The Mastermind


How Rich Cho Rescued the Bobcats from Salary Cap Hell

The Carolina Panthers’ offseason of pain – fueled by a half decade’s worth of cap mis-management – reminded me of just how great a job Bobcats general manager Rich Cho has done in cleaning up the Bobcats’ books. Though Cho has struggled somewhat in the Draft, the guy is an undeniable Salary Cap Genius. And when I say undeniable, I mean UNDENIABLE. Have a look at the Bobcats salary chart as of July of 2010, the summer before Cho arrived (click for a larger image):

Bobcats Salary Cap Chart 1

The miserable story behind these numbers is another post for another day. For now let’s just fast forward to July 2014:

Look at those gorgeous books! It took the team four long and mostly gruesome seasons but they finally did it. Gone are the days of the Gana Diop mid-level monstrosities and the Eduardo Najera “14th Men for $5 million” deals. Gone are the five year, $40 million contracts for perpetually enigmatic weirdos (T-Time). Outside of maybe the relatively minuscule miscues of Brendan Haywood and Bismack Biyombo (slightly overpaid $3.8 million), there isn’t a bad contract on the roster.

Whereas Larry Brown and Rod Higgins would’ve traded for over-priced role players in years past, Cho instead scoops up under-valued guys on the NBA’s fringe. Chris Douglas-Roberts and Anthony Tolliver were barely in the league last season and Charlotte’s paying them a combined $1.4 million to be key rotation players on a Playoff team. I’ll take that over $18 million of Gana Diop any day.

Check out these cap beauties:

  • The team’s three key upcoming free agents, Kemba Walker (2015), MKG (2016) and Cody Zeller (2017) are all on restricted rookie scale deals so they won’t be going anywhere unless the team wants them to. Added bonus: Unlike many past Cats’ draft picks, all three are solid prospects worth re-signing.
  • The team’s highest paid guys, Henderson and Big Al, are playing above their salary numbers.
  • The team’s 6th man, Gary Neal, makes just north of $3 million – or about a million less than the Cats were paying Matt Carroll to guard the Gatorade just four years ago.
  • In 2010, Charlotte paid Tyrus Thomas, Diop and Nazr Mohammed a combined $20 million to do whatever it was that they did. Next season the Hornets will pay the same amount for the collective services of Henderson, Kemba, MKG, Cody and Neal.

The team’s strategy has been simple: 1.) invest in cheap rookie contracts, 2.) dump attractive assets on long-term deals for picks and expirings, 3.) don’t sign free agents above market value (especially your own) and, finally, 4.) let father time take care of the rest.

Breaking the third rule is what got the Panthers into their current mess and what ultimately led to the Bobcats cap problems back in 2010. Charlotte bid against itself when the Cats re-signed Emeka Okafor in ’08 and the enormous contract ultimately led to them dumping Tyson Chandler for nothing two seasons later. By contrast, Cho strong-armed Henderson’s agent last summer – fully aware that as a restricted free agent, Gerald had little leverage in the negotiations. Presto! Hendo signed to a very reasonable three year deal.

Cho’s management of the cap has given Charlotte a tremendous amount of flexibility going forward. If Josh McRoberts opts out of his player option this summer (basically a given) and the Cats renounce his rights, they’ll be able to throw up to $12 million at a key free agent or absorb one via trade. If, for instance, the Wolves make Kevin Love available, Charlotte has the juice to trade Minnesota a prospect (Cody), a lottery pick (Detroit’s) AND cap space. That’s a Godfather offer difficult to trump.

Of course, there’s probably a better chance that neither K-Love, Luol Deng, Gordon Hayward or any other marquee free agent or disgrunteld vet make their way to the QC. In that case, Charlotte’s still fine. They can #BringBackMcBob on a front-loaded deal and save a little cash once Kemba’s extension kicks in the following summer. They could use the rest of their cap space to sign a decent backup PG to a short-term contract (the return of Ramon Sessions?) and bring back at least one of the Tolliver/CDR duo for wing/frontcourt depth.

Should that scenario play out, the Hornets could enter into next season as a Playoff team with upside AND tidy books:

A few notes on the chart:

  • I’m budgeting a three year, $15 million deal for McRoberts. He’ll turn just 29 during the contract’s final year, the timing of which coincides with Cody’s eventual extension.
  • Ramon would probably like a little more long-term security but it’s reasonable to think he’d take $4 million to play close to home with his old pals.
  • For Kemba’s extension, I just copied and pasted Ty Lawson’s contract – though I think there’s a chance Walker doesn’t get quite that much cash. Maybe 90%-95% of what Ty got. Still, it’s a decent comp going forward.
  • It’ll be very interesting to see what Cho does with his three first round picks over the next two Drafts. Should the team uncover a diamond in the mid to late round – say a TJ Warren or a Kyle Anderson – it would only improve their rosy cap situation going forward.

