Man on Wire | Charlotte Hornets 2016 Offseason Review

cho-illustration-01
Standard

Hornets general manager Rich Cho entered into the most precarious free agency period of his career last week. Five of the Playoff squad’s top rotation players were unrestricted free agents. Each could leave Charlotte cleanly with no strings attached and the Hornets had no recourse to match any offer they received.

The franchise clearly wants to continue to build upon last season’s 48 win team and with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist entering their primes on longterm value contracts, tanking made little sense. The team had to stay good.

Cho’s situation would have been challenging in any NBA offseason but this July in particular was a floss-thin tightrope walk thanks to a meager free agent class combined with an unprecedented $24 million spike in the league’s salary cap.

By some estimates, the total amount of cap space available amongst the NBA’s thirty teams was as high as $1 billion. Charlotte’s high character, well-coached free agents were in demand. Rival fanbases were rabid with anticipation over picking the Hornets’ Playoff carcass clean.

Somehow a small market franchise with little history and zero superstars had to lure back or replace their starting shooting guard, small forward, power forward, backup center and backup point guard in one calendar week with only a modest amount of cap space to work with.

Key Free Agents Return: Batum and Williams

Normally when a small market NBA franchise is faced with this sort of dilemma, their only recourse is to either massively downgrade for cheaper players or vastly overpay in order to retain quality talent or lure similar ones.

Rich Cho and his staff did neither. Two starters, Nic Batum (5yrs, $120m) and Marvin Williams (4yrs, $54m), signed long term extensions BELOW market value. Easily the team’s most important and most coveted free agents, both players reportedly had more lucrative offers to go elsewhere but elected to stay with the no superstar, small market team instead.

This is extremely impressive and speaks to the culture, both in the front office and on the coaching staff that Charlotte has been able to build after the burnout Larry Brown/Rod Higgins era just a half decade ago.

The Hornets traded away a Top 10 Lottery pick (Noah Vonleh) last summer for the right to recruit Nic in house for a year. The gamble paid off. Nic could’ve asked for another $30m* (his full max) on top of the 5 year deal Charlotte offered him. Another team could’ve offered him (and likely did) nearly the same amount on a 4 year max offer. Batum resisted either temptation.

(*Keep this tidbit in mind two and three years from now when Charlotte hits the free agent market in 2018 and 2019. That extra $30m could be the difference between signing an All-Star or an average starter.)

Speaking of savings, let me be the first Hornet fan to offically say thank you to Marvin for taking the Early Bird contract. Yes, I know it’s a crazy world when $54m is considered a “discount” – when most of us would be happy with a tiny fraction of that amount in our pockets but relatively speaking, Marvin could’ve easily spurned the Hornets for a shorter contract at nearly the same amount.

By accepting the Early Bird offer, the Hornets were able to lock in Marvin’s cap hold at just north of $9m (~$3.5m less than his actual salary). There were rumors that Williams was being offered $16m as a starting salary and if he forced Charlotte’s hand in matching it, the Hornets would’ve had to go into cap space to bring him back – rendering it impossible to add eventual depth at PG and C.

So if Ramon Sessions or Roy Hibbert swing a close game Charlotte’s way next season, you know who to thank.

GRADE: A+

Replacement Shooting Guard: Lee to Belinelli

Courtney Lee, who arrived in a mid-season trade as a fill-in replacement for an injured MKG, was a coveted “3&D” wing who was looking at a minimum eight figure deal in the current market.

Knowing this, the Hornets made a proactive trade before the Draft, sending out their 22nd overall pick for Lee’s replacement, Marco Belinelli. At a little over $6 million per over the next two seasons, Belinelli will count half as much against the cap as Courtney Lee’s $12 million per season deal with the Knicks.

Marco is a defensive downgrade for certain, but with MKG returning to the lineup, Belinelli won’t be asked to play the same role. MKG and Batum will handle difficult wings, allowing Marco to do the things Lee couldn’t – facilitate, create offense and shots off the dribble – primarily with the second unit.

