and attempting to fill some gigantic shoes. It is no simple task, to say the least. Rather than pick one thing to hone in on, I am going to about two bad things, two unknown quantities, and two good things. Without further ado.

NEGATIVES

—Steve Clifford’s Refusal to Give Rookies Meaningful Minutes

Look, I get it. Steve Clifford is an old-school coach, and making rookies earn their place in the Association is an old-school move. The problem is that the Hornets are not old-school good.

I like Steve Clifford, and he is a much better coach than his predecessor. He seems like he would be a fun guy to have a beer with. But his propensity for driving rookies into the ground before they get their feet wet is one of his least endearing qualities. Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon are both solid picks with gigantic potential upsides, but they need to play in order to develop into anything more than second or third-tier role players. Bacon is a solid second-rounder—if he develops into a solid NBA player, that is all gravy. But Monk needs to be in games early and often. He is a rhythm shooter, and you can’t develop rhythm on the bench. Give him meaningful minutes now, and he could be a star. Bench him so he can “learn the game” and he could be…. reverse-MKG?

—The Dwight Howard Experiment

Speaking of old-school basketball.

Unlike Adam, I hated the Dwight Howard trade from the beginning. The shedding of Plumlee’s contract was huge, and Howard’s star power is undeniable, but Dwight has a reputation of being a cancer in the locker room, and he is an admitted child-abuser.

That being said, he is putting up All-Star numbers on the basketball court, he obviously cares about the team’s performance, and I get the sense that he is trying very hard to push his teammates into the playoffs.

The problem is that he is a black hole on offense. A large portion of the Hornets’ plays so far this season consist of Kemba (or MCW) bringing the ball up court, passing it to Dwight, and then dropping back and watching Dwight either shoot or pump fake until he gets fouled.

In the past, the Hornets offense has worked with Cody Zeller at center because the CZA knows how to make the second, third and fourth pass to a cutting teammate or a shooter out on the perimeter. Of course Cody has been injured for a season and a half, so he hasn’t been an option of late.

Look, Dwight Howard is very good at basketball. There is a solution out there, I am just not sure if that solution is to teach Dwight how to pass to his teammates or look to trade him to a contender who needs a center that doesn’t know how to pass to his teammates. Either way, he has been a disruption to offenses on both sides of the floor.

 
UNKNOWNS

—The Coaching Situation

Coach Clifford took a hiatus from the team for undisclosed health-related issues, and though Stephen Silas has a strong tie to Charlotte Basketball’s past (his father is former Hornets coach and current season ticket holder Paul “Huggy Bear” Silas), he doesn’t appear to be the answer should Clifford’s health or job performance become a longer term issue.

Jason Kidd just became available.  Just throwing that out there.

—The Kemba Walker Fiasco

Floating Kemba Walker’s name in trade conversations was a mistake.  Woj knows all and Woj tells all. The only scenarios that make sense regarding this mistake:

1) Motivation

Kemba has been a little stagnant of late. Maybe a trade rumor is the fire he needed to get going.

2) A Godfather Offer

An offer along the lines of Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love and the Brooklyn pick or a package including Andrew Wiggins makes sense for both sides (Minnesota has always been high on Batum).

3) The Steph Factor

There is a Berenstainian possibility that a trade of Kemba Walker could pull Steph Curry further towards the Hornets in the future.

Reasoning: If Kemba does not get traded, he is all but guaranteed to pass Dell Curry as the leading scorer in Charlotte Basketball history.  A trade to preserve Papa Curry’s legacy is sure to be looked upon favorably.

Now, the trade scenarios that do not make sense:

1) Cap Relief

I don’t believe the Hornets are willing to dismantle their franchise to save a few bucks so long as Jordan is at the helm. Jordan wants to win, even if he hasn’t figured out how to do so as an owner.

2) Anything Involving Draft Picks

The Hornets are terrible at drafting and even worse at developing rookies. Trading an All-Star caliber player for draft picks does not make sense for this franchise.

Onto:

 
POSITIVES

—The Remaining Schedule

Over the first half of the season, the Hornets had one of the toughest schedules in the league (anywhere from the toughest to the fifth toughest, depending on metrics used). For the remainder of the season, they have the easiest schedule in the league. Barring further injury or a dumb trade, the playoffs are still in reach (as of this writing, the Hornets stand four games back of the 76ers for the eighth seed).