In summary: We may question the selection of Biz in the Lottery. We may ponder what Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard or Andre Drummond would’ve looked like in teal & purple. But when it comes to mastering the salary cap and wrangling the teams’ once wild books, Rich Cho has proven infallible.





MKG sketch by Mike S.

Whenever Michael Kidd-Gilchrist launches one his patented twenty-foot airballs, I’m confronted with three stages of conflicting emotion:

  1. Laughter – as in, “OMFG what did I just see“.
  2. Anger – as in, “This is unacceptable, he’s killing us“.
  3. Sadness – as in, “I feel really bad for this kid“.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that MKG and his selection as the number two overall pick in the 2012 Draft is to me what the James Harden trade is to Bill Simmons. I wrote before the Draft that MKG was a questionable fit on a team both bereft of scoring and saddled with an ugly history of developing projects. Charlotte had just used the seventh overall pick a year before on the one-way, uber-raw defensive prospect Bismack Biyombo. The chances of Charlotte successfully developing and playing them together for any long stretches were next to nil, especially if they were actually trying to win games.

The Bobcats weren’t trying to win at all during their infamous 2011-2012 campaign, a strike-shortened season that led to the league’s all-time worst record. To call it miserable would be an affront to misery. The roster was made so purposefully threadbare that they succeeded in losing their final 23 games – the business end of a 3-34 run.

This was all part of general manager Rich Cho’s plan. You see, the league incentivizes rebuilding teams to be as bad as possible in order to secure the highest draft picks. That’s where all the stars are, if you haven’t heard – at the top of the Draft.

The 2012 Draft had one guaranteed franchise player in Anthony Davis and Cho reasoned that subjecting an already fragile, tortured fan-base to another major dose of embarrassment was worth a 25% shot at getting him.

To the surprise of exactly no one, Charlotte didn’t win that May’s Lottery and instead wound up picking second overall. In fact, the league’s worst team had won the Lottery just three times in 22 years. The look on Cho’s face during the broadcast had me worried: “a guy with both an engineering and law degree, who prioritizes advanced stats above all else — THAT GUY was suprised that his 75% chance of NOT WINNING THE LOTTERY happened?

Instead of rewarding a desperate fanbase with a ready-made star in Davis, the front office settled for his Kentucky teammate MKG instead. HE would be the franchise’s reward for the epic losing. HE would be the future star to push this team into the stratosphere. HE would shoulder the massive expectations…

MKG is by EVERY ACCOUNT an awesome, likable young man. His work ethic and attitude are off the charts and he NEVER takes plays off. Every team needs a guy like that. From the portion of his bio that has been made public, MKG has courageously overcome many obstacles in order to become an NBA player. Notably, he’s struggled with a speech impediment which can be petrifying to those who do not live their lives in the public eye. On the court, MKG is a long, rangy defender who occasionally flashes his potential as a top-tier permiter defender – a valuable skill.

MKG is also an absolute disaster on offense. His shot requires a page one rewrite (if that’s even possible) and he doesn’t have an explosive first step or a refined post-up game – so there’s nothing he can consistently resort to while he’s reworking the jumper. While his on-ball defense can sometimes be superb, he fouls early and often and gets lost on screens like he was Gary Neal, not Tony Allen. And because of his offensive liabilities, MKG is unplayable at the end of games especially when the team is down.

Wanna guess how many times he’s played over 35 minutes in a game this season? Once. One time. Turns out that you can’t lock guys down when you’re sitting on the pine. In other words, MKG is a long-term project. An intriguing one that any team would love to have sitting at the end of its bench or hustling in the D-League, honing his craft.

MKG is also a world-class, terrible Number Two Overall pick – especially given the Bobcats’ circumstances at the time. Leading up to the Draft, Cho didn’t go a day without bringing up his Durant/Westbrook/Harden days in OKC: ready-made Lottery saviors with telegenic personalities who revitalized a fanbase and set fire to the league. MKG, with his raw blue-collar game and camera-shy ways couldn’t have been any different.

Leading up to the 2012 Draft, there were whispers that MKG’s people were hoping he would not go to Charlotte at number two. They knew how much work his game would require and how patient a franchise would need to be. They knew he’d need to be surrounded by big time scorers who could carry the offensive load while MKG did all the dirty work and learned on the job via a strong internal development staff. Basically, the opposite of the team he ended up going to.

Some fans have suggested that we “forget where MKG was picked and evaluate him with fresh eyes“. While a noble gesture, it’s not exactly practical. MKG’s $4.8 million salary this season is nearly as much as Josh McRoberts and Kemba Walker combined. He’s owed $5 million next season and $6.3 million the following. His cap hold will be somewhere north of $9 million once his rookie contract ends in July of 2016. In other words, MKG is making real NBA money. His 26 minutes of play every night are minutes that the team cannot dedicate to other, more polished and productive two-way NBA players.

