It’s late at night. Way too late to still be awake, but you just can’t sleep. These kind of nights are something of an addiction for you. You work harder than nearly anyone you’ve ever known, and that might just be the only reason you’ve got this job. You’ve let yourself dream about getting here. You should be proud of how far you’ve come. But that’s not you. You outwork your problems. There will never be an opportunity to grant yourself the rest you need.
You let the weight of your failures settle for the night, just details lost in the darkness. It’s time to rest, but there’s that sound. There’s always that sound. The steady, deliberate pace only gets louder and louder against the silence of the night. As if someone is turning the dial just to drive you mad – Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.
No Coach Dunlap, that’s not your favorite R. Kelly track looping in your mind. That’s your insubordinate, disrespectful, and arrogant offensive weapon trying to undermine your authority. His intentional disregard for your position only strikes harder each time the ball hits the hardwood court in your mind. No, it’s not going to stop. You can’t even make it stop. You question your abilities, you question your profession, and you question yourself. You’re powerless.
“You need to humble yourself.”
Those words resonate in your head. All you can do is close your eyes, undoubtably envious of Tyrus Thomas and the calm pond of bliss that ripples around through his skull.
It’s been a little while since we’ve posted any recaps on Bobcats Baseline. Sure, plenty of excuses could be made for this. Really, it all comes down to a downturn in enthusiasm. It might be impossible to accuse any Bobcats blogger of being a fair weather fan, but this team sure does make it tough. December was a pretty dark month, as the Cats only one 1 of their 20 games. So, the new year will be my time to re-energize or spirits and express some loose thoughts on the current state of the Charlotte-based club that we wish wasn’t so terrible at professional basketball.
Let’s Look at the Positives
Um, there are some positives right?
Gordon for Three!
We can celebrate the fact that the Cats have 2 more wins than all of last season! How about that for improvement. Actually, let’s be grateful that we no longer have to see Corey Maggette on the court. His ability to make basketball unwatchable has perfectly suited all of the teams that have paid him so much money. Now, we get Ben Gordon – gettin’ hot and doin’ Ben Gordon thangs. Oh, and we should be happy that none of the important guys have suffered any serious injuries so far this year, either. Don’t try to tell me that Byron Mullens’ counts as important.
Let’s give Mike Dunlap some credit. He worked hard to install a defensive attitude to this team all throughout training camp. While that’s not actually shown any on-court results for the Bobcats, he has a fine excuse for the team playing offense like a YMCA pick up game. Well, maybe they could use at least one player that could score in the half-court offense. But, that’s a whole other story for another day. Realistically, Dunlap gets credit for the way the team has kept up their effort. They might not look or play like winners, but they’ve fought and hustled through nearly every game this year. No one is hanging their heads despite their collectively horrible record.
So, it’s been awesome to watch Ramon Sessions step on the floor and perform like a professional at every opportunity. He seems to do all that’s within his ability to give the team what it needs when he’s on the floor. Teams like the Spurs have 7 or 8 guys like this. The Bobcats have about 1.5.
Byron being ineffective
Remember when Byron Mullens was often the focal point of the Bobcats’ offense? Ugh. I know some folks like the unconventional, and seeing a 7-footer hitting long range shots sure was appealing. But Byron was failing at nearly every other aspect of the game. He’s no Dirk, and his teammates were punished for just about every minute he was on the court.
Now, we’ve got this weird platoon of Tyrus Thomas, Hakim Warrick, and Jeff Adrien. Where do you start with this squad. If we throw Byron in this pile, we still get one of the weakest performing collections of power forwards that the league will see for a long time. But I’ve got to admit that it’s fun to watch Jeff Adrien. His game is so old-school, and it’s great to see a D-League guy perform when he gets the chance. This might be one of his only seasons in the NBA, so let’s enjoy his stable, predictable style of ball. His game is so much more palatable than the 2013 Tyrus Thomas Jumpshot Clinic & Dribbling Exhibition.
What’s up with Gerald Henderson? He comes off the bench and seems pretty quiet these days. Somehow he always ends up in double digit scoring, and finds a way to never take it to the rack. I remember when jumping was one of the easiest things for him, and his shooting was shaky. By starting Jeff Taylor, I get the feeling that the Bobcats are feeling out what life without Henderson is like. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him traded or heading elsewhere this summer. Personally, I like his game a lot, but he might have a better role on another club.