Ultimately, given the quality of this year’s Draft class, sacrificing a late round pick in order to save $35m in future cap flexibility (Marco is guaranteed a total of $12.9m, Lee $48m) is hardly an unforgivable sin. The aesthetics of this trade will look much better a year from now.

GRADE: B

Replacement Backup Point Guard: Lin to Sessions

First the good news. Jeremy Lin’s ability to get hot and take over the occasional game can be replicated somewhat by Belinelli. If either Frank Kaminsky (likely) or Jeremy Lamb (less likely) take a step forward, Lin’s departure will allow them even more opportunities to become shot creators and makers with the reserve unit.

Now the bad news. As much as I like Ramon Sessions as a gritty, pick and roll point guard who can get to the rim, he is unquestionably a downgrade as an all around fill-in starter.

Lockout season aside, Kemba Walker has managed 80+ games played only twice in his career and just had another meniscus surgery following the season. Given his size and playing style, the chances of Kemba missing fifteen or twenty games are high enough to make you worry and Sessions as a starter is CLEARLY a downgrade from Lin.

But given the market conditions – this was a painfully thin PG class – and the Hornets other free agent priorities, downgrading from Lin was an inevitability. Jeremy was the best backup PG in the NBA last season and is good enough to start. Given the terms of his Brooklyn contract (3yrs, $36m), he obviously prioritized the starting role over potential cash.

Some fans have complained about the team choosing Sessions (2yrs, $12m – second year team option) over Brandon Jennings (1yr, $5m) but Jennings is a major injury risk in his own right and with Ramon having once a been a Bobcat, Cho and Steve Clifford ran with the devil they knew versus the devil they didn’t.

GRADE: C+ (highest possible given circumstances)

Replacement Backup Center: Big Al to Hibbert

The Hornets somehow managed a Top 10 NBA defense during Al Jefferson’s first year in Charlotte. Part of the smoke and mirrors D was slowing the team’s pace down to a crawl and feeding a prime Big Al entry passes. This worked great for a season and then Jefferson started getting hurt and putting on weight (or maybe it was in reverse order?).

At some point two years ago Clifford started watching Warriors games and realized that puttying together a inside-out offense and a paint-paranoid defense was only going to get a team so far. He set out to create the four out, one in system that propelled Charlotte to a Top 10 offense AND defense last season.

Gone was the steady diet of old man “1 in, 4 watch” post feeds (and 4 guard, 1 watches paint defense). Instead we had Cody pushing the limits of SportsVU tracking, setting what seemed like five screens on every possession while his floor stretching teammates moved the ball around to find an open shooter.

Although it seemed unimaginable to think back in Big Al’s dominant 2013 All-NBA season, just two summers later the team (and maybe the entire league) had passed him by.

You could pretty much cut and paste the above paragraph into Roy Hibbert’s recent bio and it would be accurate. At the end of the 2013 season, Hibbert was widely viewed as major NBA asset and a borderline star.

At 7’2”, 270+ pounds, Roy is a giant and one of the few seven foot plus players to have never battled foot injuries. He was the game’s best rim protector just a few short seasons ago and is still only 29 years old.

The Hornets are clearly buying low. Hibbert signed a one year deal at half the price that Jefferson will be paid next season from Roy’s first team ($10m per from the Pacers). It’s a smart move by both sides.

Roy is banking on big man guru (and fellow Georgetown icon) Patrick Ewing doing for him what the staff has done with Jefferson and Dwight Howard over the years: Have a renaissance campaign and cash in next summer for one last pay day.

Hibbert will play serious minutes for Charlotte next season; anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t watched Clifford coach. Cliff loves veterans and he loves size and he loves rim protection. Unless Roy utterly poops the bed with his effort, conditioning or effectiveness, expect him to average 16-20 minutes a night, depending on the matchup.

With Cody entrenched as the team’s starter, Frank bulking up for more minutes at the five and Spencer Hawes still on the books, the Hornets suddenly have a ton of depth at center – but only one of those guys can protect the paint. Given that Roy’s previous team just guaranteed a gimpy Timofey Mozgov $64 million over four years, a one year flyer on Hibbert at $5 million is a terrific gamble.