My biggest concern is with MKG himself. Again, he comes off as a forthright and genuine young man. Heck, he even called up his college coach before the Draft and asked him if he was truly ready for the NBA. It’s a near certainty that he feels bad for not being able to help his team more as they push for a Playoff spot. So if I may, allow me to channel my inner Frank Underwood, turn towards the camera and address MKG directly:


It’s not your fault, MKG. It’s not your fault.

Bobcats management put you in a position that did you no favors. Any resentment or impatience that you receive from the fans (this writer included) is aimed squarely at them, not at you. Imagine if Gerald Wallace had been drafted as a Top 3 overall pick? The words “failure” and “bust” would’ve haunted that guy until he was scared out of the league. Don’t let that happen to you. Realize what is really going on and rise above it.

If guys like Crash and Lance Stephenson can do it, so can you. It will take time and it might take a change of scenery but you are a legitimate NBA player who will one day excel despite the challenging circumstances in which you’ve arrived. I’m certain of it. From the little I’ve read about how you got here, overcoming obstacles is without doubt one of your skills that is NBA-ready.

– ASChin

The MKG Myth


Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sketch by Mike S.

Mislabeled MKG

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the skills and potential of an elite defender in the NBA.

That line, or several similar variations of it, has been steadily delivered from the Bobcats organization since claiming the prospect with their top draft pick in 2012. They’ve beaten that drum so consistently, that it resonates down to each generic Bobcats write-up on sports media websites.

Inconveniently, that talking point just isn’t holding up. Perhaps, the organization can be excused for trying to deflect the attention away from MKG’s offensive woes. Or, you can commend them on their focused efforts to prop up the perceived value of the club’s young asset. By labeling him as an “elite” defensive talent and staying the course with that singular message despite his performance, we get to enjoy a bit of political theater with the franchise this season. By now it’s common knowledge that the Charlotte Bobcats have no clue as to how to select a player in the NBA Draft, especially the Lottery. As it’s becoming fairly clear that they honored that reputation by selecting Kidd-Gilchrist in 2012, GM Rod Higgins, Rich Cho, and Coach Steve Clifford have shown great synergy, working in concert to teach us the chorus of the MKG is Actually Really Good song.

MKG vs. Elite Scorers

Kidd-Gilchrist has shown some incredible athletic ability and his strengths appear to lie on rebounding and defensive areas of the game. So, he could really expand his game and become a sound pro player over the next few years. But the myth of MKG as an elite, top-tier, or lockdown defender is starting to fade in his second season. Back in late January, we saw Carmelo Anthony get hot and abuse the Bobcats in New York. Melo’s career-high 62 points came easy on a night where he started with a matchup against the overwhelmed MKG. Surely, the Bobcats locker room did what they could to keep Kidd-Gilchrist from sinking after being stripped of the only weapon he’s got – the label of a lockdown, defensive stopper.

Now, in early March as the Bobcats struggle through a treacherous series of games against the Association’s absolute best, it looks like the team will need to gather around young MKG to help him recover from another horrific beating. On Monday night, Lebron James stepped on the court and immediately got to work, dismantling Kidd-Gilchrist and the Bobcats as a whole. If the Bobcats truly had an “elite” level defensive player on their roster, you would hope they’d put him on the floor with orders to minimize some of the damage. Well, they sent MKG in the game instead. Lebron finished the game with his career high 61 points, and further elevated his own status as a sports legend. This must have been crushing for a young guy like Michael Kidd Gilchrist. Lebron has had some incredible games over his career, but he hadn’t scored this many points until catching fire against such a favorable matchup.

Work In Progress

If the evidence is showing us a player that’s not a once-in-a-generation defender, then what are we seeing? It’s starting to look like a young athlete that’s being mislabeled, and in danger of crumbling under the pressure of wrongly assigned expectations. Let’s hope Steve Clifford realizes what he’s got with MKG, rather that what he wishes he had. It might be best if Clifford gave Kidd-Gilchrist the Cody Zeller treatment and eased him into a proper role with the team and limited him to productive minutes.

Let’s be straight here – this isn’t at all about MKG’s lacking set of skills on offense (an entirely separate story),  this is about the packaging that the team is aiming to sell. They’re trying to convince the fans, the league, and probably their own players on the belief that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is great at doing something on the basketball court. Unfortunately, we’ve heard this tune before when it was called “Bismack Biyombo” and we’ve seen the raw, live performance from a better act named “Gerald Wallace” a few years back.

