Being Bad Has Never Felt So Bad

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’11-’12 Charlotte Bobcats Quarterly Report: Vol. 1

The Charlotte Bobcats have started nearly all of their first seventeen games deficient in talent; they’ve ended most of them deficient in effort. Not exactly the sort of problem you would have expected from a young, Paul Silas-coached team. So who or what is the culprit for this early season malaise?

Issue Number One: The Diaw Dilemma

Out of shape, neurotic and enigmatic, Boris “Ladyhips” Diaw has been the poster-boy for the Bobcats ennui. His 27 point outburst against the Knicks  notwithstanding, Boris has been relegated to the bench as his perpetual disappearing act had driven the coach, ownership and fans one step too far.

Worse yet, Diaw’s mere presence has constipated the Bobcats frontcourt situation:

  • DJ White has clearly outplayed him thus far.
  • The team is committed to Tyrus Thomas for another three seasons.
  • Bismack Biyombo isn’t ready enough to play center full-time.

The Cats would love to rid themselves of Diaw’s expiring contract in order to allocate precious developmental minutes to the other three but how many teams in the league have both the need and the expiring contract Charlotte would require to make a deal?

The Knicks and Suns would seem the logical answers but neither of those teams have the types of players/assets the Bobcats would need in return. Baseline’s own Ben Weinrib postulated a Clippers scenario that could work but Charlotte may have to resort to benching Diaw for the remainder of the season and wait for his contract to expire in July.

Issue Number Two: Maggette Looks Done

@Baseline DrE noticed it from game one: Corey Maggette looks spent. His jumper isn’t falling, he’s not getting to the line,  he’s consistently a step slow on D and a strained calf has sidelined him for most of the month. This is all bad news considering that Silas practically designed the entire offense around him before the season started.

As is stands, the team is paying him $10 million this season and still owes him another $10 million for next. While the entire concept of “amnesty-ing” a player must stink to a small market squad like the Bobcats, one could only imagine that’s it’s being discussed, especially if the team can somehow convince a big name FA to take their money. That’s probably not going to happen so look for Maggette to remain in Cat-stripes until the summer of 2013.

Issue Number Three: Kemba Keep Your Head Up

Classic Bobcat conundrum: Your strengths are your weaknesses. D.J. Augustin has really elevated his game this season, thus putting rookie point Kemba Walker in a primarily off-guard role. This works ok about 30% of the time, meaning the 30% of the time Kemba makes his “head down, Monta-Ellis-inspired” step-back jumpers. The problem isn’t that Kemba isn’t a good enough a shooter yet, it’s that he’s learning a lot of bad habits that may come to limit his impact and future growth.

Kemba will need to play PG in the NBA. A decent team simply can’t start a six foot two guard and expect to win many games. He’ll need to learn how to distribute first, work the opposing defense and manage the game, shooting only when necessary. I don’t think the damage is irreparable but Coach Silas will need to transition Kemba to the role of PG sooner rather than later in order for Walker to rise above his current ceiling as “a rich man’s Nate Robinson”.

Issue Number Four: Mullens Gives As Much As He Gets

Mullens-mania has been one of the few bright spots over the past month. The young man has a nice shooting touch, good offensive feel for the game and seems to give half a crap about improving. That’s fine. The problem is that Byron is a textbook turnstile on defense with the opposing offense going right at him as soon as he checks into the game. Weak-side help defense? Fuh-get about it.

Unless BJ can bulk up and learn some killer mano y mano D during the offseason, his primary role in the league will be that of a 20 minute a night backup/change of pace center — which, by the way, isn’t a bad thing at all. It sure as heck beats playing in the D-League.

Issue Number Five: Silas Senility

This is the most surprising issue of all. Paul Silas’s mission for the season should be clear: LOSE GAMES, DEVELOP YOUNG PLAYERS.

Simple, right? While Sugar Bear has a proven adept at losing, his most recent rotations suggest ignorance or obstinacy in the face of facts. Both Kemba and Biyombo need to be receiving as many developmental minutes at their NATURAL positions as possible. Same can be said for Henderson, Augustin, White and Mullens. Instead Silas has been trotting out a “F.U.” lineup featuring:

  • Matt Carroll (12th man, near expiring deal)
  • Eddie Najera (14th man, expiring deal)
  • Derrick Brown (11th man, expiring deal)
  • Boris Diaw (discussed, expiring deal)
  • Cory Higgins (13th man, expiring deal)

Good for tanking games? Yes. Good for developing prospects? No. Good for desecrating the sport/wasting fans money? Absolutely.

FIRST QUARTER PLAYER TIERS:

TIER ONE – THE KEEPERS

1. Gerald Henderson.

Still only 24 years old, “Hendo” has become the rare sequel better than the original. While he’ll probably never develop into a team’s go-to scorer, Henderson’s gifts as a shut-down defender and his ever-improving jump-shot make him a bona-fide starter in the league. Henderson started driving to the lane more in the last few games, getting to the line and drawing fouls. His ho-hum PER might not reflect it at the moment but Henderson is THE LONG TERM solution at two guard.

2. D.J. Augustin/Kemba Walker.

You gotta love the fact that Augustin has stepped up in the face of a challenge. Kemba should be taking notes: D.J. notched a near 3:1 assist to TO ratio during the first sixteen games of the season, nailing 38% of his three balls while averaging 15 ppg.

He’s a restricted free agent after the season and I don’t see a scenario in which the team doesn’t re-sign him. Fortunately with Rich Cho running the negotiations, Charlotte fans needn’t worry about the team overpaying.

The issue of course is what to do with Walker. Kemba has an incredible set of intangibles and is already a much more dynamic scorer. With a couple of seasons learning the position, Walker could be in line for the starting gig. If Cho can ink Augustin to an attractive contract, the Bobcats may find themselves with an ideal trading chip a year plus down the road.

3. Bismack Biyombo.

He didn’t exactly burst onto the scene but in limited appearances, the big man has shown flashes of incredible defensive potential.

First off, he’s a physical freak. Apparently the “strongest” and “toughest” guy on the roster, Biyombo’s build is deceivingly slight. During warmups last week I saw him stand next to D.J. White, a legit 6’9″ PF. Same height but while White’s arms dangled around mid-thigh, Bismack’s fingers nearly touched his kneecaps. Jay Bilas just climaxed reading that.

