Bobcats 2014 Trade Deadline Scenarios – Part One

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Editor’s Note: It’s been a while since the last Week In Review post and – given our contributors’ schedules and life commitments – we don’t anticipate them returning any time soon. We’ll post as often as we can. In the meantime, if you are an obsessed Bobcats/Hornets fan with thoughtful, unique perspectives and would like to share them on this site, hit us up on Twitter – @BaselineBuzz.

With only days to go before the league’s annual trade deadline, the Baseline breaks down a few plausible scenarios for the suddenly Playoff-determined Bobcats. We begin with…

The Worst Kept Secret Scenario

TRADE: Bobcats send Ben Gordon and Portland’s 2014 1st Round pick to the Sixers in return for Evan Turner. Charlotte sends Bismack Biyombo to Boston for Brandon Bass.

We’ve been reading about the Bobcats’ interest in these two players for weeks. At first glance, the rumors are little confusing: While Brandon Bass makes sense as a pick ‘n pop backup PF, Evan Turner doesn’t remedy Charlotte’s spacing issues at the wing and the soon to be restricted free agent will likely get pricey once agent David Falk strongarms Cho & Co in negotiations over the summer. So why would Charlotte trade a late first round pick for him?

For one, even with his three point shooting woes, Turner represents a massive offensive upgrade over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. While an overall poor distance shooter (28% for his career), Turner has traditionally shot well from the corners. This season he’s specifically shot well from the left one (12-29) and we all know who likes to camp out down on the left block. A combined 19-54 from both corners doesn’t sound like much until you compare him with the guy he’d likely be stealing minutes from.

MKG is a combined 1-9 from the corners over his one and a half NBA seasons. I triple checked those numbers just to make sure. One for nine. With a once in a generation low post scorer like Al Jefferson on the roster, it’s borderline irresponsible to play a non-distance threat like MKG alongside him – and by distance I’m not even talking three pointers. MKG is currently 20-59 on two pointers outside of the paint after going 59-202 (29%) during his rookie campaign. Turner’s 43% mark from long two’s (his average both this season and last) will make Al think he’s playing with Steph Curry by comparison.

On the other side of the ball, Turner’s presence allows Coach Clifford to stay big at the wings when MKG or Gerald Henderson go to the bench. Clifford’s recent rotation has been to play both point guards, Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions for the last chunk of the first and third quarters. Bringing Turner and Bass in for Henderson and McRoberts as a combined “Sixth Man” mid-way through the first allows Clifford to maintain the needed perimeter size to protect Big Al on defense while replacing McBob’s “point forward” abilities with Turner’s – who, until this season, had maintained an assist rate in the high teens.

Trading Gordon’s $13 million plus salary to the cap-rich Sixers allows Charlotte the added benefit of opening up around $6 million in additional salary space to take on money in a Biyombo for Bass swap. Bass makes roughly double what Biz is owed this season and the Cats would be buying that wiggle room as well as Turner’s services in exchange for Portland’s first rounder.

On the court, Bass would be an immediate upgrade over Cody Zeller – whose future is a lot brighter than his dreary present. Bass has logged campaigns as a burly rebounder and defender while playing under Stan Van Gundy in Orlando (on a staff that included both Clifford and Patrick Ewing). His defensive effort hasn’t been as consistent since but the Cats would be betting on Clifford reversing the trend. Offensively, Bass would nail all of those mid-range shots Cody is currently missing and further help stretch the floor once McRoberts checks out.

Long term, Bass is only signed for one more season and would provide a safety net should Josh exercise his player option and bolt for greener pastures in July. By the time Bass’s contract expires, either Cody will be ready to start or Charlotte could use the funds to go another direction entirely.

Trading Biyombo stings a bit. While he occasionally flashes potential, #biznation is still years away from putting it all together (if it ever happens at all). At $4 million next season, Biyombo is simply too pricey a project for a team already straddled with a similarly raw MKG and his $11 million over the next two seasons.

The (Alternate) Worst Kept Secret Scenario

TRADE: Bobcats send Ben Gordon and Detroit’s Protected 1st Round Pick to Orlando for Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis.