The Charlotte Bobcats franchise made the calculated and coordinated choice to lose all but seven games in 2011-2012 for the chance rebuild through the NBA Draft. Just about everyone would call that tanking. Critics of tanking usually base their view on the fundamental idea that losing to win has no place in sports. To those folks, the 7-win Bobcats coming away with MKG with their second overall pick in 2012 probably sounds like justice.

– Mike S.

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 10 Review


The Draft Issue

What a stinker this week was for the Bobcats. What an absolute steaming pile of dog doo doo. The team finally returned home after a dismal road trip only to drop a winnable game at home against Southeast Division rival Washington on Tuesday night. They traveled to Minnesota on Friday and get splattered on by a team that they’ve (surprisingly) owned for much of the last decade. The final bit of brown was served the next night in Chicago, a fumbled loss at the hands of a Bulls team that had just traded away its best healthy player.

The Cats currently stand at 15-23, eight games under .500 and out of the Eastern Conference top eight. Here’s the worst part: in the past few seasons, the Lottery provided a safety net for GM Rich Cho’s OKC-styled plan but this year’s pick goes to the Bulls if outside the Top 10 and the Bobcats are just talented enough to make that nightmare a reality. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that even if the Bobcats were to keep their Lottery pick, there is no guarantee Cho would draft a player of any consequence.

How We Got Here

Cho’s four Lottery selections over three years (picks 7, 11, 2 and 4 overall) have yet to land a single All-Star or All Rookie First Team nod. Only one of the players selected (Kemba Walker) has shown any signs of being more than an above average starter. The other three – Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller – seem stuck in development limbo, either in the midst of learning hoops essentials or an entirely new position. MKG and Zeller should end up being ok eventually. They have the intangibles and hoops acumen to overcome present day weaknesses and become at least quality NBA players. Biyombo is probably a lost cause – the team basically admitted as much when they debated extending his rookie-scale team option for next season. All in all, Cho’s drafts, given the quality of the picks and talent available, have been disappointing – even more so when you factor in that his entire team building strategy is built around the Lottery. Here we are, years after the dismantling began and the Bobcats are no closer to a perennial All-Star (much less superstar) than they were before.

The post-mortem on Cho’s Draft woes lead to one conclusion: he fails when drafting “projections” of what a player might be versus who they are now. The mentality behind this probably stems from his days with Seattle/OKC – a branch of the Spurs culture (GM Sam Presti arrived via San Antonio) suited for transforming raw specimens into productive assets. The Bobcats had zero experience with this type of development before Cho arrived and Cho only compounded the risk by selecting his prospects in the Lottery versus the late rounds (i.e. Serge Ibaka, Manu Ginobli).

Executing The Right Strategy The Wrong Way

Had San Antonio drafted Biyombo, for example, he would’ve been taken in the late first round, stashed in Europe for a few years and only brought back Stateside once he was ready to contribute (see Tiago Splitter). But the Bobcats couldn’t afford to handle it that way, they were pitching youth and promise while bottoming out — how else could you sell a putrid, seven win team to the fans? Biz was brought over immediately after the team paid millions to his Spanish club via a buyout. Since then, the Cats have invested three seasons, additional millions of dollars in salary, countless training resources and thousands of minutes played in Biyombo and the only positive asset he’s likely to bring via trade is a salary dump. Biz is owed $4 million next season and it would be shocking if another franchise sees him as anything but a backup center at this point.

Here’s a list of notable players drafted after Biyombo:

Brandon Knight, Walker, Klay Thompson, Alec Burks, the Morris Twins, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Iman Shumpert, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Mirotic, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler.

Realistically, the only player on this list that you could get for Biyombo one for one in a trade is Shumpert and that’s because the Knicks are terrible defensively and are poorly run in general. No way Chicago trades Butler for Biz today, for example, even though Jimmy was selected twenty three spots later. In total, there were at least thirteen more valuable, more productive players chosen after Biyombo, which is not exactly the best way to begin your tenure as a Draft-focused GM.

Projections Not To Be Confused With Reality

Getting back to Cho’s flawed “projections”, look no further than his most successful pick (Kemba) to discover a more reasonable Draft formula:

  1. Does this player possess an elite, instantly translatable NBA skill? Kemba: elite quickness – YES.
  2. Can this player shoot, pass and dribble? AKA Does this player have a sound basketball foundation? AKA “The Jalen Rose Rule of Drafting” Kemba: YES.
  3. Does this player possess the intangibles to improve upon their single elite skill and sound basketball foundation to become something more? Kemba: YES.