Opposing offensive players are noticing too. Biyombo is averaging nearly 5 blocks per 40 minutes of play and subjectively you can see players alter shots, launch high floaters or avoid the lane altogether when he’s in the game. I honestly thought it would take a couple of seasons for him to have any impact but thus far, in limited minutes, he’s done much more than advertised.

4. OKC’s D-Leaguers

If D.J. White is your backup PF, giving you 14-20 minutes a night, you’re in good shape. If Byron Mullens is your backup C, giving you 14-20 minutes a night, you’re in good shape. If either of these two are your starters, you are in bad shape.

Lesson: Re-sign both players to cap-friendly deals (White this summer, Mullens next summer), play them as upside backups and win games. Start them and lose games. The end.

TIER TWO – WHAT DO WE DO WITH YOU?

1. Tyrus Thomas.

Tyrus gets his own sub-category. The team owes him another three years, $24 million AFTER this season. Mentally he’s as lost as ever (we expected that) but physically he looks borderline emaciated after an apparent offseason working out with Austin Daye and Angelina Jolie.

This has all conspired to make Tyrus virtually untradeable. He’s owed too much for too long to amnesty so it looks like the team is stuck with him for at least the next two or three seasons. Sadly, the Bobcats still owe Chicago a first rounder in that time for his services.

TIER THREE – “MEH”

1. Derrick Brown.

I want DBrown to be better than he is but the team is simply much worse while he’s on the floor. It’s hard to justify this with actual plus/minus numbers on a team that loses by twenty every night but anecdotally, Brown just doesn’t seem to understand the basics of the game – every other play he’s involved in ends with a turnover, missed shot or a foul.

2. Cory Higgins.

I’ve seen more than a few plays that tell me he’s a legit NBA player but Cory will absolutely need to work on a consistent jump shot to have any chance of staying in the league as a role player.

3. Reggie Williams/Edwardo Najera.

Have very high hopes for Williams once he comes back in March. The team desperately needs a hot hand off the bench and that fits Reggie’s MO. Najera will be gone next offseason when his contract expires. In the meantime, he looks like a guy who took a wrong turn out of the YMCA locker room and ended up in TWC.

TIER FOUR – GET ‘EM OUT OF HERE

1. Boris Diaw.

Already discussed.

2. Corey Maggette.

See above.

3. Matt Carroll/Gana Diop.

Called on and paid well to do exactly one thing each and neither does that thing all that well. Fortunately, they’ll both be off the books come July ’13 and Diop at least has value as a semi-tough big in the meantime.

Two STARters Away

With Augustin/Walker, Gerald Henderson and (eventually) Bismack Biyombo, the Bobcats are just two starters away from fielding a solid playoff contender. Unfortunately, those two starters will need to be ALL-STARs.

The good news is that they’ll probably get one in this year’s draft. KU’s Anthony Davis, UCONN’s Andre Drummond, Baylor’s Perry Jones and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger could all blossom into big-time NBA players and would fit quite nicely next to an emerging Bismack Biyombo at PF. UNC’s Harrison Barnes and KU’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could become the dominating offensive force on the wings the Bobcats desperately need.

Combine Augustin/Walker, Henderson, Biyombo and one of the diaper-dandies above with max cap room this summer or next and the Bobcats could find themselves in a very favorable position sooner than later.

Until then, Enjoy the Rebuilding Bobcats Fans…

-ASChin

Twitter: @bobcatsbaseline

Bobcats Are Undefeated

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The Bobcats are back and here’s a sentence that will probably never be written again.

It’s the end of December and the Charlotte Bobcats haven’t lost a game this season.

Yep, the Cats took care of of the visiting Milwaukee Bucks last night in their home opener and now stand undefeated. We can’t count on too many wins this year, so let’s savor this one. The Bobcats are in a really awkward stage right now. They have a bunch of young guys that may or may not be professional basketball players. None are stars. Yet, those of us that tuned in or attended their first game of the 2011 season saw an energetic bunch overtake a much more talented and experienced group of players.

It was great to read how Coach Paul Silas was so casual with the press before the game, letting them know that “Stephen Jackson is going to try to kill us…” Silas had an inexperienced roster that was supposed to face the likes of Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut, and Stephen Jackson on opening night. It’s clear that the Bucks are probably going to be pretty good this year. They may not be a contender, but they’ll make the Playoffs. They’ll likely advance into the second-round. Surely, Scott Skiles will get this group in order and they’ll operate like a well-tuned machine. Luckily, the Bobcats caught them before the machine could get running.

Here are the some of the things I noticed in last night’s introduction to the 2011-12 Bobcats:

  • Kemba Walker could contend for Rookie of the Year. He’s going to be good. Can he be great?
  • Byron Mullens knocked down a couple of outside shots. What can he do in the paint?
  • DJ Augustin was playing like a real point guard. Nice to see his progress continue under Silas.
  • Gana Diop found a way to contribute – or Silas found a way to make him somewhat useful.
  • Boris Diaw is going to do a lot to help the team and that might help him land a big contract this summer.
  • Nice touch by the club to find courtside seats for Cam Newton (the most popular guy in town).
  • Gerald Henderson looks healthy and ready to be a big part of the team.
  • Corey Maggete isn’t so bad, after all. I might not rush out to buy his jersey, but he’s alright.

POLL : How Many Bobcat Wins This Season?

  • Under 15 (56%, 84 Votes)
  • Around 20 (21%, 31 Votes)
  • Over 20 (13%, 19 Votes)
  • Over 30 (10%, 15 Votes)

Total Voters: 149

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‘Tis the Season (to be in the Lottery)

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Bismack & Kemba Wallpaper by metalhdmh (via deviant art)

2011 Charlotte Bobcats Preview

Two things you need to know about the ’11-’12 Charlotte Bobcats season:

  • They are going to be very, very BAD.
  • It will be one of the BEST seasons in franchise history.