GRADE: A+

Going Forward

FiveThirtyEight’s Carmelo Projections are mostly favorable for Charlotte’s longterm contracts and upcoming restricted free agent candidates (Zeller and Kaminsky).

Given Marvin’s age and career numbers last season, you’d expect his projections to suffer the most and they do – dropping off to just 1.7 Wins Above Replacement in his player option fourth year. Kemba and Nic Batum are projected to play at an All-Star or near All-Star level for at least the next three seasons. MKG, Cody and Frank will enter the season at age 23 or younger.

From a cap perspective, barring a major trade, the Hornets are essentially punting on 2017 Free Agency. The Steph Come Home hopefuls (myself included) likely had our dreams dashed the moment Kevin Durant made his Super Team decision. Realistically, Curry was the only superstar who was ever going to sign with Charlotte as an unrestricted free agent in his prime. With that possibility removed, locking up the roster’s core for the next few seasons was the next logical plan.

Assuming that Cody Zeller signs a reasonable extension in the next 12 months (4yrs, $48m sounds right given 2017’s more robust FA class and smaller cap spike), the Hornets will be capped out next summer but could have as much as $20m in cap space in 2018 to go after an All-Star quality talent. See the attached a projected salary chart below for more details.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 5.53.52 PM

Extend Cho (#ExtendCho)

I’ve been on the Rich Cho bandwagon since he joined the Bobcats in 2011. The one quality decision that Rod Higgins made during his entire stint with the franchise was recommending Cho to ownership. His reputation as a terrible drafter is somewhat unearned – we still have no idea who makes the Draft day calls – but his asset management, trade and free agent work has been exemplary since day one.

If you stop and think about the hand Cho and his team were dealt heading into the offseason**, it’s borderline amazing what they were able to pull off. The quality of the Hornets roster is either on par with last season’s; arguably stronger and certainly deeper.

Here’s hoping the next extension made by the team is for Cho himself.

(**and if you really want to be impressed go back and check out the Bobcats cap sheet, roster and draft pick situation prior to Cho’s hire in 2011)

-ASChin
@baselinebuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 1 Review

Standard

What’s this?! A Charlotte NBA team fielding an actual competitive NBA roster?! Is that a qualified NBA coach with a real deal playbook and sensible rotations? Are those Bobcat Draft Picks doing things??!! Are the Byron Mullens days really behind us for good???!!!

Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of rough edges to smooth out for this young team but the first week of the FINAL BOBCATS SEASON shows plenty of promise – and promise has been in very short supply over the past few years at the TWC.

Charlotte finishes the week at 2-2 after:

  • Losing the season opener to a loaded Rockets team in Houston, 83-96.
  • Edging the playoff contending Cavs in the home opener, 90-84.
  • Laying an effortless stink bomb in New Orleans, 84-105.
  • Shocking the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 102-97.

UPON FURTHER EXAMINATION

Clifford’s Impact

We still don’t know what the Cats’ offense is going to look like once Al Jefferson is fully integrated (he’s been nursing an ankle since the opener) but the safe money is on Charlotte continuing with heavy pick and rolls and off-ball screens for their point guards. Gerald Henderson, the team’s lone wing who can create his own offense, has been dreadful from the field (30%) during first four contests, meaning that the Bobcats’ only real chance at opening up good shot opportunities is through out-hustling or confusing opponents via screens.

Here’s how 99% of Bobcats offensive possessions have gone during the past week:
IF PG = “Kemba Walker” THEN:
PASS BALL TO “Josh McRoberts”;
LOSE DEFENDER ON BASELINE SCREENS;
RECEIVE HAND OFF FROM “Josh McRoberts”;
SHOOT.

IF PG = “Ramon Sessions” THEN:
YELL AT “Cody Zeller”;
FIND PICK SET BY “Cody Zeller”;
DRIVE AND GET FOULED.