Now try running through this test with Biyombo:

  1. Shot blocking – YES.
  2. NO.
  3. N/A  – still learning fundamentals.

Uh-oh. Let’s try it with MKG:

  1. On-Ball Defense – YES.
  2. NO.
  3. N/A – still fixing broken shot (fundamental).

Yikes. What about Cody:

  1. NO.
  2. YES.
  3. N/A – no elite skill.

Now, I’m not saying this is the end all be all of Lottery Drafting Guides but if a player can’t shoot/pass/dribble, how in the heck is he going to be an All-Star? If he doesn’t have one elite skill, how is he going to be an All-Star? You gotta have all three. Look at Boogie Cousins in Sacramento. Elite post game, can do everything but has a terrible attitude that’s held him back. Reggie Evans is an elite rebounder but that’s it. Career role player. CP3 is an elite floor general, does everything and is driven to win. Superstar. Same goes for Damian Lillard.

Klay Thompson was an elite shooter coming into the Draft. He had sound fundamentals and, as the son of a former NBA player, was a big time worker. Not sure why you’d pass on him for a guy who can’t even catch a basketball much less pass/dribble/shoot. Michael Carter Williams was an elite floor general, could pass/dribble (though struggled with his shot somewhat as a freshman – the mechanics weren’t broken) and had the intangibles. There are shades of gray, sure, but as an overall strategy it can lead you to the promised land.

Oversell, Under Deliver

NBA talent evaluation is incredibly difficult – make no mistake – but so is open heart surgery and our society has figured out a way to put the right people in those positions to perform their jobs successfully. Rich Cho has done much more good than bad in his time in Charlotte. He’s wrangled their once wild cap situation, he’s made trades that have brought as much or more to the team than they’ve given up and his eye for low-cost free agents has been exemplary.

The problem is this: if you are going to subject a fanbase to a years-long, historically gruesome tear-down – pacifying them with dreams of young stars acquired through the Draft – then you MUST deliver on that promise. The Bobcats as constructed in 2010 were not going anywhere special but they were certainly not destined for a soul crushing seven win season either. The choice was made, the city and fanbase shouldered the embarrassment and shame and yet the shining young stars are nowhere within sight. Thus far at least, through the lens of Cho’s own lofty strategy, failure is the only grade.



Bobcats Season 10 – Week 6 Review


NOTE: The week in review posts will now be published on Sundays.

Charlotte goes 2-3 over the past ten days, a frustrating stretch that saw the team:

  • Take care of business at home in a blowout win against Philly, 105-88.
  • Earn their best win of the season at the TWC versus Golden State, 115-111.
  • Lay an unnecessary egg at home against the beatable Magic, 83-92.
  • Nearly shock the Eastern Conference leading Pacers in Indy, 94-99.
  • Give away yet another home win to the Lakers, 85-88.

Fork in the Road

We’ve hit mid-December and the Bobcats stand at 10-14, having just dropped two winnable home games against sub-500 competition. They’re on pace for 33 wins, which, given the current state of the Conference, should have them out of the Playoffs and picking somewhere in the 12-14 range. The Bulls would then get the pick and Charlotte’s worst case scenario would be complete. No Playoffs, no picks. Clearly, the status quo is not an option. The Bobcats front office needs to make a decision soon: Make a Run or Tank a Ton.

If they decide to go for it, the remaining schedule won’t do them any favors. The team has already played four more home games than road dates and have two long west coast trips yet to go. According to ESPN’s relative percent index, the Cats have had the tenth easiest schedule in the league thus far.

Losing Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for stretches has certainly been a challenge but a good team should have been able to ride the favorable schedule closer to five hundred. The makeup of the roster is much improved from last season but is still unbalanced. No one on the team can make a consistent jump shot and the dropoff in overall wing play goes downhill fast after Jeff Taylor. The Bobcats rely on Josh McRoberts to be more than the third big man he is and outside of Kemba Walker, there is nobody on the roster who should touch the ball in crunch time.

If the Cats can just correct one or two of these flaws during the season, they could still make the Playoffs and I’m guessing that Rich Cho and Rod Higgins are mining for offers that makes the team better now without hurting them later. But that kind of deal may never arrive – the braintrust will be forced to decide between punting yet another season or sacrificing some future potential for today.

Being patient in an elite Draft year is a sound strategy. If Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle or Dante Exum suit up in a Hornets jersey next season, fans will surely be quick to forgive this season’s lost opportunity. Still, there’s something sad and ironic about a franchise that’s failed to draft a single All-Star in a decade pinning it’s hopes on yet another Lottery.

Asik Trade Rumours

Speaking of mid-season trades, according Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Houston recently offered disgruntled center Omer Asik to the Bobcats in exchange for two first round picks and the rights to swap a third. Charlotte wisely turned them down. While Asik’s defensive presence is underappreciated by the casual fan, the Rockets are asking for more than they gave up to OKC in the James Harden trade for a non-All Star who is entering the last year of his contract. Is Morey is under the impression that Rod Higgins and Larry Brown are still calling the shots in Charlotte?