Sound strange? It is. But that’s just part of the fun of being a Bobcats fan. You see, the organization has spent its entire eight year run in Charlotte “winging it” from one blunder to the next — hoping that the ship will right itself magically both on the court and off. No more hoping. This team has a plan. And a good one at that.

Newly hired GM Rich Cho set expectations early with a ballsy Draft Day trade that sent out Stephen Jackson and returned potential building block Bismack Biyombo. Kemba Walker came two picks later and now the team enters training camp with sights set not on this season but onward towards the summer of 2013.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE COMING MONTHS

1. Making the Playoffs = DISASTER.

Cho has seen this movie before and he didn’t like the ending. REPEAT: You’ve got to be bad before being good. Being bad means a high lottery pick in a LOADED 2012 Draft. Charlotte has little chance of landing a superstar via free agency so the ONLY WAY that they’ll get one is in the draft. With Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Perry Jones and Jared Sullinger just seven months away from shaking the Commissioner’s hand, the Bobcats MUST bottom out this season in order to have a shot at Lottery love. To make matters worse, if the ‘Cats somehow finish outside the top fourteen, their pick goes to Chicago as late payback for Tyrus Thomas.

BOTTOM LINE: Be Entertaining But Do Not Win Games; expect a losing record.

2. Cheap, Young, No-Name Free Agents.

At $49.7 million in guaranteed contracts, the Bobcats are already at the mandated 85% salary cap floor level. There is NO REASON to spend money on name-brand Free Agents this December. Here’s an exercise: Every time you see a commenter whining about how the Bobcats should sign Jamal Crawford, your immediate response should be laughter, followed by an immediate heaving sob when you remember that the team owes a combined $54 million to Corey Maggette, Boris Diaw, Gana Diop, Matt Carroll and “Don Juan Draper” Najera over the next two seasons.

The goal here is to sign young, low-cost/high-potential players to short contracts (ideally two years) and see what they can do. I’ve already chronicled the prospects of Earl Clark, Brandon Wright, Nick Young and Josh McRoberts. I’ll add one more intriguing name a little bit later…

BOTTOM LINE: Expect the Bobcats to make a run at a young, cheap free agent over the next few weeks.

3. What Cap Space Means to Small Market Teams.

Let’s be honest: Cap space for the Knicks and cap space for the Bobcats are two entirely different beasts. You’re never going to read a HoopsHype headline screaming: “Derrick Rose demands Sign and Trade to Milwaukee”. It just doesn’t work that way. Disgruntled Superstars want brighter lights, bigger cities. The only chance small market teams have in a star driven league is to draft homegrown talent, build a championship caliber nucleus around him and pay him gloriously.

In the meantime, small market clubs like Charlotte can utilize their cap space by taking on bad contracts in exchange for draft choices or maintaining flexibility in the case a not quite-Superstar is available in a trade. Charlotte will be around $17 million under the cap next summer and nearly $40 million under the cap in the summer of 2013. By maintaining flexibility, the ‘Cats will in prime position should a team dangle picks or an All-Star over the next few seasons.

BOTTOM LINE: Expect the Bobcats to be in the market for a salary dump-for-draft picks deal by the trade deadline.

4. Don’t amnesty Gana Diop.

The amnesty “waiver” clause is a slap in the face to well-managed small market franchises. The “amnestied” contracts still have to be paid out, they just don’t count against a team’s cap — which means free spending teams like the Lakers, Wizards, Magic, Mavericks and Knicks essentially get a higher cap than the rest of the league.

Don’t get me wrong, Gana Diop and his albatross full-midlevel deal has been an unmitigated disaster, a final “F.U.” from Larry Brown, but if you have to pay the guy anyway why not try and get something out of him. Even if its only one point, one block and two and a half rebounds in eleven minutes. The Bobcats aren’t going to need the cap space for the next two years anyway and having Diop’s contract on the roster will help* them reach the 85% cap threshold in the meantime.
(*Note that this will be the first time Gana Diop has ever helped the Bobcats in any way)

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t expect the Bobcats to waive Gana Diop this season.

5. Re-Sign Kwame Brown ONLY if the money is right.

Kwame was a great redemption story last season. He played hard and kept the team in games with his rugged low post defense and surprising collection of double-doubles. The issue is that at 29, Brown is just a little too long in the tooth for the Bobcats plans. If he’s looking for more than $4 million per, then the team should let him walk.

There is one other option: If the team is in love with him and wants to secure his services for another three or four seasons, they could throw him a “Nick Collison” deal by handing him $8 million this season and $3.5 over the next three. This would give Kwame a 4 year $20 million deal without jeopardizing future cap flexibility in the summers ahead.

BOTTOM LINE: Expect the Bobcats to re-sign Kwame ONLY if they can fit him into their long-term salary cap plans.

6. What to do with Boris Diaw?

It’s the final year of his contract and you would hope that he’ll be motivated to earn one last big payday. If so, then great. The Bobcats would like nothing more than for Diaw to come in, play hard and catch the eye of a contender in need of frontcourt help. A badass Boris could mean another draft pick or prospect via trade while an average one will at least mean cap relief come July.

BOTTOM LINE: With Bismack, Tyrus and D.J. White already at the PF spot, Diaw could be the first Bobcat traded this season.

7. Redemption Song: Sign Adam Morrison

“Old Bobcats, yes, dey rob I;

Sold I to Los Angeles,

Minutes after they took I

With da third overall pick.”

Adam Morrison is making a comeback. Sure, we’ve all seen that ridiculous scrap AMMO picked with an 18 year old kid in Serbia but did you see the sick highlight reel where he dropped 30 in old-school Gonzaga-mode just a few games later? Morrison is angling for a return to the league and I can’t think of any better team to do it with than the one that drafted him five years ago. The ‘Cats needs another scorer off the bench, needs depth at the SF position and Morrison will no doubt come cheap. It worked with Kwame, why not try it with the ‘Stache?

BOTTOM LINE: I can’t think of a better storyline for the Bobcats this year than to have Adam Morrison come back and average double figures off the bench. It’s worth a shot.