The “SHOOT” option hasn’t really been working out as the Bobcats rank second worst in the league in FG% at 40%. They’re in the bottom ten worst in every 3PT shooting statistic and second worst in FT%. Coincidentally, Charlotte’s 89.8 points per game is third worst overall.

Now for the positive: The Bobcats have been getting to line like a team full of 2006 D-Wades, averaging 33.0 attempts per game – good for third in the league behind the star-powered Rockets and Clippers.
Take a quick guess at who’s ranked 10th in the NBA in FT attempts, one spot ahead of Lebron James? None other than “Razor” Ramon Sessions at 32 freebies in just 96 minutes played. Dude is averaging a free throw attempt every three minutes; just an insane number to start the year.
Another positive: Clifford’s Bobcats are only allowing opponents 95 points per game – tied for seventh best overall. That’s up from second worst overall (102.7) last season. Let’s hope the small sample size holds up.

The 21 And Under Club

Prospects Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller all had some fine moments during the week but it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who tapped furthest into his UPSIDE with a defensive master class against Carmelo Anthony in New York. Anthony ended up with 32 points but most of that damage was done with MKG out of the game. After getting his nose busted by Kenyon Martin on a hard foul early in the second half, MKG returned midway through the 4th quarter and went full lock-down on Melo, constantly harassing the superstar on and off the ball. In just 26 minutes, Gilchrist dropped 16 points, grabbed 8 boards and swatted 3 shots, including a Gerald Wallace-esque breakaway block on Carmelo that ended in a coast to coast layup. I’ve publicly questioned MKG’s selection as the 2nd pick overall pick in last year’s Draft but if he can build on this type performance consistently, I’ll be proven absolutely wrong and loving every minute of it. Keep it up, young fella.

“A Ben Wallace Type”

Know this: without perennial NBA castoff Jeff Adrien, the Bobcats would be 0-4. With Jefferson nursing a sore ankle and backup Brendan Haywood out until February, Clifford needed someone to step up and provide size and toughness in the middle. With 24 boards and 4 blocks in the past three games, Adrien has certainly delivered.
Ironic that his teammate Biyombo, a Lottery pick, was projected by experts as “a Ben Wallace type”, when it is Adrien who is the perfect heir apparent to Big Ben. Officially listed at 6’7″, the former UCONN Huskie looks to be no taller than 6’4″ Gerald Henderson in person sans mohawk. Like Wallace, Adrien was undrafted and floated around the league for a couple of seasons before finding a home. Big Ben hit his stride with Detroit at age 26. Adrien seems to be doing the same with Charlotte now at 27.

Kemba Walker

From Rick Bonnell’s excellent Knicks game story:

“Every day I’m around him, I’m more convinced he’ll be the leader of a really good (NBA) team,” Clifford predicted.

Tell us something we already didn’t know, Steve.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 Preview: 5 Fearless Predictions

Standard

Prediction One: Biyombo Is No Bust

We’ve caught a glimpse of it in the preseason: the uber-raw teen Draft idol from the Congo has started to put a few things together in his third year. Bismack is making clean catches on passes he would’ve fumbled last season and is rebounding at a near Vucevic-ian rate. Those of us panicked at Biyombo’s sophomore regression can finally breath a sigh of relief. It seems the big fella’s work ethic combined with Coaches Clifford & Ewing’s steamlined directives (rebound, defend and the rest will come) have propelled #biznation from third world to “developing world” status. Biyombo may not start many games this season with Al Jefferson in the mix but by the end of Biyombo’s rookie deal, Charlotte may have themselves the next Samuel Dalembert.*
*which is a big upgrade from last year’s “the next Mouhamed Saer-Sene”

Prediction Two: Cody Zeller will not win ROY

Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball” is just that: a pure basketball player with an outstanding feel for the game. As a rookie on a team with at least three legit NBA scorers (Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson), Cody will instinctively do what’s best to make the offense flow; putting his teammates in a better position to score. Great news for the Bobcats’ offense but bad news for Cody’s Rookie of the Year chances. Averaging a 10ppg/6rpg/4apg line won’t turn many heads. In fact, don’t be surprised to hear a lot of “we want Cody to be more aggressive” pleas from Clifford & Co. midway through the season. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s Anthony Bennett, Orlando’s Victor Oladipo and Sacramento’s Ben McLemore will all likely be in “shoot first, ask questions later” mode from the opening tip. All-Rookie 1st Team for Cody? Sure. ROY? Not feeling it.