Should the price return to earth, the Bobcats could be an interesting suitor. Asik played extremely well as a backup center under fellow Van Gundy-alum Tom Thibadeau in Chicago. Omer’s offense improved as a starter with Houston last season and his salary ($15m due with only $8m counting against cap) is reasonable enough for a starting, above-average center.

Of course, the Cats already invested heavily at Asik’s position just a few months ago when they signed Al Jefferson to a three year $45m deal. And before you ask, no, they cannot play those two together for any reasonable stretch of time. The thought of Jefferson having to cover stretch fours would likely send Steve Clifford right back to the hospital. Charlotte would have to find another home for Jefferson, who can only be traded after December 15, and I have absolutely no idea what the market is for Jefferson at $15m per.

Also, we can’t dismiss Asik’s actual, non-cap salary next season of $15m. Remember that Michael Jordan is still on the hook for Tyrus Thomas’ $9m for both this season and next. The Bobcats are hardly a cash cow business for MJ and swallowing the additional $16m in off the cap player salaries (not to mention the re-brand costs) may be outside the financial scope of what this ownership group can feasibly do.

You sir, are no Bust

Allow me to use a portion of this week’s column to diffuse an early season myth in the making. As someone who’s followed the Bobcats closely for all ten seasons (yeah, I’ll never get that time back), I’ve been subjected to all sorts of Draft “busts”: The questionable work ethic type (Sean May), the athletically challenged type (Adam Morrison), the skill deprived type (Alexis Ajinca), the physically over-matched type (D.J. Augustin), etc, etc. As a self-certified expert in modern NBA draft blunders, I am here to tell you that Cody Zeller – regardless of his early struggles – is not one of them.

Zeller, armed with a sound hoops IQ, elite athletic ability, legit seven foot size and a Tom Crean-infused work ethic, dodges all of the major pitfalls associated with past Bobcat busts. His uncorrectable shortcoming (wingspan) can be overcome as Cody improves his perimeter game (his twenty footer already looks better). Zeller’s lack of lower body strength will arrive over the next few seasons as he begins his “mans-formation”, using the next couple of summers to bulk up. And don’t forget that Zeller is learning a new position during his rookie year – which is sort of like studying for the MCAT in a foreign language. Cody has the chops to be a very good pro, just be patient with him.



Bobcats State of the Roster: Summer 2013 Edition


It’s been a while since we’ve done a proper “State of the Roster”. Granted, this is due mainly to the fact that the “state” has been (purposefully) terrible since the Gerald Wallace trade two and half years ago. But here we are in the sunny summer of 2013 and the Charlotte Professional Basketball Team is finally back on the road to relevance. Let’s break down the most incredible offseason in “Bobcat” team history and ponder what the team’s next moves will be:

May 21st: The Bugs Are Back

Michael Jordan didn’t waste any time cranking up the hype machine. The team officially announced its intent to rebrand as the Charlotte Hornets. It was a slam dunk, no-brainer of a move. Needless to say, the fanbase has been reinvigorated. Opening night, 2014 is going to be INSANE.

May 27th: The Best Coaching Staff in Charlotte Hoops History

A week later, Charlotte introduced new head coach Steve Clifford. A former Lakers, Magic and Rockets assistant and a product of the Van Gundy coaching tree, Clifford is respected and highly regarded by people who matter. Head over to and check out any video that features Clifford – you’ll be amazed at how impressive this guy is. Three weeks later, the team announced Patrick Ewing as associate head coach and added former Cavs sharpshooter Mark Price and former Hawks HC Bob Weiss to the staff. An embarrassment of riches.

Cody Zeller illustration by Mike S.June 27th: The Big Handsome

On Draft night, GM Rich Cho shocked everyone by selecting Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller. An uber-athletic seven footer, Zeller possesses the skill level and work ethic to become a legitimate NBA stretch four-high post machine ala Chris Bosh or Lamarcus Aldridge. Zeller showcased this ability in July’s Summer League by averaging a near double-double (16ppg/9rpg thru July 20th).

June 29th: Mullens Mulligan, The Return of Henderson?

Two days after the Draft, Charlotte extended Gerald Henderson his qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent. The artist formerly known as BJ was set adrift, finally washing up on the SoCal shore a month later.

Al Jefferson illustration by Mike S.

July 4th: The Biggest Free Agent Signing in CLT Hoops History

In an unprecedented move, Charlotte agreed to terms with Big Al Jefferson on a three year, $41 million deal, amnestying headcase Tyrus Thomas in the process. The move was a signal to the rest of the league that the team was finished with the D-league Tank Squad and ready to compete.

July 5th: Bring Back McBob

Last year’s feel good player of the year, Josh McRoberts will be back as he and the team agree to a two year, $5.5 million deal. The hashtag’s job is now complete: #BringBackMcBob = #McBobIsBack!