This is basically the same trade above with two major exceptions*:

1. The Detroit pick is MUCH more valuable than the Portland first. Should the Pistons fall into the Bottom Eight this June, they’d keep it and the pick rolls over to next season where it is only Top 2 protected. Given the state of the Pistons franchise, anything is possible. At the very least, Charlotte would be trading a young prospect like Gary Harris or Doug McDermott in this June’s Draft for the immediate upgrade of Afflalo.

2. The good news is that Afflalo is a tremendous three point shooting wing and potentially the PERFECT fit for this team. Arron has traditionally been a better wing defender than Turner and is a much better off the ball scorer. Afflalo probably should’ve been selected to the All-Star game ahead of Joe Johnson this year but the Magic’s lousy record kept him out. Also his contract runs for another season, so no need for immediate negotiations over the summer.

The downside is that Afflalo is already 28 and wings usually don’t get better as they hit 30. Adding Afflalo virtually guarantees a Playoff spot for Charlotte both this season and next but could cost them an intriguing prospect should the Detroit pick fall in the right spot. It’s a textbook win-now versus win-later scenario – muddied further by the Bobcats historical inability to draft well.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

*One additional exception: Glen Davis is approximately 70% as good as Bass offensively and around 60% defensively.  Those numbers are approximate and yes, I am no fan of Big Baby Basketball.

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 5 Review

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The Bobcats go 1-2 on the week, facing off against one terrible team, one great team and one average team, a completely respectable stretch that included:

  • Another beat-down of the hapless Bucks – this time at home, 92-76.
  • A blown 14 point fourth quarter lead against the two time defending champs in Miami, 98-99.
  • Another blown double digit second half lead against the mediocre Mavs in Dallas, 82-89.

Decision Time

The Bobcats flashed their potential Sunday night against the Heat. Miami played a very good 48 minutes yet needed an improbable Chris Bosh back-to-back-to-back three point barrage in order to trump Coach Clifford’s swarming defense. Kemba Walker hit some tough shots (27pts, 10-22 from the field) and Al Jefferson gave the team just enough post offense to force Miami’s vaunted defense to open up a little. Tragically, the Cats’ defensive rotations deteriorated in the last few minutes – combined with the roster’s inexperience and some questionable officiating, a huge victory was transformed into a moral one.

Two nights later the Bobcats flew into Dallas with chips on their shoulders, taking a double digit lead into the fourth quarter and looking every bit the part of a legit Eastern Conference Playoff team. Then MKG breaks his hand. The lead vanishes. The Cats have no answer for Monta or Dirk. Game over and big questions loom.

Out 4-6 weeks, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s absence is a major cause for concern: not only will the Cats be without their best perimeter defender but his 26 minutes per game will likely be divided up between Anthony Tolliver and Ben Gordon (professors emeritus at the Nash & Calderon Security Academy). Barring a Jimmy Butler-esque mid-season breakout by Jeffery Taylor, this 8-11 Bobcats team is about to get demonstrably worse. So what happens next?

Two Paths: Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em?

The Bobcats’ front office must not only decide which direction they want to go but also the feasibility of either direction given the state of the league and their own roster. This year’s Lottery is stacked with potential and the Cats lack a surefire All-Star prospect, so why not throw in the towel and stink it up for one last season before breaking out the teal & purple next Fall? Not so fast. The Bobcats’ pick MUST fall between 1-10 next May or else they lose it to Chicago as the final piece of the Tyrus Thomas trade. With the Eastern Conference stinking so bad and the West beating up on its own dregs, there’s a great chance Charlotte finishes in the 8-9 range at the very worst – dangerously close to that 11th Draft slot.

This kind of worst case scenario was surely discussed before the team signed Al Jefferson in July – that the Bobcats could improve just enough to lose their pick in a loaded Draft while still not making the Playoffs. Competing might be the team’s safest option.

Trade Targets

Charlotte’s needs are obvious: they need a floor spacer who can (ideally) create his own shot and won’t kill them on defense. Preferably this player won’t tie up any major long term money or cost prospects or draft picks in return.

Group One – Big Money, Big Name, So-So Game: Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Wilson Chandler.

I did have Luol Deng in this group but since Chicago is incapable of being bad enough to grab a high pick, my gut tells me that they’ll stay competitive despite losing Derrick Rose for the season. Of the remaining three, Granger is an expiring contract who hasn’t been healthy in two years and no one knows what he has left in the tank. Gay could certainly help and Toronto would basically give him away in a salary dump but there’s that whole $19 million player option next season. Chandler is due $6.7 million next season and would likely cost the Bobcats something of minor value in return – but he can hit the three and is a solid defender.