In summary, expect the Bobcats to be bad but entertaining this season and next. Expect them to add draft picks and young FAs. Expect them to let veteran contracts expire while young guns learn on the job. And finally, expect them to be very, VERY GOOD starting November, 2013 when Rich Cho and MJ will be hanging in the owner’s suite, smoking Cubans and saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

-ASChin

How The Bobcats Can Improve : Escaping The Nottery – Ver. 2.0

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Charlotte Bobcats Offseason Checklist – PreDraft Edition

A little over a month ago I began part one of this series by defining the titular “Nottery” as:

A place where franchises go to die: Not good enough to be good and not bad enough to get good. Bobcats owner Michael Jordan understood this more so than any other when he made the controversial Gerald Wallace trade last month. Good isn’t good enough and if you want to get better, sometimes you gotta get a little worse.

Flash forward to last Monday when my bald-headed AmerAsian brother from another mother capped off his initial press conference with the following zinger:

One of the worst things you can do in this league, I think is be a middle-of-the-road team. After the team traded Gerald Wallace, I think there’s a lot of parallels (with Cho’s previous gig in Seattle/OKC). We got some cap room coming up, some assets and picks.

What can I say, great minds think alike.

So without further ado, let’s get to some good old fashion rosterbation, Southern Style!

SECTION 1. WHAT WE GOT

Before we head out to the supermarket, we should take a look in the cupboard. As badly as the Bobcats finished the season, the team does have a few assets.

a.) D.J. Augustin

Has clearly shown that he can be a top 20 starting PG in the league (although our own @BaselineDrE insists that Earl Boykins would destroy him in a PER contest). D.J. can shoot and has figured out how to score from in close. Perhaps no player currently in the league benefited from J.J. Barea’s Playoff Explosion more than Augustin. D.J. has more upside, is more versatile and stronger. Could be headed for a breakout season and newly crowned Bobcats GM Rich Cho repeatedly brought his name up during last week’s press conference – the team seems committed to him.

Another couple of positives: He proved that he could shoot his way out of a slump and is still on that sweet rookie deal.

b.) Stephen Jackson

Volatile and getting a bit long in the tooth, Jackson is a former champ and the Bobcats’ best player. He’s the only guy who can consistently create his own shot and when he’s on, can single-handily carry the team to a victory. Showed up at a team workout last month twenty pounds lighter and in great shape. Coach Silas intimated that at this weight JAX could play another 4-5 seasons. His contract is probably untradeable until at least the summer of 2012 so look for JAX to remain in his role with the team next season.

UPDATE: AP’s @mikecranston1 announced that other teams have been inquiring about Jackson’s availability so there could be a scenario in which the Bobcats start next season without one of the League’s most under-rated two way players.

c.) Tyrus Thomas

Needs to prove that he can stay healthy and stay focused but when he’s in physical and mental shape can really change the game from a defensive perspective. Solid rebounder and excellent shot blocker who has a nice mid-range jumper. Bobcats have invested a ton of cash hoping the Tyrus experiment works out. Best case scenario: Starting Power Forward for the next five seasons. Worst case scenario: Severely overpaid role player.

d.) Gerald Henderson

Very good defensive guard. Very athletic. Shown promise as a cutter but jump shot is still erratic. Henderson is another unknown. May one day become a great long-ball shooter but not there yet. Finished the season on an absolute tear, going for nearly 15ppg in March and April while shooting nearly 46% from the floor just over 34 minutes a game.

UPDATE: Had hip surgery in early May to repair a congenital flaw that led to chronic knee pain. Brass hopes he’s back 100% by the start of training camp.

e.) D.J. White, Dante Cunningham (RFA), Shaun Livingston

Three youngish rotation players who have shown flashes of potential. White seems to have the most upside and is still on his rookie deal. Livingston has managed to carve out a place in the league after destroying his knee a few years ago. Cunningham showed flashes as a full-time three (recording possibly the team highlight of the year by smacking away a KG gimme at the rim) but was busted for possession of the chronic after the season and has yet to receive his $1 million tender from the team.

Total it up and you have seven players who’ll most likely be suiting up for the Bobcats next season. That’s half a roster. Combine them with two first round draft picks next week and the CAP CRUNCHERS (Gana Diop, Matt Carroll, Eddie Najera) and you’re down to just two roster spots available to improve the team.

SECTION 2. WHAT WE NEED

Augustin, Jackson, Thomas and Henderson will most likely return as four of the team’s starters. Livingston, White and possibly Cunningham will be solid contributors from the bench. That still leaves some major needs:

a.) Men in the Middle

A pleasantly mediocre surprise, Kwame Brown will be an unrestricted free agent come July and the team will need to make a major upgrade if it wants to compete. Gana Diop is currently the only center on the roster and he was bad before the season ending achilles injury. With Diop not likely to see action until at least next December, the Cats will most likely have to add size in Thursday’s Draft (see below) and hope Kwame gives them a bit of a hometown discount once FA starts after the new CBA.

b.) Bench Scoring

Augustin, Jackson and (if he develops a jumper) Henderson can handle most of the scoring as starters but the team lacks any sort of big time scoring presence from the bench. The Bobcats will need to find someone capable of taking off some of the scoring load. Coach Silas has been very vocal about his team’s lack of three point shooting and there are some players in the middle of the draft who could fill that need. Some veteran help might come relatively cheap in the way of Delonte West, Anthony Parker or Mike Dunleavy should Cho feel the need to stock up.

c.) Stars

Either through the draft or through crafty trades, the Bobcats will need to find a way to bring in a guy who’ll move the turnstiles and put down game-winning buckets.

This need won’t likely be met during the draft or in free agency this year but with Diaw and Najera coming off the books next summer and with Jackson transitioning into an expiring year, the Bobcats could make some serious noise in the vaunted summer FA class of 2012 (Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard).

SECTION 3. THE DRAFT

Just a few days away and the Bobcats sit pretty with picks number 9 and 19 in a muddy first round.

I’ve been racking my brain about this on Twitter and have come to the following conclusion:

It’s gonna be a wing and a big man.

Can’t say in what order but looking at the options available to the team at number nine and the dearth of quality starting fives in the league my gut tells me it’s going to be Southern Cal’s Nikola Vucevic first and whichever wing is available around pick nineteen next.