Prediction Three: Kemba Walker will Struggle, then Thrive

Dear Kemba,
You probably won’t believe this but there are actually a few dudes on your team worth passing the ball to this year! I know, I know. I couldn’t believe it either but then I did some fact checking and it turns out that it’s true. Even better, one of these dudes is a Top 3 low post scorer in the league who demands double teams 24/7/365! Remember that one guy with the weird name, comically long arms and the brother named Billy? Yeah, even he learned how to catch the ball this offseason. Wild, I know. So the good news is that you won’t have to play 1 on 5 on offense anymore. The bad news is that you’ve basically spent the first two years of your pro career learning how to play 1 on 5. Bobcats fans can count the number of successful pick and rolls you’ve executed on Rufus Lynx‘s hands and feet. I know it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment early on but I bet that if anyone can make the transition from Iverson to Isiah, it’ll be you Kemba.
Sincerely,
-ASChin

Prediction Four: Ramon Sessions Will Be Great (Again)

Ramon Sessions led all NBA bench players last season in free throw attempts and makes despite missing 21 games. That’s kind of insane. If you haven’t heard, free throws and threes are basically extra points, thus extremely valuable to an efficient NBA offense. Ramon is also an outstanding pick and roll player and an improved defender. Last year’s Walker/Sessions combo was the East’s unheralded answer to Ty Lawson/Andre Miller and Steph Curry/Jarrett Jack. Don’t listen to the “Clifford doesn’t want to go small” noise. Sessions will get just as much run this season; he’s simply too good to be kept on the pine.

Prediction Five: MKG will be Benched or Traded

The Bobcats spacing issues are very real. Sure, Walker will shoot from deep in certain situations, as will Henderson but it’s not their first inclination to do so. Zeller’s just now getting comfortable shooting from mid-range consistently and Josh McRoberts’ career 31% mark won’t keep many defenders up at night. This means Charlotte desperately needs double-team punishing, knock-down shooting to come from the Small Forward spot. Unfortunately, the guy currently holding down the starting job might be the worst jump shooter in the league.

I’m no MKG hater. On the right team, with the right system, Kidd-Gilchrist could potentially transform into a game-changing defender and slasher. But the Bobcats are doing him no service surrounding him with non-shooters at this stage of his career. One solution is to insert last year’s 2nd Round pick, Jeff Taylor (34% 3FG), into the starting five, allowing Kidd-Gilchrist to play with a stronger shooting 2nd Unit backcourt (Sessions/Ben Gordon). Eventually, once his shot improves, the team could ease Gilchrist back into the starting five.

I’ve said it before, MKG is the wing-version of Derrick Favors. Utah used a slow and steady development approach on an equally raw, athletically gifted prospect and are now reaping the rewards. They didn’t throw him into the fire to pickup bad habits and have his confidence broken.
But would the Bobcats’ front office be willing to take the inevitable PR hit that comes with benching a former number two overall pick? Would MKG’s young psyche be able to handle the demotion?
If the organization doesn’t like the answers to these questions, they may look to trade MKG while he still has the upside sheen. A combination of MKG, draft picks and Gordon’s expiring would likely net an All-Star if one were to hit the trading block. For the benefit of both the player and organization, this may be the best solution overall.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Rich Cho Report Card | April 2013 Edition

Standard

 

On June 14, 2011 the Charlotte Bobcats hired former Thunder and Blazer exec Rich Cho as general manager. His task: to transform a capped-out, going nowhere roster into a perennial Playoff contender. Nearly two years later, his plan has slowly but surely come into focus. Let’s take a look at each of the team’s major transactions and see how he’s fared.