Group Two – Low Risk Stop Gaps: Vince Carter, Travis Outlaw.

Carter’s in the last year of a reasonable $3 million per season deal. He can still stroke it from the arc and can occasionally pull off a Vinsanity throwback for a quarter or two at a time. Nearing age 37, Carter could wind down his career not far from where it all began in Chapel Hill. Outlaw is a younger option, less dynamic of scorer overall but a very good three point shooter (33% over his ten year career). It’s likely Sacramento would give him away just to dump the $3m cap hit next season.

Group Three – Pricey with Upside: Harrison Barnes, Marcus Morris.

Spare me the advanced stats minutiae for a moment, it’s obvious to anyone who watches basketball that these two teams should’ve swapped SFs from Day One. Barnes gives an offense-starved Bobcats team a volume scorer/floor spacer in the making, while MKG is exactly the sort of hard-nosed glue guy the high octane Dubs could ride to the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, with MKG out for 20 games or so, the Warriors would have zero interest making this deal now – especially with Andre Iguodala sidelined indefinitely.

The Cats showed some interest in Phoenix’s Marcus Morris before the 2011 Draft and could try and buy high now that the elder Morris twin is putting it together for the Suns. Marcus is shooting an insane 41% from downtown – and has played well at both forward spots. If the price is right, Morris could be the ideal fit.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

 

 

Ben Gordon: Trade Scenarios and Expectations

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Ben Gordon illustration by Mike S

Believe it or not, there was a time not so long ago in which Ben Gordon was viewed as a legit NBA asset. In fact, we can pin-point the time exactly: July of 2009. That was when Joe Dumars and the Pistons signed “Air” Gordon to his now infamous five year, $58 million contract. Ben had just turned 26 that summer and was on the heels of an amazing five year run with the Bulls in which he:

  • Made All-Rookie first team AND won Sixth Man of the Year back in ’04-’05 – an astounding achievement in retrospect.
  • Averaged nearly 19ppg on 43FG% and an incredible 41% from downtown over five seasons (including an amazing 2009 Playoffs in which he averaged over 24ppg off the bench).
  • Was so good from downtown that he broke Scottie Pippin’s team record for three pointers made in just four and half seasons.
  • Was highly durable – unlike another over-paid undersized SG surnamed “Gordon” – only missing twelve games in his five years with the team.

So what the heck happened to that guy?

In exchange for his big payday, Gordon traded solid Chicago teammates like Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni and (eventually) Derrick Rose for Charlie Villanuova, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince and a disinterested Rip Hamilton. He downgraded from Scott Skiles/Vinny Del Negro to John Kuester, a first time head coach – and as Mike Dunlap can attest, Ben doesn’t necessarily play well with rookie HCs. In short, Gordon swapped culture for cash. And we know how well that worked out.

Ben’s three years in Detroit were the franchise’s worst stretch in decades, largely due to Dumars’ crazy post-Championship roster rebuild. There were no leaders on those Pistons teams, just a bunch of moderately skilled guys who were sick of losing and unable to do anything anything about it. As a high profile free agent signing, Gordon was miscast as a go-to guy on a go-nowhere team. His minutes dropped, he got hurt (28 missed games in just three seasons) and the one thing he was special at, ridiculous scoring, went away. Detroit was paying Ben over $10 million a year to average twelve points per game. Dumars finally folded on the experiment last summer, bribing Charlotte with a potential Lottery pick just to take Gordon off their hands.

So that brings us to the ’13-’14 season, the final year of Dumars’ Folly. Ben’s $13.2m salary will disappear from the books regardless of how things play out, so the question is: How Will It Play Out?

SCENARIO ONE: Goodbye and Good luck.

This, unfortunately, is the most likely scenario. Gordon makes trouble for yet another first year coach (Steve Clifford), gets relegated to the doghouse for most of the season – only to occasionally show up with a big (yet meaningless) game. The paperwork renouncing Ben’s rights arrives at the league office on a balmy early July morning and Rich Cho & Rod Higgins use the space to make a run at another big-name free agent.