This would be high for Vucevic, who wasn’t even a first round lock at the end of the college season, but after his outstanding workouts around the league and after surveying the competition I think Bobcats management will pull the trigger simply because Nikola represents the best value.

Think of it this way: At 7ft, 260 and with three years of NCAA experience Vucevic has the body to come in and play right away. Between his soft touch around the hoop and a nice collegiate three point jumper, the guy would immediately be the most offensively potent center in team history (well, at least since Primoz Brezec). He plays a position which traditionally is well over-paid so by drafting a rookie the team could lock a potential starter into a four year rookie scale deal. Killer timing for next year’s free agency bonanza. Defensively, Vucevic’s slow-footedness is a concern but he’s a solid rebounder and would be a great fit next to Tyrus Thomas.

COMPS: Mehmet Okhur, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez.

At pick nineteen, Master Cho could then look at the abundant number of wing players (Jordan Hamilton, Marshon Brooks, Chris Singleton, Tobias Harris, Darius Morris) still on the board. He could roll the dice and take a player like Boston College’s Reggie Jackson. With the Heat reportedly high on the Rondo-clone, the Cats could screw over a division rival while adding another dimension to their backcourt.

The IDEAL scenario, of course, would be a second-tier wing player like Kawhi Leonard dropping to the Bobcats at #9 and then maneuvering up from #19 to select Vucevic before the Rockets can nab him at #14. I just don’t see how this is a possibility though if Houston is in fact ready to Nikola with the last pick in the Lottery.

SECTION 4. FREE AGENCY

No one knows what the new CBA will look like next season (if there is one) but I’d be willing to bet that the Bobcats’ situation won’t change much. Once all of the expirings come off, the team will sit at around $49 million in salaries, around $10 million south of this year’s cap. Add in the two first rounders along with (possibly) re-upping Dante Cunningham, the team should be at around $54 million.

Obviously, the remaining $6 million wouldn’t be enough to bring in a big-name star (even if there was one in a weak FA class) but the extra wiggle room may help them pull off a deal or two IF the team is lucky enough to import a decent center from another team.

Free Agent Centers 2011:

a.) DeAndre Jordan.

Made big strides this season but the high-flying athlete probably doesn’t make much sense to pair with a similar player in Tyrus Thomas. Clippers also seem intent on keeping him.

b.) Marc Gasol.

Will likely command around $10 million+/per on the open market. Gasol is a lower rent version of his All-Star brother but is only 26 and could develop into top tier center himself given the right circumstances. He’s a restricted and the Griz have stated that they’ll re-sign him but given the historical ownership thriftiness and the fact that Z-Bo’s deal is also up makes me think that Gasol could be had with a big poison-pill offer sheet. To make a move for Gasol, the Bobcats would likely have to find a taker for Boris Diaw’s $9 million expiring contract first (see TRADE section).

c.) Kwame Brown.

Performed adequately for the team as a starter this season and could be brought back as a backup if the price is right.

d.) Other Potentially Interesting FAs.

Big Baby Davis, Nene (ETO), Shane Battier, Carl Landry (who they’ve tried to sign before), Sam Dalembert, Craig Smith, Brandon Wright.

SECTION 5. TRADE

Boris Diaw, Boris Diaw, Boris Diaw. Did I mention Boris Diaw? I just can’t see any way the Frenchman stays on the Bobcat roster come training camp. Only on the books for a final season, in a contract year (so will likely be motivated – see Chandler, Tyson) and has proven that when he gives a crap can be a game-changing presence in the lineup. All these factors combined with the Coach’s obvious dissatisfaction in Diaw’s inconsistent performances will likely land Boris in another uniform next season.

Potential Trades:

a.) Boris Diaw to Toronto for Leandro Barbosa + 33rd Selection.

Colangelo wanted him last summer and they need size. Both players on expirings, Bobcats trade big for small but also shave another $1.4 million off the books to go after a FA. ‘Cats get the bench scoring they’ve so desperately needed and another high second rounder for an international draft ‘n stash.

UPDATE: With the Raps hiring of “D”wayne Casey, odds are that Toronto will be actually playing a little defense this season, making this trade more likely if the ‘Cats wanted to make it.

b.) Boris Diaw to LAClippers for Chris Kaman.

Again, both players on expirings. Clips get the third big to rotate with Griffin and Jordan. Bobcats take on an additional $3.2 million and risk Kaman’s recent injury history but if it works out, then they have a high-scoring starting center for the first time in franchise history.

UPDATE: With rumors flying around a possible Iggy for Kaman swap, this offer looks rather paltry. Would the Clips be in the market for a Stephen Jackson for Kaman trade?

c.) Boris Diaw + the #19 to TeamX for cap space.

In this deal, the ‘Cats could find a team with cap space in need of a versatile big and compensate them with either this year’s late first rounder or Portland’s pick in 2013. The ‘Cats would then have around $18 million to pursue a free agent target like Marc Gasol.

UPDATE: This seems very unlikely.

SECTION 6. WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE

Whenever the ’11-’12 NBA season starts, the Bobcats (barring major injury) will look quite a lot better than currently configured.

If the team simply follows the recipe above, they could trot out:

PG: Augustin/Livingston

SG: Henderson/Chris Singleton/Carroll

SF: Jackson/Chris Singleton/Cunningham

PF: Thomas/D.J. White/Najera

C: K.Brown/Vucevic/Diop

Not bad. Depending on the development of the youngsters, the team could even compete for one of the final seeds in the East. But I don’t think that’s Rich Cho’s plan. Again, in order to get better, some times you have to get worse. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the team bottom out by trading both Diaw and Jackson by the trade deadline and finishing it up with a bunch of 25 and younger types logging major minutes. That is the OKC model anyway. A high lottery pick in 2012 and a boatload of cap space could then launch the Charlotte basketball franchise into the stratosphere.

Until Version 3.0…

Enjoy the Nottery, Bobcats Fans,

-ASChin

The Bobcats Season – Over and Out.