—Chemistry

The advantage of developing an organization where you draft and retain players is that the players have the opportunity to learn together and grow together as professionals. Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon have all spent the entirety of their careers as products of the same developmental system. They don’t know anything different than Charlotte Basketball. Injuries to MKG and Zeller have derailed several potentially prime years, but they still know how to contribute if they are able, and everyone mentioned above is still very young.

And speaking of oft-injured players, Nic Batum isn’t a native Hornet, but he has recently built a house in Charlotte, so one can imagine that he has bought into the organization as much as he possibly can. If Dwight Howard and Michael Carter-Williams are able to become more comfortable with their teammates, good basketball could be over the horizon.


 

Lebron & Dwight Aren’t Coming to Charlotte

Standard

Why Top Tier NBA Free Agents Ignore the Queen City

Let me throw a few names at you:
Johnny Newman. David Wesley. Bobby Phills. Derrick Coleman. Ramon Sessions.
Many hardcore hoops fans will recognize these guys as quality NBA players in their respective eras. Not quite All-Stars but solid starters and legit role players on very good teams. Together they represent the biggest name free agent signings in the 25 year history of Charlotte pro basketball.
I’ll repeat, these are the biggest name free agent signings in a quarter century of Charlotte pro basketball history.
Why is this exactly? Has it been the troubled ownership? James Dolan, Donald Serling and even Robert Sarver seem to have proven wacky owners can be overcome. Is it the ineptitude of the team? The Hornets knocking out ten consecutive .500 or better seasons defies this logic. Is it the Queen City itself? Hmm…

Let’s put ourselves in an NBA All-Star Free Agent’s situation: young, probably single, a multi-millionaire; the dream of becoming a household name still to come, maybe even winning a championship. What city/franchise would you choose?

TIER 1: The Easy Choices

The Obvious

Los Angeles, Miami, New York. Lakers, Heat, Knicks and Nets. Next.

SPECIAL CATEGORY: The Obvious Adjunct

The Clippers. For thirty years this franchise was a joke until Donald Sterling woke up and realized his team was located in Los Angeles.

Second Cities

San Francisco, Chicago, Boston. Even though Celts fans whine about their FA prospects, that hasn’t stopped the legendary franchise from adding great secondary pieces over the years. Chicago and SF are hoops mad metropolises and cultural epicenters.

Warm Weather + No State Income Tax

Orlando, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio wield the deadly Free Agent combination of more money kept in the pocket (for both the agent and player) and copious amounts of warm weather. We don’t think of the Spurs in this context because of the organizational philosophy to build through the draft and internationally but San Antonio has NEVER had a problem re-signing their own. Also, Orlando has golf. We know NBA guys love golf. Speaking of golf…

TIER 2: I’m Intrigued…

Sunshine All the Time

Phoenix. Dry and warm almost year round. Just a puddle jump away from LA and Vegas. The Best Training Staff on the planet. Also an underrated “smoking hot chick” destination thanks to the local universities. And lots of golf.

Under the Radar Tax Breaks Destinations

Seattle, Memphis. Aside from being charming NBA cities, both Tennessee and Washington are State Income Tax free, taxing only capital gains. Add new ownership, quality rosters and rabid local fan support…

Small Market Love Affair

OKC, Indianapolis, Utah, Denver, Portland. Speaking of rabid fan support, these cities/franchises may not have the allure of a New York or LA but between the excellent ownership and organizations, quality basketball product on the court and the fanatical support of the community, these teams offer the professional baller a very special career experience.

African-American Cultural Centers

DC, Atlanta, New Orleans. Though recently marred by bungling management and ownership instability, these markets will almost certainly rebound thanks in part to their historical and contemporary roles as black America’s cultural centers. From Howard University to Storyville to Freaknik; from Louis Armstrong to Thurgood Marshall to Outkast, there is no denying these markets hold a certain appeal to many NBA players.

International Destinations

Toronto, Minnesota. As Chris Rock once said, “the only black people in Minnesota are Prince and Kirby Puckett.” At some point during David Kahn’s recent tenure as Timberwolves GM he took this observation to heart, targeting near exclusively European or white American players in free agency. This hasn’t always been the case of course, there was once a time in which Kevin Garnett, Latrell Spreewell and Sam Cassell packed the Target Center full. Racial issues aside, this seems to be the strategy currently employeed in Minny, one that Toronto has leveraged for two decades. Put simply, if you are an International Free Agent, these two franchises are high on your list.