Ben latches on with a random team for the veteran’s minimum and is out of the league a year or two later.

SCENARIO TWO: Trade Bait.

There are precisely two types of trades Gordon could be involved in this season and they are:

  • Type 1: The Playoff Rental. A contending team is in serious need of bench scoring or suffers from spacing issues in general and is willing to gamble on Ben finding his stroke for 3-4 months.
  • Type 2: A High Profile Trade. Charlotte makes a move for a highly paid, high profile player using their stash of picks and prospects in conjunction with Gordon’s expiring contract to make it happen.

I went through every team in the league and could only think of three legitimate trade scenarios that could happen this year – two Type 1s and a single Type 2.

Fake Ben Gordon Trade Type 1a:

Charlotte sends Gordon and Brendan Haywood to Chicago for Carlos Boozer and the return of their own first round pick.

We’ve kicked this one around at the Baseline before and if it’s ever going to happen, it’ll happen at this year’s deadline. Chicago is a big-time contender and will certainly improve offensively with MVP Derrick Rose back in the fold. But the Bulls’ second unit is relying dangerously upon the scoring prowess of Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich to keep them in games and Gordon once dominated in this very role. Meanwhile, Boozer gives the Bobcats a one and a half year rental of a solid, two-way starting PF – allowing the team to bring Cody Zeller along at a measured pace.

It’s a tough trade for both teams as Boozer’s $16.8m salary next season essentially removes Charlotte from the free agency game. But if they truly value draft picks above all else, the deal assures the front office of never having to part ways with a first rounder. Also the trade has a nice karmic rebalancing quality: Gordon reminds Chi-city of the Nate Robinson before there was “Nate Robinson”, Boozer returns to his Carolina collegiate roots and the first round pick coming back officially nulls & voids the Tyrus Thomas trade.

Fake Ben Gordon Trade Type 1b:

Charlotte trades Gordon and Brendan Haywood to Washington for Emeka Okafor.

Speaking of karmic rebalancing, this trades ships Haywood and Okafor back to their old stomping grounds and involves two UCONN Huskies that went back to back in the ’04 Draft (Emeka went 2nd, Ben went 3rd). From a hoops perspective, Gordon allows Washington to spread the floor with shooters when Bradley Beal is on the bench (or in street clothes) while Okafor gives Charlotte a reliable backup center for a few months – but most importantly serves as a neat bookend for the “Bobcats” era – from Okafor in ’04 to No-kafor in ’14.

Fake Ben Gordon Trade Type 2:

Charlotte trades Gordon, Jeffery Taylor and Cody Zeller to OKC for Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha (expiring).

Let’s say the Thunder continue their trend of long term cap-flexibility over short-term gain. Let’s say that Jeremy Lamb doesn’t blossom into a bench scorer this season. Let’s say that the team looks at their roster and realizes that they need more offense from their bigs in order to take the next step.

Taylor gives OKC Thabo level production at a fraction of the cost over the next few seasons. Zeller/Stephen Adams becomes the Thunder’s frontcourt of the future, with Nick Collison/Kendrick Perkins stewarding the present. Next July, OKC could finally amnesty Perkins’ salary and, combined with Gordon’s expiring, would free up double digit millions in cap space for the Thunder for the first time in a long while.

The Bobcats in turn get perhaps the PERFECT frontcourt partner for Al Jefferson. A rim-protecting, floor stretching PF who can make up for all of Big Al’s shortcomings on defense and punish Jefferson double teams at the other end on the perimeter. The new Charlotte Hornets suddenly morph into “MEMPHIS EAST” with Al as Zach Randolph, Kemba as Mike Conley, MKG as Tony Allen with upside, Ibaka as Gasol and Henderson as a better Tayshaun. How far does a core like this take you? A hell of a lot farther than the Bobcats have ever been before.

Ben Gordon Illustration by Mike S.

SCENARIO THREE: Hey, I Remember That Guy!