What Happens Next

Henderson, the Bearded Swede and The Humbler

The last big item on the team’s offseason to-do list is Gerald Henderson’s contract situation. He’s been extended the qualifying offer, so will be back in some capacity unless another team offers up a pricey deal Charlotte is unwilling to match (not likely). Reports are vague as to the specifics of the impasse but I’m guessing the Cats are offering somewhere between $4.5-5.5 million per while Henderson’s reps are looking at something closer to the $8-9 million per deals that Demar Derozan and OJ Mayo have signed. Note to Gerald: You aren’t getting that kind of money from Charlotte. Mainly because Rich Cho is top-tier cap strategist and negotiator but also because of….
Jeffery Taylor. The guy has has been blowing up the Summer League and it’s a near certainty the team views him as potential Henderson replacement long-term. Already 24, Taylor isn’t much younger than Gerald but he’s on a minimum contract for the next two seasons and has shown the ability to be a big-time “Three & D” player going forward. With Jefferson and Zeller in the mix, Charlotte isn’t going to be as desperate for Henderson’s “Kobe-lite” type of offense; a spot up shooter like Taylor makes much more sense as a part of the projected starting five. Also, Henderson has built his halfcourt game on isos, post-ups and baseline twos – those types of shots will eventually go to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as he matures.
This isn’t to say that Henderson won’t return. Ideally, he’d come back on a reasonable two year contract, allowing the team to audition both he and Taylor in the SG role until both hit their contract summers in July ’15. A two year, $10 million deal would also be very tradable should a team make an offer for Gerald over the next couple of deadlines.
Gordon the Expiring. Ben is entering a contract year and will definitely be auditioning for his next team. At $13.2 million, he’s a tough number to fit into a trade but not impossible. A contender faced with bench scoring issues and armed with a couple of expiring contracts of their own would be the ideal candidate. If Cho has a shot at squeezing yet another asset out of that Stephen Jackson > Corey Maggette > Ben Gordon salary slot, I’m sure he will.

2014 Draft Fetishists Rejoice!

After the Josh Smith signing (and rumors of a Brandon Jennings sign & trade in the works), the Pistons seem hell-bent on making the postseason in 2014 – meaning that Charlotte will very likely possess that Top 8 protected pick Detroit owes them. I have the Pistons as a probable 7th seed, placing the selection at around fifteenth overall. Mitch McGary, come on down!
The first rounder Portland owes is a little more dicey. The pick is Top 12 protected and the Blazers have actively improved their roster over the summer but the Western Conference is brutal. Portland will have to battle the T-Wolves, Pelicans and Lakers for that final spot and if a key injury takes them out of the race early, look for Rip City to morph in to Tank City.
As much as I love Charlotte’s offseason, I still can’t see them making the Playoffs in 2014. MKG, Taylor, Zeller and Biyombo will need at least another year under their belts before they’re ready for prime-time all the time. Expect the team to win just enough games (30-32) to keep that Top 10 protected 1st Rounder they owe away from the Bulls.

State of the Roster: July 2013

After a fast and furious offseason, the team’s roster has taken shape…

Point Guard: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions.

Call them the Ty Lawson/Andre Miller of the East: Both guys notched big-time PERs last season and offer different looks at the position. Clifford wants a third point guard on the roster, so expect the team to bring in a veteran deep bench guy like Jannero Pargo or Keyon Dooling. Seth Curry will likely be given a camp invite as soon as he’s back to full health.

Shooting Guard: Jeffery Taylor, Ben Gordon.

Obviously, Henderson will start here if/when he’s re-signed. Taylor has shown flashes but he’s still at least a half-season away from shouldering a starting gig. Gordon is a nice weapon when used in limited minutes.

Small Forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeffery Taylor.

MKG played around 25 minutes a game last season but should see a bump this year. If Henderson doesn’t return, it’s likely the team will sign a veteran wing with some range and move Taylor to SG full-time. Also, look for MKG to take a big leap offensively playing alongside Jefferson and Zeller. Putbacks and back door cuts should be the order of the day every day.

Power Forward: Cody Zeller, Josh McRoberts.

Depending on Cody’s development, McBob may get the early starts at the four. Still, this is a big upgrade over the Tyrus Thomas/Byron Mullens combo that started last season. Call it both an addition and an addition by subtraction.

Center: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood.

If the Cats can stay around .500 by January, expect Jefferson to get major All-Star consideration. He’ll be the unquestioned focal point of the team’s offense and should swallow up a ton of boards. Biyombo will have two more seasons to develop before his rookie deal is up, pairing Biz with Zeller or Jefferson gives the still 20-year old a much better chance to succeed as he’ll only be asked to play to his defensive strengths. Haywood’s light contract (2yrs, $4m) combined with his experience should make him prime trade bait for a contender in need of a two-way backup center. If Brendan is moved, look for Summer League invite Henry Sims to compete for the sixth big man spot.