TIER 3: Last Resorts

(C)Old Towns

Philly, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee. Philly certainly tops this list. Proximity to NYC and DC and rich basketball/cultural heritage don’t hurt. Cold weather and an indifferent fanbase do. The Rust Belt franchises have had difficult enough time retaining their own citizens from the milder climate Southern states. Milwaukee routinely makes the news when any sort of relocation is discussed. Cleveland is still rebounding from the Lebron Decision while Detroit’s hopes are higher following a recent ownership change.

The Odd Man Out

Charlotte. Warm weather? Compared to Rochester, sure. Night Life? Certainly more options than, say, Charleston, WV. Important African-American Cultural Center? I think Petey Pablo is from Statesville. Rabid fan support? Er, um… Let’s just skip that one.
By no means is Charlotte a terrible place to live. Just look at the population explosion over the past few decades. If you’re seeking a pleasant, quiet, clean city to raise children, go to church and get a job in, then the Queen City is an absolutely outstanding pick. But if you’re a young, uber-athletic mulit-millionaire itching to put his stamp on the world, Charlotte isn’t going to hold the same level of intrigue, especially when there are twenty or more attractive options available.

There is hope. During the Hornets Playoff run in the mid-90s, Charlotte was unquestionably a “Small Market Love Affair” team. Consistent quality on the court fueled by crafty management (Bob Bass) combined with a lovable mascot and a great brand consistently packed the house, elevating the team into the second tier. While the Hornets never made headlines with an All-Star signing, the organization rarely struggled finding great secondary players to fill in the gaps leftover from smart trades and sound drafts. This sort of strategy can and will work again once the franchise has fully risen out of the hole dug first by George Shinn and deeper by Bob Johnson.

-ASChin

Cam | Kemba

Standard

Beginning.

Two franchises rebuilding from the ground up in the small market boonies. Two first round draft picks. Best player in collegiate gridiron; best player in collegiate hoops. Two national championships. Two players second guessed by talking heads. Not ready for prime time, too short, too raw, two lockouts with too little time to prepare, too bad for the fans in Charlotte. Perpetual rebuilding.

Middle.

Something unexpected happens. Cam Newton struts out of the huddle in Glendale – nine eleven ten point oh-no that’s a seventy yard touchdown pass. Must’ve been a fluke – wait he just hit Steve Smith for another end zone bomb. Maybe we were wrong. Three TDs and four hundred plus yards later Cameron sets records and the talking heads start back-trackin’. Why ya’ll so surprised?

He probably won’t do this every week but Jimmy Clausen won’t do this any week. Carolina fans rejoice – not only do they buy tickets, some start to show up for the games. This Newton character, he just might be The One. Twenty three years and three pro sports franchises later, Charlotte has never had One of them before. Maybe they’ll have Two.

The NBA lockout ends. Kemba suits up in blue and orange. Hi-five from Rufus Lynx. Hey now. The lights turn on so he turns on; the bigger the stage, the bigger the man. He lives for this. Cam lives for this. Will the Bobcats name Kemba Walker their starting point guard? turns into D.J. who? 
The smallest one on the court wants the pressure. He needs it. Give me the responsibility – don’t be afraid of winning, I’ve done it before and it feels good. Let’s do it again.

He falls often but gets back up more often. They are better than they should be but Kemba isn’t satisfied. Newton isn’t satisfied. It’s not enough. Two now. Getting better.

End.

A land of transplants. A sea of terrible towels, of Kobe purple & golds, of Lone Stars. In less than a generation they disappear year by year – replaced by sleeveless Fifteens and electric blue Ones. Two potential game changers, finally, after all those faceless seasons from Tripucka to Biakabutuka. No longer big-boxed replicas preening, manufacturing an image for fear of not having one at all. Better now. Two icons and entertainers. Originals. We take the hint. An identity all our own.

-ASChin

Lazy Sunday Links

Standard

Sitting around waiting for a goal to be scored in the World Cup final on this sweltering Sunday afternoon?  Lucky for you, as is often the case on Sundays, there’s some pretty good reading out there.

LebronWadeBosh

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Brian Windhorst offers a must-read on how the stage was set for these guys to join forces in “South Beach.”  As the Sports Guy has pointed out, there’s way more to this story that will hopefully come out in time, but this is a great start:

Now that the move has been made, the veil of secrecy is being raised to a degree as people are beginning to talk. The Plain Dealer talked to numerous sources to piece together a picture of how James ended up in Miami.  It is still a somewhat fuzzy picture, but here are the broad strokes…

And if you haven’t had a chance to read any of the overwhelmingly negative national reaction to Lebron’s decision, here are two excellent pieces from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Deadspin/New York Magazine’s Will Leitch.