One-half of Thunder & Lightning
Wasn’t Bismack Biyombo supposed to get better? Out of all of the discouraging comments that the Utah Jazz broadcast crew spouted during their game, there was one that stuck with me. Continually, they stated their opinion that the Bobcats were loaded with athletes that weren’t actually basketball players. You could probably say this most accurately describes two of the Cats – Tyrus Thomas and Bismack Biyombo. Potential and “development” were the themes we heard when Bismack was drafted. Right now, it’s starting to seem a little unrealistic to expect much from the kid. Let’s hope that he maintains his work ethic and the team provides him with everything he needs to grow and understand basketball at a pro level. Maybe they can keep Tyrus around as a cautionary example for him. “Hey, Bis – you don’t want to end up like that guy.”
As I mentioned, I caught the Jazz-Bobcats game on NBA League Pass last night and it was quite a treat to hear the Utah broadcast team’s opinions on Charlotte’s team. Most times, I enjoy hearing an alternative to Charlotte’s homer duo of Steve Martin and Dell Curry. Usually, the other teams have a very balanced and straightforward play-by-play guy and some awfully unintelligible color commentator that provides a good deal of exclamatory oohs and ahhs. The worst of these might be Dominique Wilkins. Check out an ATL game sometime and you’ll enjoy listening to how bad he is at his job. Last night, the Jazz team had a pair of absolutely sober guys that continually bashed the Bobcats performance, roster, and organization. To add insult to injury while the Jazz piled on a barrage of unanswered points during the 3rd, the color commentary dude just went on an unprompted and disconnected tangent about how he “didn’t know what this club can do” and mentioned how Charlotte was such an exciting place for basketball back when “there was the Hornets and Alonzo Mourning…” Ouch.
Let’s hope Charlotte can start to turn this thing around. We can’t let Mike Dunlap get the Paul Silas Blues. Things look to change over the next couple of years – David Stern will step down, the Hornets could be back, Gana Diop will retire, Tyrus Thomas should be gone, and Kemba might be good enough to threaten to take his talents to South Beach.
Charlotte’s luck of catching injury-riddled teams finally ran out. Week 3 saw an elite Grizzlies squad, two probable Playoff teams (Milwaukee/Atlanta) and a desperate one (Toronto) trying to turn their season around – all at full strength.
The good news is that Coach Dunlap was able to keep his team playing hard even when things went bad. The Memphis game (84-97) never reached blowout status despite the Grizz’s massive talent advantage and the Cats had multiple chances to get back in it. Wins against the Bucks (102-98) and the Raps (98-97) came despite Charlotte being down late in the fourth quarter. Even last night’s home loss to the Hawks was (91-101) winnable late – until a rash of mental errors finally caught up to them.
Three Thoughts on the Week
Byron Mullens Creates Bi-Polar People
We hated him. Then he started posting up and driving and we liked him. Then he went back to hoisting threes and fadeaways and we hated him again.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote a great feature on NBA Gunners earlier in the week which breaks down the importance of the high-volume/low efficiency scorer brilliantly (yes, BJ makes the list). See, the reason Mullens keeps chucking up shots is because, well, there’s really no one else on the team who can. The Cats desperately need a centerpiece to run their halfcourt offense through and “oh lord, it’s Byron” is the only man on the roster currently up for the job. Unfortunately, until the front office can find a suitable replacement, Mullens will continue to shoot like there’s no tomorrow.
We So Excited About Jeff Taylor
His three looks like its starting to fall regularly (5-8 over the last two games) and his on-ball defense is a thing of absolute beauty. Taylor hounded Demar Derozan all Wednesday night – so much that Demar “got up in his face” for a double-technical psueda-spat. I’d be frustrated too, Taylor hasn’t even learned to keep his hands up regularly yet still wreaks havoc against his covers. Offensively, he’s slowly but surely figuring it out. His release is still extremely slow (Mike Dunleavy, Jr. of all people swatted one of his jumpers); this makes him hesitant around the rim and on fast breaks where he hasn’t yet developed a feel for NBA-level shotblockers. Ultimately, I think he’ll figure this part out and when he does, the Bobcats are going to have a major question on their hands: There’s only 96 wing position minutes to go around per night. Taylor and MKG should play 65-70 of those. Gerald Henderson and Ben Gordon won’t be happy dividing up the rest and that’s before some of those SG minutes get eaten up by a Kemba/Sessions dual PG lineup. With Henderson in line for a big contract extension come July, don’t be surprised if Taylor’s excellent play translates into a Henderson trade between now and February’s deadline.