In Conclusion

Forget the moaning and whining about Jefferson’s contract or where Zeller was selected and think of it this way:
The Bobcats replaced the historically bad frontcourt of Gana Diop, Tyrus Thomas and Byron Mullens with Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller and Josh McRoberts. Larry O’Brien contenders? Of course not, but they’re also a big step up from the league-wide punchline they’ve been over the last two and a half seasons. Combine that with another year of development from Kemba, MKG, Taylor and Biz, up to three 2014 first round picks, around $12 million in cap space next summer and a Buzzworthy name change and it’s safe to say that Charlotte’s NBA team is finally on the road to respectability.



Charlotte Picks Cody Zeller Fourth in Wild NBA Draft


Cody Zeller illustration by Mike S.

Bobcats GM Rich Cho Selects Cody Zeller

Turns out the rumors were spot on. Cody Zeller wasn’t at the top of any mock draft (at least not this year) but Rich Cho & Co worked him out, ran the numbers and made the call. And I like it.

MJ & Cho

The pick shows that MJ has given Cho carte blanche to run the team. Whether Zeller works out or not, this is massive step forward for MJ as an owner: Hire smart people, let them do their job. If not, hire even smarter people and allow them to do better ones. MJ is the greatest basketball player of all time, now it’s time to create opportunities for others to excel at their careers be it Rich Cho or the team’s next GM.

Zeller’s Skills

You may not have heard for all the uniform (or uninformed?) boos but Cody Zeller is a tremendously skilled 7-footer who is ready to step in and contribute right away. A pick ‘n pop weapon, Cody can shoot the mid-range or roll to the rim off the bounce. He’s the fastest, quickest big in the Draft and will be fantastic in the Kemba-led transition game. UPDATE: Cho, Higgins and Clifford said as much in their post-draft pressers; while Kemba Walker was apparently a big fan of the pick.

Belief in Biz

The Zeller pick also shows a ton of faith in 2011 first rounder Bismack Biyombo. The Bobcats have given up on prospects all too often throughout their history. Biz won’t turn 21 until August and exhibited a much wider array of skills in his sophomore campaign. Pairing him with a skilled big like Zeller will take a ton of pressure off Biyombo to dominate offensively. New head coach Steve Clifford and associate HC Patrick Ewing will have a lot of young talent to mold over the next couple of seasons.

Where He Ranks

Remember also that Cody Zeller would have gone Top 3 in last year’s vaunted Draft class had he declared. Zeller’s game was picked apart much like Harrison Barnes during his sophomore season. They say familiarity breeds contempt and that has been true in the Draft for a while. Nerlens Noel only managed half a season with Kentucky; fans and scouts salivated over what their imagination projected him to be next year, not who he is or will be.

McRoberts/Henderson Returning

I’d imagine the Zeller selection only helps the team’s decision to bring back another Indiana-born and raised big man: Josh McRoberts. McBob played great for the Cats after coming over from Orlando at the trade deadline and should come somewhat reasonably priced. Josh does a lot of the same things Zeller can and will aid in Cody’s transition to starter.

Additionally, the pick can only mean good things for Gerald Henderson fans. By passing on Kansas guard Ben McLemore, Charlotte has to fill the SG spot by either re-signing Hendo or bringing in someone else via free agency. Bank on Gerald coming back. UPDATE: The team announced earlier today that Henderson would be extended his qualifying offer, while Byron Mullens would not. This opens the door for both Henderson and McRoberts to return next season. We’ll know for certain once the free agency period begins in couple of weeks.

Humphries Trade Rumor

UPDATE:’s Chris Mannix tweeted after the Boston/Brooklyn mega-swap that PF Kris Humphries could be re-routed to Charlotte. A proposed Ben Gordon for Humphries trade was rumored during February’s deadline. There are a few over-priced veterans entering expiring years floating around the league so a Hump/Gordon swap could be expanded into a three team deal to include others (Danny Granger for example). Keep a look out for this one. A hard-nosed, down and dirty rebounder, Humphries could be the perfect complement to both Zeller/McRoberts when Biyombo is out of the game.

twitter: @bobcatsbaseline

Here’s What Baseline Readers Thought Before the Draft:

POLL : What to Do with the 4th Draft Pick?

  • Alex Len (29%, 33 Votes)
  • Anthony Bennett (37%, 42 Votes)
  • Cody Zeller (11%, 13 Votes)
  • Trey Burke (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Trade the Pick (23%, 26 Votes)

Total Voters: 115

Loading ... Loading ...