Felton to Knicks

Details of Raymond’s deal with the Knicks are out.  Apparently the deal is for 2 years/$15.8 million.  There is a third year team option for a similar figure which could bring the deal in the neighborhood of $25 million over three years.  Raymond’s decision to pass up the Bobcats’ long term offer last summer is looking worse and worse from his perspective.  Still wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish his career back in Charlotte as a backup down the road.

Here’s Bonnell’s story for the Observer and some more quotes from a South Carolina paper.  You can tell it’s a South Carolina paper because of the headline: “Felton looks forward to bright lights of the Big Apple”.  Good grief.

Orlando Summer League

We’ve given the Bobcats’ mostly positive turn in last week’s Orlando Summer League short shrift here at the Baseline, but it’s not for lack of caring.  Look for a post on the subject in the coming days.  In the meantime, here’s Bonnell from the Observer with some thoughts:

Gerald Henderson and Derrick Brown can be trusted with bigger roles next season… It’s dangerous to put too much weight on summer-league performances — you’re supposed to excel against D-Leaguers — but it was obvious Henderson an Brown are figuring out what it takes to be productive on the NBA level.

The national media outlets pay less attention to the Orlando Summer league relative to the bigger and better Las Vegas Summer League; and when they do cover Orlando, the rookies (Philly’s Evan Tuner and New Jersey’s Derrick Favors in this case) get most of the attention.  Despite that, there were several mentions of the Bobcats young vets looking good.

Michael Jordan in Charlotte

Scott Fowler has a nice article in today’s Observer on Michael Jordan’s increased presence in the city of Charlotte and the Bobcats front office since he, you know, bought the team:

In the three months or so since Jordan bought the Charlotte Bobcats from Bob Johnson and became the team’s majority owner, Jordan’s visibility both in the community and in the Bobcats’ offices has increased dramatically.

Jordan has bought a home in uptown Charlotte five minutes from Time Warner Cable Arena and plans to start living there part time in September…

There’s also a slideshow of pictures from the Bobcats Fantasy Camp mentioned in the article.  As I write this, the article is currently the “Most Viewed” on the Observer’s website, and I’ve already been part of an email thread amongst friends discussing it.

Clearly, people care about how engaged Jordan is with the city of Charlotte.  The Bobcats are aware of it; they included questions about “how important” it was to me whether or not Jordan purchased a home here in a survey sent to season ticket holders recently.  Seriously.

Hopefully, people at least see Jordan’s level of engagement with the city an indicator of how engaged he is with the team.  If so, fine.  I suppose it’s a reasonable proxy.

But I guess I’m just a different kind of fan (clearly, I have a blog).  I could care less whether Jordan buys a house in Charlotte, or bowls and eats at the Epicentre.  I don’t need to put on a “Jordan Brand” t-shirt and drool over him at a “fantasy” camp.

I’d be much more happy if the team made sound financial/personnel decisions, stopped whiffing on draft picks, and thus consistently put a competitive basketball team on the court.  They’ve had trouble doing that over the history of the franchise.

2010’s playoff experience was undoubtedly a positive thing, but I’m still dubious of the Cats’ chances for on-court success in the medium-term due to salary cap issues and a lack of elite young talent.

Don’t sell me a bunch of sizzling Air Jordan “value-added” side dishes when the main course needs work.

-Dr. E




The Importance of Intangibles (or Turnovers)

Standard

INTANGIBLES

Can Experience and Leadership Always Create Positive Results?

For the past year, there has been an emerging divide amongst the Bobcats fans. One camp views Raymond Felton as the undeniable leader of the team. The general view from this perspective rests upon Felton’s success as a college athlete and last season’s promotion to the starting point guard position. One of the biggest arguments for Raymond is that he’s shown leadership, “intangibles”, and holds much more experience than his backup. The other side of the Felton coin is given special attention by the so-called “Raymond Haters.” This group of fans sees Felton strictly for his statistics and his contribution to Charlotte’s losing nature over the course of his tenure with the team. The old bit about “the grass is always greener” seems to be the mantra of those hoping to see Raymond replaced.

Felton does provide leadership. For better or for worse, he stands as the struggling Bobcats’ most decisive offensive player. Unfortunately for the Tarheel, his pro career statistics have shown little to prove he should start at point guard at the NBA level. Like another local fan-favorite, Panthers QB Jake Delhomme, Felton has received a load of praise about his demeanor, leadership in the locker room, and those ever-so-hard-to-describe intangibles.