“We Need to be Bad” Nurtures a Culture of Losing
I keep hearing the old doctrine rehashed on Twitter, “we need to be bad – we can’t be this good this fast, we need more lottery picks! We trade for someone like Carlos Boozer and we’re mediocre again!!!”
Everybody, relax. Seriously.
1. If Lottery Picks equaled winning, the Sacramento Kings would have more banners than any organization in sports. Even better, the Bobcats themselves have had more lottery picks than nearly everyone else over the past decade. What did that buy them? A seven win season. Compare the number of Charlotte lottery picks over that time to San Antonio’s (10-1) or the Lakers (10-0). Just because one contending team in the past 25 years have built themselves entirely through the Lottery (OKC) doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it.
2. “But free agents are overpaid and expensive!!!” Well, I have great news for you ladies & gents, there are other ways to acquire talent in the NBA! Also, not all free agents are overpaid. OJ Mayo is making $4 million this season and is in the top 5 in League Scoring. Carl Landry has been Golden State’s most consistent offensive threat on an identical contract. Our own Ramon Sessions has become the stabilizing force behind the team’s 6 victories yet is paid just $5 million over two seasons. Brook Lopez signed a max contract with the Nets over the summer but has been playing lights out and very well may be the best offensive center in all of basketball.
Also, ask Memphis fans how they acquired Zach Randolph. Or Marc Gasol. Or Mareese Speights. All via well calculated trades. And need I even mention all of the mid to late round draft picks who are/have been dominating the league: Ginobli, Parker, Ibaka, Kobe, Steve Nash, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, Varejao, Ellis, Ty Lawson, et all. Then there’s Euro talent like Pekovic, AK47 and Shved that can be found every year. Fact is, there is MORE talent outside the lottery than in it – it’s just a little harder to find.
3. Finally, keep in mind that Charlotte still has high draft picks from Portland and Detroit owed to them. The Detroit pick in particular will likely be a top 10. Packaging one of these with their own to move up in the lottery is always a possiblity if worthy talent is there. In the meantime, the Bobcats need to build a culture of winning – with Kemba, MKG and Sessions, they may as well do it now, winning a Top 5 pick in a weak 2013 Draft isn’t much of a consolation.
“Even good luck befuddles the fool.” -someone famous or something I just made up
“You can only play who’s in front of you.” -our friend Michael Raciappa quoting some random college football coach.
We should all be as lucky as the Charlotte Bobcats have been over the past week: Four opponents, four teams missing key players:
In last Friday’s 107-99 loss at New Orleans, the Bobcats couldn’t capitalize on Eric Gordon’s mystery knee injury despite Ben Gordon’s 34 off the pine.
The following night’s 101-97 OT victory versus the Mavs (first in franchise history) was due in large part to the absence of Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion.
Tuesday’s 92-76 drubbing of the Wizards was certainly affected by Washington’s lack of John Wall and Nene Hilario.
Finally, in what should be the easiest road test of the season, Charlotte escaped Minnesota with a 89-87 victory despite playing a Wolves team minus five of their top seven players.
Of course, this is by no means meant to diminish Dunlap & Company’s accomplishments. Luck or no luck, you still have to execute and the Bobcats did so better than any Charlotte basketball team has in years.
Three Thoughts on the Week
#1 Byron Mullens MIGHT BE turning the corner.
We witnessed some great things from Mully over the past two games. He stayed (mostly) inside, showing off a sweet turn-around on the block. He drove. He rebounded (including 15 against Minny). He blocked shots. He proactively rotated. Did I mention he stayed inside? Big IF but if Mullens can continue this type of game going forward, we are all going to be very happy‚ most of all Byron himself, who’ll certainly enter into the world’s richest 1% come July.
Longtime readers will know that I’ve been leading the Cho-parade from Day 1. And it’s not just the Asian-American pride. Cho represents the changing tides of pro-sports teams previously run by the “gut” (call it the Larry Brown method) into modern organizations run like successful companies. If Cho makes a move, rest assured it is always quantified in various terms of risk and reward. No move illustrates this more so than the amnesty claim for Brendan Haywood. Viewed as just another salary cap mistake in a long-line of overpaid Maverick big men, the Cats snagged Haywood for an amnesty bid of just over $2 million per season over three years. Think about it, Charlotte is getting 26-28 minutes a night of two-way, LEGIT NBA center production for $500k LESS THAN they pay Reggie Williams. Sure, he’ll be 36 when the deal expires but so what? A self-professed hoops junkie, Haywood at the worst will act as another coach by year three, at near veteran’s minimum rate. Forget Linsanity, Cho-sanity all day everyday.