In this scenario, Ben uses the motivation of the contract year and the respect of his new coach to regain the old mojo. Gordon flashes back to the 19ppg bench scorer of old, keeping the Bobcats in the Playoff hunt all season and staying in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year. Charlotte even thinks about bringing him back on a more reasonable deal. Impossible you say? Before you scoff, remember that Ben Gordon has a made a career of humbling people

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Two Trades to Add Frontcourt Scoring and Rebounding

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As good as the Charlotte Bobcats have been over the season’s first month, they still have a few things to sort out. One is rebounding. The Cats’ -3.00 differential places them in the bottom third of the league – a deficiency that nearly cost them last night’s game at Washington. Second is low post scoring. Other than the occasional Brendan Haywood baby hook, Charlotte big men pose zero threat from the low block.
Fortunately there’s some available talent in the league who could remedy the situation without sacrificing much of the Bobcats’ long-term plans. Here’s two ideas:

Trade Proposal #1: Charlotte sends Tyrus Thomas and Gana Diop to Chicago for Carlos Boozer.

Why Chicago Does It:
The Bulls 2013-2014 payroll is already $7 million over the luxury tax line. This means owner Jerry Reinsdorf will be on the hook for at least $14 million in tax penalties two summers from now – and that’s before Chicago fields an entire fourteen man roster (their $77 million payroll accounts for only nine players).
The simplist option is for Chicago to use its amnesty provison on Boozer but that would come at a steep cost – the team would be on the hook for $20 million or so of his salary even after a waiver claim (see Brand, Elton).

Enter Gana Diop. Diop’s expiring contract effectively halves Boozer’s cap hit over the next two seasons while Thomas provides Coach Thibideau with a Taj Gibson-lite off the pine.

Why Charlotte Does It:
Fit for one. Boozer’s ability to score in and around the low post would generate double-teams to free up the Cats’ long distance shooters. Pick and pop opportunities with Ramons Session and Kemba Walker would add another weapon to the team’s limited halfcourt arsenal. Boozer’s ability to hunt for rebounds at both ends will help put an end to those 3-4 shot defensive stands.

From a salary perspective, Charlotte takes on an additional $7 million or so on top of what they were paying Thomas for the next two seasons – timing it near perfectly with their first batch of Rich Cho era re-ups (Walker, Biyombo, Taylor).
Take a look at the salary chart.

Charlotte Bobcats Salary Forecast

Assuming both Byron Mullens and Gerald Henderson re-sign for around 4 years/$27 million (doubtful team would go higher on either), Charlotte would enter next season a shade over the league’s $59 million cap but well under the tax threshold. In July of 2013, the Bobcats would shed Ben Gordon’s $12 million and likely divert a portion to re-signing Ramon Sessions (if they don’t use one of their three to four first round draft picks from 2013 or 2014 on a point guard).

By July of 2014, Charlotte will have nearly $20 million in expiring contracts (Boozer/Haywood) coming off the books and they can use the space to extend the class of ’11 (Walker/Biyombo) and Jeff Taylor. They could also pursue a max superstar (or two) while maintaining the rights to Walker and Biyombo via cap holds ala Brook Lopez with the Nets last summer.

In the meantime, the Bobcats stay very competitive. A big man rotation of Boozer/Mullens/Haywood/Biyombo brings to mind “Utah East”. Henderson/Gordon/MKG/Taylor form a nice wing platoon. And we already know just how good the Walker/Session backcourt can be.

A variation of this trade would send Boozer and a first round pick to Charlotte for Thomas, Hakim Warrick and Gerald Henderson. Chicago would have the ability to decline Rip Hamilton’s $5 million next season, re-sign Henderson as its starting SG and pursue another piece via cap exception due to Gerald’s RFA status. In exchange, the Bobcats receive their own pick back from the original Thomas trade.

Trade Proposal #2: Charlotte sends Gerald Henderson and Reggie Williams to Minnesota for Derrick Williams and Malcolm Lee.

Why Minnesota Does It:
As a near lock-down defender with an ability to score from inside and out, Gerald Henderson could be the perfect fit for a Wolves team stacked at every position except off guard. Henderson will do for Minny what Brandon Roy was supposed to.

Why Charlotte Does It:
With Jeff Taylor playing lights out of late, there’s just not going to be enough minutes in the wing rotation. Ben Gordon needs to play and isn’t going anywhere. MKG is MKG. Sessions and Kemba will play at least fifteen to twenty minutes a night together so Henderson is the odd man out. Add to this his impending contract extension and it’s doubtful Gerald stays in the QC past this season.