YEAR ONE: 2011-2012 Season

Traded Stephen Jackson and the 19th overall selection (via Portland) for the 7th overall selection and Corey Maggette.

Just a few days into his tenure, Cho was able to swing a three team deal with Milwaukee and Sacramento to move up twelve spots and select Bismack Biyombo – an amazing feat considering that the only cost was downgrading from Jackson to Maggette. Great maneuvering but the jury’s still out on the pick. Biyombo is a classic project; a potential defensive stud who has made modest improvements at the offensive end. But have a look at the players Cho passed up to draft him: Brandon Knight, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried. Long term it’s still possible that Biz’s future is as bright as any in the 2011 Draft – his progress over the next two seasons will determine whether the move was a whiff or a home run swing.

GRADE: B

Drafted Kemba Walker with the 9th overall selection.

Walker may not have prototypical PG size or elite court vision but so what? Kemba is a leader, an amazing scorer and a player who has shown the ability to improve. If the 2011 Draft were held over today, he might go Top 3 and certainly Top 5. Relative to all of the Bobcats’ past Draft blunders, Kemba has been an unmitigated success.

GRADE: A+

Declined to match Dante Cunningham’s 3 year, $6 million offer sheet (third year team option) from Memphis, signed Reggie Williams to a 2 year, $5 million deal.

As the Blazers’ GM, Cho traded Cunningham to the Cats as part of the Gerald Wallace swap a few months prior – a not so subtle hint that he wasn’t a fan of Dante’s game. Add in a late season Mecklenburg County cannabis bust and Cunningham was as good as gone. Sad really, because Cunningham’s replacements, Williams and Derrick Brown, amounted to little more than cap fodder during their time in the Queen City. Meanwhile, Dante has honed his pick & pop shooting/pick & roll stopping game from Memphis to Minnesota, establishing himself as a legit role player in the league. Still only 25, Dante would’ve given the Cats everything they asked of Hakim Warrick and more, serving as a great screen and pop guy for Kemba and solid rebounder for a team that has desperately needed one.

GRADE: D-

Traded the team’s 2013 2nd Round pick (32nd overall) to OKC for Byron Mullens.

I’m not going to eat Cho’s lunch for this one. As frustratingly inconsistent as Mullens has been, it’s doubtful the team would have acquired a more intriguing prospect in this year’s early second round. Byron’s body language might be the worst in the league and when his jumper goes, he’s basically useless but it’s not hard to understand the intrigue. Mullens is a legit 7 footer with size who can stretch the floor and who has vastly improved as a rebounder and post player. On the downside, he doesn’t even try on defense (unless you count watching your man gain position and then fouling as trying) and can turn into a Ben Gordon-level ball stopper on certain nights (MVP! MVP!). Still, big men with Byron’s offensive skills are rare finds and I expect the team to at least extend him the qualifying offer this summer.

GRADE: B-

YEAR TWO: 2012-2013 Season

Traded Corey Maggette to DET for Ben Gordon and future 1st round pick.

Depending on who or what the Cats get with the Pistons’ first rounder, this may go down as Cho’s greatest move. Sure, Gordon tried to sabotage the team and is due a truckload of money next season but between the pick and Ben’s massive expiring contract, the Cats could have enough juice to land an All-Star via trade should one become available between now and next February’s deadline. Add in the fact that Gordon actually played okay for the Cats this season (11ppg in only 20 minutes per) while Maggette limped through just 18 contests with Detroit and you could see how Cho would have trouble “humbling himself” after a deal like this. Win-win.

GRADE: A+

Drafted Michael Kidd Gilchrist with the 2nd overall selection.