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What An Unexpected Ride

This past season for the Charlotte Bobcats served up an entertaining mixture of speculation, anticipation, disappointment, surprise, frustration, and a general sense of curiosity. Heading into it, the team had made a deal to unload the financial burden of Tyson Chandler and had no Draft selections to boost their roster. The team’s training camp began with real questions around DJ Augustin’s ability to lead the team as a starter and the growth of  Gerald Henderson and Derrick Brown in their second year in the NBA. It was assumed that Tyrus Thomas would build upon his success from a previous late-season run after arriving in Charlotte, and most thought he would eventually replace Boris Diaw as the team’s starting power forward. The Bobcats looked to have their strongest players, Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, on the wings and aimed to make it through the year with a cobbled assortment of players at the center position.

That was all pre-season talk, though. Larry Brown was trusted to take the team further than the quick sweep we witnessed in their first Playoff appearance. If Larry saw a roster need that had to be filled in order to reach the post-season, it seemed only logical that the organization would find a way to give him what he demanded. Eventually, that logic evaporated as the team seemed to lose games and lose interest in running Larry’s system. Interestingly, the only roster acquisitions that seemed to satisfy Brown were the minor free agent signings of Dominic McGuire (D-Mac) and Shaun Livingston. Otherwise, the Hall of Fame coach was expected to plug in the likes of Matt Carroll, Kwame Brown, Eduardo Najera, and Sherron Collins to forge a better on-court product.

Stumbling Out of The Gates

Early on in the season, it seemed that the Bobcats were just taking a little longer to “mesh” than most other squads. Those following the team could have argued that the level of talent on the roster was deeper than ever before. With so many middle-tier players on the payroll, it appeared that the front office had planned to either make due with a roster below the salary cap or leave some flexibility to make a trade to improve the team. As the Cats stumbled in the standings, speculation over the next move certainly followed. Coach Brown had set a pattern in place since his arrival. If he didn’t like what was happening with the team’s play, he would find a way to shake up the roster. Fans knew this and it was expected that a roster move was sure to happen. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, or DJ Augustin that were shipped out. The organization decided to send Larry Brown out of town.

While it was easy to support Brown when the team had experienced an increasing level of success, the Bobcats management seemed to catch on to the “Next Town Brown” template. With the team struggling and playing less and less entertaining basketball by the week, it only felt naturally to look to the future. Raising the question of “How does this team get better” probably shook GM Rod Higgins to face the tough truth that the Bobcats were financially frozen and their on-court product was on the decline.  Perhaps, the team reserved a bit of blame for Larry Brown. Overall, it seemed that the team’s performance had slid far too much and improvement wasn’t going to be delivered by the old, griping, and disheartening coach. The Cats had no money to really improve the team, and needed to begin to develop their young guys – players that Larry Brown had glued to the bench.

New Energy

The arrival of Paul Silas brought an equal dose of curiosity and excitement to the team. After recurring blow-out losses under Brown, the Bobcats quickened the pace and let DJ Augustin play to his strengths. Surely, Michael Jordan had to have felt some comfort in his decision to switch coaches. Not only had the team become better and more entertaining on court, but the younger talent on the roster had begun to show improvement and playing time under Coach Silas. The improved play of DJ Augustin was astounding, and it just seemed to be a bit confusing as to why no one had seen this from the young guard until Brown’s departure.

As the Bobcats had crossed the mid-point of the season, they were finding a way to improve their record despite their ailing big men. Gana Diop was shelved for the season with a tough achilles injury, and Nazr Mohammed seemed to have run out of luck with several nagging injuries. The All-Star break came and went for the team, as the club had no participates (Rufus doesn’t count) in the Association’s annual celebration of peak performers. So, most of the club returned from the short vacation to talk big about making a run at the Playoffs. Actually, that didn’t seem so outlandish at the time. Despite the 9-19 hole that they had dug for themselves to begin the year, Charlotte was sitting around the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference standings. With plenty of games to go, it was expected that the club could rebound and save their season. Heck, some thought the Cats might even try to nab someone to help make that push before the trade deadline.

Well, things really went in the opposite direction. Once again, Michael Jordan’s Bobcats were active at the league’s trade deadline. Though, this time around the team wasn’t looking to acquire talent.

The Trade

So, what would you have thought if someone had told you back in September that during the 2010-2011 season the Bobcats would fire the best head coach that the franchise had ever seen, trade away the All-Star that fans loved, and still close the season with Stephen Jackson on the roster? Well, it played out just about like you would have thought. The team was shaken apart, as to leave Larry Brown’s “vision” in the dust and adjust for the future. Gerald Wallace was about as heartbroken about being traded to Portland as his Charlotte fans were. And, good ol’ Cap’n Jack made it through the season with a load of technical fouls, showed his clutch abilities throughout it all, and his body fell apart in late March after carrying the team for most of the year. Oh, and the guys that were expected to help Stephen Jackson never did come through as the Cats surrendered to the Draft Lottery by April. Tyrus Thomas was unable to return from his knee surgery and fellow power forward Boris Diaw brought it once in every four or five games. The team limped through the end of their schedule with Kwame Brown as the only true center.

Oh, and what would you have thought back in the Fall if someone told you that the Bobcats would be starting Kwame Brown? Surprisingly, he wasn’t as bad as you would have thought. Let’s not consider him the franchise center, but he was valuable for the team on both sides of the floor.

Quiet Close to the Season

So, the Bobcats headed down the last weeks of the season with a fading hope of another Playoff appearance. Though, what may have been more important for the team was the manner in which their younger and newer players seized the opportunity in the playing time given to them by Paul Silas. During the final games of the season, Gerald Henderson was often  the team’s primary offensive option. He showed his strengths, while learning to become an efficient guard. Clearly, young Gerald had big shoes to fill with the departure of “Crash” Gerald. Luckily, the team didn’t see him recoil.

Looking forward, Charlotte has a lot of decisions in front of them. Clearly, the organization has made a concerted effort to enter the “rebuilding” stage. The off-season should provide the team with the ability to improve as they hold a load of salary cap flexibility, young talent, and Draft selections. Still, it’s apparent that the team has holes, and will work to fill them as they build. Next season’s rookies can’t be expected to carry the team, and the free agent class isn’t all that “star-studded” this summer. With Jordan’s efforts to free up his options, he’ll want to make the most of each of his assets whether it be Draft picks, cap room, or promising players on the Bobcats roster. The 2011-12 season could just serve as a stepping stone for the club as they continue to develop, grow, and wait for the right additions via free agency. So, a short season due to a lock-out might just be exactly what Jordan and Co. are forecasting. If the rebuilding Cats are going to be really bad next year, let’s hope it’s only for 40 games or so.