Meanwhile, Williams adds a moderately priced young power forward with upside. Someone who likes the ball in his hands, someone who can finish from the low block and who the team could potentially run their offense through. Although Williams has struggled playing out of a position at SF during his stint with the Wolves, with the Bobcats he’d be a permanent fixture at the four.

The only downside is the timing of his contract. Barring some unforeseen All-NBA selection over the next two seasons, Williams will be up for an extension the same summer as Biyombo, Walker and Taylor. While the Cats will have the cap space at that point to re-sign all four, it could make the process a bit complicated.

-ASChin

Predictions: Recapping the Charlotte Bobcats ’12-’13 Season

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20121101-131308.jpg


Editor’s Note: Instead of offering a run of the mill predictions column for this season, I thought I’d have a little fun by imagining what ESPN Insider John Hollinger might be writing about the Charlotte Bobcats next season.

John Hollinger’s 2013-2014 Charlotte Bobcats Team Forecast.

Overview

If the league handed out awards for “Most Improved Horrendous Team”, last season’s Bobcats would have swept the vote. Sure, Mike Dunlap’s squad again finished dead last in the league, managing only 21 wins, but boy did they ever improve.
Charlotte walked away from their disastorous 7-win ’11-’12 campaign with a clear goal in mind: Develop their young talent while maintaining some semblance of respectability on the court. Dunlap was brought in to nurture the kitties whilst veterans Ramon Sessions, Brendan Haywood and Ben Gordon were added to provide the team with actual NBA players. The formula mostly worked, on several occasions presenting the Queen City with a sight it had nearly forgotten: competitive basketball. Thanks to GM Rich Cho’s methodical approach to rebuilding (the nonsense of the Larry Brown-era has officially ended), the organization may well be on their way to sustained relevancy.

2012-2013 Recap

In some ways Dunlap inherited the best coaching job in the league – trumping a .106 winning percentage isn’t as easy as it sounds – but for the first six weeks of the season, he certainly gave it his best shot.
The Bobcats were horrendous in November/December, barely improving upon their notorious -12 point differential from a year prior. Second Year PG Kemba Walker shot 34% from the field. Byron Mullens 40%. Leading scorer Gerald Henderson connected on just 42%. The good news was that number two overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made them all look good by somehow succeeding on only 29% of his attempts. Basically, for the first quarter of the season, Charlotte couldn’t find a basket with a GPS.
Fortunately, the horror show was short lived and the Cats found their groove by New Year. On the player development front, Mullens in particular made a leap. His 17.8 PER led the team and all but guaranteed a big payday over the summer. Running the pick ‘n pop with either Walker or Sessions, Mullens transformed into a partially-employeed man’s Dirk Nowitzki, extending his range out beyond the stripe (35%) while benefiting defensively from Dunlap’s revelation to play him at the four. Walker rebounded from his poor shooting to eventually manage a respectable 45% and made strides with his court vision (8.2 apg per 40). The team’s other 2011 Lottery pick, Bismack Biyombo, seemed to regress early but by early March was back to blowing up YouTube servers.
The big story, of course, was Kidd-Gilchrist. Playing at a position where most teams find their scoring, MKG couldn’t buy a bucket for a half a season. As the scouting report out of Kentucky confirmed, opponents laid off MKG, daring him to shoot. The strategy worked and Kidd-Gilchrist finished the season dead last amongst starters in long twos and three point percentages. Players who shoot this poorly almost never make it past Replacement Level PER but MKG finished the season at 16.2, an amazing number considering his broken shot. One need only to look to his per 40 minute numbers in rebounds (10.9), steals (2.5) and blocks (2.1) to get an idea of how he did it. Those pre-draft comps to Gerald Wallace weren’t far off, it’s just that Wallace produced numbers like these at 25. Kidd-Gilchrist did it 18. Synergy had him ranked near the top of the SF pile defensively, something the eye-test confirms (his lock-down defense against Lebron James in a mid-season matchup comes to mind). Combine this with an innate ability to get to the line (10th highest FT rate at his position) and MKG stayed in the conversation for Rookie of the Year until April.

Offseason Moves

The price was one atrocious season and one simply bad one but GM Rich Cho finally regained control of Charlotte’s payroll – one that had been managed like a drunken sailor under former Staff Sergeant Larry Brown. With his team still a year or two away from courting a major free agent, Cho wisely auctioned his cap space for draft choices and prospects.