Just like Jake, Raymond started off this season with a boat load of turnovers and very few passes leading to scores. The local football fans turned on Delhomme despite his great status as a teammate with stellar intangibles. The quarterback’s tendency to hand the ball to the opposition made him nearly impossible to watch. Now, the Bobcats seem to be enduring the same situation. Oddly, the expectations for this team are so low that no one is really that upset over the point guard’s high rate of failure.

NBA Starter or Reserve

Felton has shown promise as a solid pro player. He’s found ways to score and he’s been able to play defense up to Larry Brown’s high standards. The question mark for NBA fans of Charlotte is Raymond’s ability to truly lead such a desperate club as the Bobcats look this season. He’s shown grit, heart, dedication, and toughness but that only gets you so much.

So, one group of fans will inevitably ask “What’s so wrong with Raymond running the team’s offense?” The answer for this would be three-fold. First off, Felton is the leader of the worst offense in the NBA.  Secondly, a starter on an NBA team should not turn the ball over so much. Lastly, and most importantly, Felton’s hard work and intangible efforts still don’t make him a star basketball player (which is what this team needs).

It’s hard to define that frequent sports compliment of “intangibles” because you don’t really hear anyone talk about truly great players having “intangibles.” I don’t hear as much about Kobe’s “intangibles” as I hear about his scoring, his defense, and his rings. Having a lot of “heart” or determination might make the great players into legends, but it doesn’t do the same for those simply good-enough-to-go-pro guys. While folks used to love watching Jared Dudley overachieve here and there and score 4 or 5 more points than he should or get that extra “hustle” rebound, no one wants to build a team around Jared Dudley. When it’s time to make a deal, most of us would take a guy that can show us a career of solid stats over the guy that can only claim “intangibles.”

Bobcats Next Step

For Charlotte’s banker crew, let’s pose this question – “Are there any means to measure the value of a player, other than recorded statistics?” Looking at Felton’s numbers, would a speculator even bother considering this investment? Without a definition of the core intangibles that Felton seems to possess, it’s tough to have a proper debate about the pros and cons of #20 playing starting point guard for the Bobcats.

Next month, the Bobcats will have the ability to trade Felton (with his permission). Obvious needs have come to light early this season and the team will likely attempt to move any asset in order to improve.  Raymond Felton poses such a complex dilemma for the club.  The perpetually confused Bobcats organization must commit to a direction.  Will they reward Felton for his hard work or evaluate him based upon his production?

-Mike

Quick Start to Bobcats Preseason News

Standard

preseason-09-si

It seems like the long drought of non-NBA action was so long ago now that NBA Preseason is underway.  The Bobcats have shown some good signs of growth as they’ve put together two competitive games so far against the Cavs (loss) and the Hornets (win).  For anyone who caught the last, local TV broadcast on the FS Carolinas nextwork, it may have seemed like a surreal Charlotte-NBA concoction.  The list of oddities is tough to summarize, but I’ll try –  The Hornets played against the Bobcats in Greensboro’s teal saturated arena, both wearing pinstriped uniforms, with Steve Martin and Dell Curry calling the game for the TV broadcast.

BOBCATS PRESEASON NEWS

  • Emeka Okafor has always presented himself as a great professional and has conveyed as much sophistication as any athlete.  He told reporters that we was surprised by the trade that sent him from Charlotte to New Orleans.  Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has more on Okafor’s return to NC this past Wednesday.
  • Brian Hendrickson of Sports Illustrated has written an encouraging piece about the Bobcats current situation.  Rarely does SI shed a positive light on the organization, but Hendrickson seems to see the team getting past all of those errors and obstacles.  Read it at SI.com.
  • The Bobcats have finally posted real images of their jerseys on the online team store.  I have to say that the home uniforms are looking great.  The road jerseys might take a little more time to settle in.  This Diaw jersey might be a good purchase.
  • Lastly, the free agent of much Bobcats Baseline adoration doesn’t look so glowingly perfect nowadays.  Memphis Grizzlies guard Allen Iverson looks to be sidelined for the entire Preseason after injuring his hamstring.  Iverson told the media that his leg “popped” when he “stopped on a dime.”  But wasn’t Dime where we read that Iverson had a deal with Charlotte?

NEXT GAME

Cavs vs Cats in Charleston, SC on Saturday night.  No Boris Diaw, Tyson Chandler, Delonte West, or Jamario Moon. . . but there will be plenty of Shaq and Lebron for ESPN to show us afterward.

-Mike