-Mike

POLL : This Season: Where Did It Go Wrong?

  • Trading Tyson Chandler for Dampier (39%, 71 Votes)
  • Not Re-Signing Raymond Felton (14%, 26 Votes)
  • Starting Nazr Mohammed (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Firing Larry Brown (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Trading Gerald Wallace (32%, 59 Votes)
  • Re-Signing Tyrus Thomas (6%, 11 Votes)
  • Cutting Sherron Collins (4%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 182

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How The Bobcats Can Improve : Escaping The Nottery – Ver. 1.0

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Charlotte Bobcats Offseason Checklist

Ah, the Eastern Conference. ‘Tis a place where a bad team can go 2-9 in a late season slump and still be only a game or two out of the Playoffs. The current Race for Eight bears more resemblance to peewee football hot potato than a professional sports exercise. Someone please just win some games and put us all out of our misery.

Which brings us to the titular “Nottery,” a place where franchises go to die: Not good enough to be good and not bad enough to get good. Bobcats owner Michael Jordan understood this more so than any other when he made the controversial Gerald Wallace trade last month. Good isn’t good enough and if you want to get better, sometimes you gotta get a little worse.

SECTION 1. WHAT WE GOT

Before we head out to the supermarket, we should take a look in the cupboard. As poor as the Bobcats have been playing recently, the team does have a few assets.

a.) D.J. Augustin

Has clearly shown that he can be a top 15-20 starting PG in the league. Can shoot and has figured out how to score from in close. Defense isn’t as big of an issue as current rules have made it nearly impossible to defend the position. Proved that he could shoot his way out of a slump. Still on his rookie deal.

b.) Stephen Jackson

Volatile and playing too many minutes for his age, Jackson is nonetheless the Bobcats’ best player. He’s the only guy who can consistently create his own shot and when he’s on, can single-handily carry the team to a victory. His contract is probably untradeable until at least the summer of 2012 so look for JAX to remain in his role with the team next season.

c.) Tyrus Thomas

Needs to prove that he can stay healthy and stay focused but when he’s in physical and mental shape can really change the game from a defensive perspective. Solid rebounder and excellent shot blocker who has a nice mid-range jumper. Bobcats have invested a ton of cash hoping the Tyrus experiment works out. Best case scenario: Starting Power Forward for the next five seasons. Worst case scenario: Severely overpaid role player.

d.) Gerald Henderson

Very good defensive guard. Very athletic. Shown promise as a cutter but jump shot is still erratic. Henderson is another unknown. He’ll probably never be a great long ball threat but if he can develop a consistent mid-to-long range shot could become a very good player.

e.) D.J. White, Dante Cunningham (RFA), Shaun Livingston

Three youngish rotation players who have shown flashes of potential. White seems to have the most upside and is still on his rookie deal. Livingston has managed to carve out a place in the league after destroying his knee a few years ago. Cunningham should keep improving now that he’s playing the three position full-time.

Total it up and you have seven players who’ll most likely be suiting up for the Bobcats next season. That’s half a roster. Combine them with two first round draft picks in June and the CAP CRUNCHERS (Gana Diop, Matt Carroll, Eddie Najera) and you’re down to just two roster spots available to improve the team.

SECTION 2. WHAT WE NEED

Augustin, Jackson, Thomas and Henderson will most likely return as four of the team’s starters. Livingston, White and Cunningham will be solid contributors from the bench. That still leaves some major needs:

a.) Men in the Middle

As pleasantly mediocre as Kwame Brown has been, he’s an unrestricted free agent come July and the team will need to make a major upgrade if it wants to compete. Gana Diop is currently the only center on the roster and he was bad before the season ending achilles injury.

b.) Bench Scoring

Augustin, Jackson and (if he develops a jumper) Henderson can handle most of the scoring as starters but the team lacks any sort of big time scoring presence from the bench. The Bobcats will need to find someone capable of taking off some of the scoring load.

c.) Stars

Either through the draft or through crafty trades, the Bobcats will need to find a way to bring in a guy who’ll move the turnstiles and put down game-winning buckets.

SECTION 3. THE DRAFT

Charlotte will most likely pick around #10 and #18 in the draft barring a improbable Bobcat Playoff berth, lottery miracle or a late-season collapse by New Orleans.

The ‘Cats will should have the opportunity to nab players like Kentucky’s Terrence Jones (Iggy-type SF), John Henson (long defensive SF), Texas forwards Tristan Thompson (poor-man’s Elton Brand) and Jordan Hamilton (O.J. Mayo, Jr. check that, DrE is saying Rashard Lewis or Danny Granger, Jr.). Kentucky point Brandon Knight (Jordan Crawford-like combo guard) and Moorehead State’s Kenneth Faried (Reggie Evans with upside) should also be on the board.

It’s by all accounts a weak draft and the ‘Cats would be better off not drafting for need. The center crop is thin but fortunately there are enough solid SF candidates who could be brought in to eventually replace Stephen Jackson a year or two down the road.

SECTION 4. FREE AGENCY

No one knows what the new CBA will look like next season (if there is one) but I’d be willing to bet that the Bobcats’ situation won’t change much. Once all of the expirings come off, the team will sit at around $49 million in salaries, around $10 million south of this year’s cap. Add in the two first rounders along with re-upping Dante Cunningham and the team should be at around $54 million.

Obviously, the remaining $6 million wouldn’t be enough to bring in a big-name star (even if there was one in a weak FA class) but the extra wiggle room may help them pull off a deal or two IF the team is lucky enough to import a decent center from another team.

Free Agent Centers 2011:

a.) DeAndre Jordan.

Made big strides this season but the high-flying athlete probably doesn’t make much sense to pair with a similar player in Tyrus Thomas. Clippers also seem intent on keeping him.

b.) Marc Gasol.