Traded Haywood and to Oklahoma City for Kendrick Perkins and a draft pick: In a pre-draft trade echoing last year’s Gordon swap, Charlotte purchased another lottery pick (via Toronto, 12th overall) with surplus cap space. Taking on Perkins $18 million cap hit over the next two seasons is a terrible move for most teams but not so for the Bobcats, who aren’t a free agency destination and need to add dollars just to hit the salary floor. Perkins and Haywood put up near identical stats last season so Bobcats fans shouldn’t expect any upgrade due to the massive dollar difference. Still, Perkins remains an excellent post defender and will fit in nicely as mentor to yet another shot blocker from the Congo.

Let Gerald Henderson go, drafted Shabazz Mohammed, Dario Saric: Henderson’s fate was sealed the moment Charlotte finished third in the Noel/Zeller sweepstakes. Offensively, Mohammed was college basketball’s highest rated wing player (16.9 in the Draft Rater) and projects quite nicely at the next level. At 6’6″, 225 he should have the size to start and score big right away. Defensively, the Bobcats will probably take a step back at the position for the moment – Synergy rated Henderson in the top third of SGs – but long term, the ‘Bazz projects to be a star at the two. With the pick from the Perkins deal, Charlotte nabbed Saric, who will play out the final year of his Euro deal before being introduced to Bojangles chicken and biscuits. His translated numbers are a mixed bag but he’s only 19 and is solid shooter who can really see the floor. Those Toni Kukoc comps seem about right.

Let Gana Diop, Reggie Williams and Matt Caroll go: Diop, Williams and Carroll played a combined total of 673 minutes for the team last season yet accounted for a whopping $13.4 worth of payroll – here’s to you, Larry Brown. With the subsequent windfall, Cho made the final big move of the Cats offseason.

Signed Byron Mullens for four years, $34 million: Of all the good moves Cho has made during his brief tenure with the Bobcats, this one has biggest chance to tarnish his rep. First the positives: Mullens is only 24, has near elite shooting skills for a seven footer and, at 275 pounds, has the size and skills to develop a consistent low post game over time. The problem is that defensively he remains headache – for his own team. Against post-up players, Mullens still hasn’t figured out how to prevent giving up deep position; elite post guys like Zach Randolph absolutely feast on him. Mullens fares better against stretch fours – he moves his feet well enough to challenge shots and stick with rolls to the basket. But if an opponent goes small ball at the four, Mullens is basically unplayable. That said, Byron did improve his rebounding numbers tremendously last season and perhaps Cho is banking on the continued mentoring of Dunlap and Perkins. Still, $34 million is Ryan Anderson money and as of the moment, Mullens just isn’t in the same class.

Outlook

Don’t look now but with potential stars Mohammed and MKG on the wings and solid prospects like Walker, Biyombo and Mullens backing them up, the Charlotte Bobcats have become a respectable basketball franchise with a very real possibility of becoming an elite one down the road. The Cats will have between 1-3 early first round picks in next years draft depending on how Detroit and Portland’s seasons shake out, and up to $22 million in cap space if they amnesty Tyrus Thomas.
As for this season, my projections have them as a lottery team yet again but not by much. Shabazz will immediately help alleviate the team’s scoring woes and defensively, few teams can match the quality of a Kidd-Gilchrist/Biyombo/Perkins frontcourt. I have them at 32 wins, which, considering the team’s recent history, might well feel like a championship run. Rejoice, people of Charlotte, ten years after the fact, your city is on the verge of hosting a real, honest-to-goodness NBA team.
Prediction: 32-50, tied for 3rd in Southeast, tied for 10th in Eastern Conference.

So You’re Going to Draft Andre Drummond

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Baseline 2012 Draft + Roster Breakdown – Part III

We’ve projected how next season’s Bobcats roster could look if they draft Thomas Robinson or Bradley Beal. Next, we’ll take a peek at how things could shape up should Higgins, Cho and company choose a riskier path.