#3 Help in the Half Court
With Gerald Henderson still out with a foot injury and Ben Gordon dealing with personal matters, the Bobcats’ offense devolved into transition buckets and shotclock bailouts for most of the last two games. Gordon should be back Saturday night versus Memphis but Charlotte will need to find more staple plays for easy buckets. Recently acquired Hakim Warrick may help – his one true skill, diving on pick and rolls, is something the Bobcats haven’t had on the roster – but I wouldn’t get too excited about another team’s 12th man revitalizing the offense. Ultimately, the Bobcats will need another weapon, either a post-up 4 or 5 or a dynamic SG, who can generate offense when the game slows down.
It may not show up in the standings but the Charlotte Bobcats can find success in Year Two of the rebuild. Check out Part 1 here.
Win #5. Veterans with Class
Let us hope that Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood have patience. The three vets are all roughly in their primes and could be providing valuable minutes for Playoff contenders. There won’t be any postseason in Charlotte, and there may not even be a starting job.
The coaching staff will have to juggle the responsibilities of developing young talent (Henderson, Walker, Biyombo, Jeffrey Taylor and Mullens) while satisfying the egos of the three quality newcomers. If the vets don’t buy in, they could provide to be rookie head coach Mike Dunlap’s greatest challenge. WIN SCENARIO: Gordon, Sessions and Haywood fully sign-on to the organization’s long-term plan, playing well enough in somewhat limited minutes to entice a generous trade offer from another team or stay put providing valuable leadership to the youngsters and much needed scoring.
Win #6. Good Enough to Excite, Bad Enough to Get Good
Shabazz Mohammed and Nerlens Noel are the early candidates for top pick in next June’s draft, and chances are they’ll be selected by a team with less than 25 wins. Should Dunlap’s Bobcats exceed expectations, this could be tricky as the team is still a few major assets away from building a longterm nucleus. Certainly last year’s double digit blow out squad isn’t an option – the team must stay in games and be competitive – but scrapping out 30 wins and picking at the bottom of the lottery may not be much better in the grand scheme. WIN SCENARIO: The Bobcats close their brutal point differential to something in the single digits, win a few big games and play fast and fun, winning between 20-25 games in the process while setting themselves up for another bluechip prospect come June.
Win #7. PDX to DET
For once, Bobcats fans will want to keep a close eye on the standings come April. Charlotte owns Portland’s first rounder this summer if the Blazer’s finish outside the top twelve picks (thru 2015, unprotected in 2016). Given Portland’s “retooling” efforts of late, put the odds at 50/50. Charlotte also owns Detroit’s first rounder if the Piston’s make the Playoffs. Should both scenarios play out, consider it a major LOSE scenario for the Bobcats.
The 2013 Draft is already being touted as the definitive “weakest in a decade“ and the Cats are unlikely to find a difference maker in the mid-first round. More likely is a scenario that sees Portland’s first (via the Gerald Wallace trade) arrive this June and Detroit’s in 2014 when it’ll reduce to a top 8 protection (top 1 protected in 2015, unprotected in 2016). WIN SCENARIO: Portland’s season collapses as they finish in the bottom third of the league; the Bobcats acquire the pick in a potentially stronger 2014 Draft. Detroit continues its struggles, missing the Playoffs for two more seasons; the Bobcats acquire an additional Top Ten pick between 2014-16.
Win #8. MKG, Dunlap and Culture Change: A Future Destination for FAs?
From the day Coach Dunlap conducted his first offseason training program, one message has been consistent: He wants players to get better, and he’s available 24/7 to make that happen. Combine this with 2nd overall selection Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s fiercely competitive on-the-court demeanor, instantly likable personality and Charlotte may be on its way to building something real; a culture change as they say. This is the sort of thing that can lure free agents to a small market – see David West’s signing with Indiana last summer – players can sense when something special is happening. The combination of Dunlap’s style and MKG’s relentless effort might be enough to make that happen in the Queen City. WIN SCENARIO: Coach Dunlap makes good on his promise to develop players games while building accountability. MKG arrives as advertised, a Kevin Garnett/Scottie Pippin/Gerald Wallace hybrid; soon to be free agents take note and put the Bobcats on their wish lists next July.