Will likely command around $10 million/per on the open market. Gasol is a lower rent version of his All-Star brother but is only 26 and could develop into top tier center himself given the right circumstances. He’s a restricted and the Griz have stated that they’ll re-sign him but given the historical ownership thriftiness and the fact that Z-Bo’s deal is also up makes me think that Gasol could be had with a big poison-pill offer sheet. To make a move for Gasol, the Bobcats would likely have to find a taker for Boris Diaw’s $9 million expiring contract first (see TRADE section).

c.) Kwame Brown.

Performed adequately for the team as a starter this season and could be brought back as a backup if the price is right.

d.) Other Potentially Interesting FAs.

Big Baby Davis, Nene (ETO), Shane Battier, Carl Landry (who they’ve tried to sign before), Sam Dalembert, Craig Smith, Brandon Wright.

SECTION 5. TRADE

Boris Diaw, Boris Diaw, Boris Diaw. Did I mention Boris Diaw? I just can’t see any way the Frenchman stays on the Bobcat roster come training camp. Only on the books for a final season, in a contract year (so will likely be motivated – see Chandler, Tyson) and has proven that when he gives a crap can be a game-changing presence in the lineup. All these factors combined with the Coach’s obvious dissatisfaction in Diaw’s inconsistent performances will likely land Boris in another uniform next season.

Potential Trades:

a.) Boris Diaw to Toronto for Leandro Barbosa.

Colangelo wanted him last summer and they need size. Both players on expirings, Bobcats trade big for small but also shave another $1.4 million off the books to go after a FA. ‘Cats get the bench scoring they’ve so desperately needed.

b.) Boris Diaw to LAClippers for Chris Kaman.

Again, both players on expirings. Clips get the third big to rotate with Griffin and Jordan. Bobcats take on an additional $3.2 million and risk Kaman’s recent injury history but if it works out, then they have a high-scoring starting center for the first time in franchise history.

c.) Boris Diaw + Future First Rounder to TeamX for cap space.

In this deal, the ‘Cats could find a team with cap space in need of a versatile big and compensate them with either this year’s late first rounder or Portland’s pick in 2013. The ‘Cats would then have around $18 million to pursue a free agent target like Marc Gasol.

SECTION 6. WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE

Whenever the ’11-’12 NBA season starts, the Bobcats (barring major injury) will look quite a lot better than currently configured.

If the team simply follows the recipe above, they could trot out:

PG: Augustin/Livingston/Brandon Knight

SG: Henderson/Carroll

SF: Jackson/Jordan Hamilton/Cunningham

PF: Thomas/D.J. White/Najera

C: Kaman/Brown/Diop

The team would still be well under the $60 million cap and have enough flexibility the following summer to make a major splash in the vaunted Free Agent summer of 2012. No need to fret, Bobcats fans. I think MJ has a plan and if he follows it correctly, the team may well be in contention sooner rather than never.

Until Version 2.0…

Enjoy the Nottery, Bobcats Fans,

-ASChin

POLL : This Season: Where Did It Go Wrong?

  • Trading Tyson Chandler for Dampier (39%, 71 Votes)
  • Not Re-Signing Raymond Felton (14%, 26 Votes)
  • Starting Nazr Mohammed (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Firing Larry Brown (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Trading Gerald Wallace (32%, 59 Votes)
  • Re-Signing Tyrus Thomas (6%, 11 Votes)
  • Cutting Sherron Collins (4%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 182

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Waiting for The Next Good Hand

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Although we’ve seen a lot of huffing and puffing recently from Bobcats fans and local media, the team’s latest stretch of road beat-downs and lackluster efforts shouldn’t be so hastily bundled into last month’s Gerald Wallace salary dump (cue Abraham Lincoln voice) “for this was their path all along.”

You see, there’s a very good reason why the Charlotte NBA franchise dropped five consecutive road games to solid Western Conference teams and that reason is that the Bobcats aren’t very good. They aren’t good without Gerald Wallace and they weren’t good with him. They were simply adequate.

But they were tearing up the league once Sugar Bear Silas took over,” you contend. Yes, they were putting notches in the win column but the vast majority of those wins came against the lowliest of Eastern Conference opponents and most of the quality victories came at home. To “beast it” in the Association, a team must be able to not only beat good teams at home but also occasionally on the road and, most importantly, must do both of these things consistently. *

Combine the Bobcats lack of talent with the early season Larry Brown-orchestrated funk, the loss of Tyrus Thomas and the unexpected lights-out play of Philadelphia and Indiana and you can see why Michael Jordan pulled the plug. A seasoned gambler looking at these Playoff odds would fold and wait for the next hand. That’s exactly what MJ has done and while it might not be pretty now, the ‘Cats are in a much better position long-term to be relevant.

ROSTERBATION NOTES:

-It’s been a pleasure watching Gerald Henderson go through the ups & downs of a young starter. Some nights the guy looks like a keeper and on others he looks rather lost. His jumper is still not as consistent as it needs to be and I’m hoping that he and his family enlist a specialist to work with him on the skill during the summer. The athleticism that Henderson leans on so much now won’t be there in six or seven years. Hopefully Gerald fulfills his potential as a Kobe-lite by rounding out his skill-set over the next few offseasons.

-I don’t think it’ll be too difficult finding a taker for Boris Diaw’s expiring contract if he puts up a few more performances like the one he did against the Clips last evening. My gut (pun intended) feeling has always been that Boris is simply bored with Charlotte and the systems in place. He’d be much better off in a more metropolitan city. Moving him this summer (along with one of the first rounders acquired in the Wallace trade) would put the Bobcats in the position to take on a max-level star via trade or signing for the first time in a very long while.

-In my opinion, Jordan’s rebuilding plan was hinted at the day the team extended Coach Silas’s contract for next season. It was a clear move to the coach that the blame for the team’s struggles wouldn’t be placed exclusively on his shoulders. Unless the ‘Cats can recruit top notch talent to come to Charlotte this summer, the team will most likely struggle for another season as they build their young nucleus of players for a successful run in ’12-’13.

-ASChin

*Let’s go ahead and call it “The Dallas Test.” The day that the Bobcats go into Big D and scalp the previously unscalpable Mavericks easily on the road, they’ll have made the jump. Until then, they’re either bad or not good enough.