Much like Bismack Biyombo, MKG’s greatest crime is that he’s a defense-first prospect in a league that hasn’t been able to properly quantify, much less fully appreciate that side of the ball. Glance at the box score and Kidd-Gilchrist looks like an obvious mistake at the number two pick. Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes were so much further along offensively than nearly every Bobcat this season that it was impossible not to second guess Cho’s decision. But if you go back and watch the games closely, you’ll see something beautiful and rare: a 19 year old kid who made opposing wings work for their money. MKG rarely bites on pump or head fakes, he stays in front of guys with his hips rather than his feet and he blocks and rebounds at an elite rate (5th amongst SFs in blocks per, 6th amongst SFs in rebounds per 48 minutes). Gilchrist’s jump shot is beyond busted and his inability to space the floor will handcuff the team until he can develop that part of his game but long term, I think Cho made a solid pick. Defense is half of the game and MKG plays that half at an extremely high level.

GRADE: B

Drafted Jeffrey Taylor with the 31st overall selection.

Considering the guys drafted after him, Taylor was probably the right pick at 31. He shot a reasonable 34% from beyond the arc and 43% overall in limited minutes – not bad considering fellow Second Round “Three Point Ace” Kim English only managed 37% and 28% respectively. The organization sees him as a low cost “Three & D” prospect ala Danny Green, Thabo Sefolosha, etc. Taylor certainly has the size to pester perimeter players but unlike MKG, seems to bite on fakes and get caught out of position on drives (especially around the baseline). He’s also old for a rookie (turns 24 in May) and has a maddening tendency to travel before launching on a drive. All that said, I could see Taylor enjoying a long career in the league, especially if he latches on with a team like the Spurs or Thunder as a wing stopper going forward. He’s just not dynamic enough of a scorer to play big minutes for an offensively anemic squad like Charlotte.

GRADE: B

Extended then rescinded a qualifying offer to D.J. Augustin, signed Ramon Sessions to a 2 year, $10 million contract.

Another little offseason gem. Cho understood that small point guards who can’t finish at the rim have little value in the league, promptly ditching Augustin for the much more versatile Sessions. Ramon was a major reason the team started the season 7-5, adding another inside-out threat to couple with Walker on the perimeter. Charlotte’s point guard combination was one of the best in the league until Ramon went down with a late season knee injury. Only complaint is that Cho should have negotiated for a 3rd year team option – Sessions will hit unrestricted free agency in July ’14.

GRADE: A

Claimed Brendan Haywood via amnesty waivers.

The Bobcats continued their fascination with Dallas bigs by claiming Haywood off waivers for the measly sum of $2 million per over three seasons. Brendan will likely spend the last two years of the deal as Charlotte’s emergency center slash unofficial big man coach. A self-professed hoops junkie, Haywood will at the very least provide Biyombo, Mullens and company with a real NBA center to go up against in practice.

GRADE: C+

Signed Jannero Pargo, Jeff Adrien as mid/late season replacements.

Signing street free agents in the middle of the season are rarely noteworthy but both of these guys played hard and helped Charlotte grind out a few wins.

GRADE: B+

Traded Matt Carroll to New Orleans for Hakim Warrick; Traded Warrick to Orlando for Josh McRoberts.

Had Cho been able to skip the Warrick stage and grabbed McBob from the beginning the team probably would have won an extra 3-5 games and the move would’ve been an “A+++”. Still, the fact that Cho was able transmute a 13th man into a starting PF for twenty games can only be seen as a win even if the team is unable to re-sign McRoberts in July.

GRADE: A

-ASChin

@baselinebuzz

 UPDATE: At publication of this post, the Bobcats have announced that head coach Mike Dunlap has been fired by the team. As coach hirings tend to be decided by a combination of ownership, team president and general manager, I haven’t listed the Dunlap hire/fire amongst Cho’s transactions. 

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

Bobcats Mid-January Recap

Standard

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.

Bright Spots

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.

Hmmm

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.

Go Cats!

-Mike 


POLL : Should Charlotte Trade Gerald Henderson?

  • Absolutely (43%, 30 Votes)
  • Only for a Great Return (51%, 36 Votes)
  • No Way (6%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 70

Loading ... Loading ...

Eight Ways To Win Without Actually Winning – Part 2

Standard

Bobcats Baseline 2012-2013 Season Preview

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.

-ASChin