Grab a Lottery Ticket

This time last year the 2012 NBA Draft was deemed the best draft class since 2003—a crazy deep draft featuring LeBron, Melo, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh. We’re less than a week out from selection day and that doesn’t appear to be the case. Anthony Davis may end up having a similar impact to those four players but after him there isn’t another surefire superstar. Instead, the Cats will have their choice of five equally-warted but promising players.

Thomas Robinson doesn’t have the highest ceiling. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a broken jump shot. Bradley Beal is undersized. Harrison Barnes had a disappointing sophomore year. Andre Drummond has motor issues. With all due respect to Beal (and I’m a huge fan of him), only one of those five has the potential to become a true superstar—one of the three best players at his position. In a season in which the Bobcats can’t get any worse, why not take a chance on Andre Drummond?

Drummond is one of the tougher players to grade in the draft because he has so much talent but didn’t leave a spectacular impression after one year at UConn—not to mention how volatile young big men can be in the draft. He could be the next Andrew Bynum or even Dwight Howard, but a more realistic projection might be former Bobcat Tyson Chandler. Then again, he could fizzle out like the man who went directly before Chandler in the 2001 NBA Draft: Jordan’s nemesis Kwame Brown. The Bobcats had two main problems last year: they couldn’t stop teams from scoring at the basket at will, and they didn’t have a star. Drummond can fix both problems.

RESULT: Charlotte Selects Andre Drummond, C Connecticut

Biding Time

Points: D.J. Augustin is a restricted free agent and I can’t see him returning to Charlotte. When he wasn’t hurt last year, Augustin looked disengaged and the team clearly sees Kemba Walker as the future. Charlotte won’t be able to trade him in time to pick up an extra draft pick this year, so I expect them to deal him later in the offseason to a contending team for a mid-to-late first-round pick (think Dallas, Memphis, or the Lakers). In D.J.’s absence, Cho will then need to add another point guard or two, so I expect him to pick up a big, veteran guard (perhaps Royal Ivey or Keyon Dooling) and a Shannon Brown-esque reclamation project (maybe Jonny Flynn).

Wings: Charlotte still needs offense from somewhere, and the perimeter would be a good start. I have a feeling some quality wing players will be on the board for the #31 draft pick. Maybe that’s John Jenkins, Will Barton, Quincy Miller, or Jeff Taylor (who Chad Ford’s latest mock draft has slated to go 31st). Additionally, the Bobcats still need more three-point shooters, so Cho could take flyer on another young guard: James Anderson. He never got much playing time in San Antonio but the 23-year old lit up the Big 12, averaging 17.9 ppg on 37.5% shooting from beyond the arch over his three-year stretch at Oklahoma State. Brandon Roy would be a fantastic addition (and would help cast away demons from the ‘06 draft), but he’d likely prefer to go to a contending team like Miami or Boston.

Bigs: Bismack Biyombo, Andre Drummond, and their combined 14’11” wingspan will immediately alleviate Charlotte’s interior defense problem. There won’t be much offense immediately, but they should grow to emulate OKC’s defensive frontcourt of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Byron Mullens and D.J. White can bring short spurts of instant offense, and anything Tyrus Thomas brings will be gravy. It’s not a fantastic group, but there’s a lot of potential down low, and they won’t give up nearly as many easy buckets as last year.

RESULT: Charlotte signs James Anderson and Jonny Flynn to 2-year $5 million deals and Royal Ivey to a 1-year $1.25 million deal, drafts Jeff Taylor, sign-and-trades D.J. Augustin for a future 1st round pick, and extends a qualifying offer to D.J. White.

Bottom Out

  • PG: Walker/Flynn/Ivey
  • SG: Henderson/Anderson/Williams/Carroll
  • SF: Maggette/Taylor
  • PF: Biyombo/Thomas/White
  • C: Drummond/Mullens/Diop

If Rich Cho is trying to follow the Oklahoma City rebuilding plan—which, by the way, I fully support—the Bobcats need to stay bad for now. OKC picked up their stars because they were bad enough to get the 2nd pick to get Kevin Durant. Then Durant played off-position at shooting guard and the team was bad enough to get Russell Westbrook. Then Westbrook had his rookie struggles and the team was bad enough to land James Harden. (Editor’s Note: I’m sensing a pattern here)

The bottom line that winning 15 games and winning 25 games isn’t much different—neither team makes the playoffs. But the 15-win team gets a better draft pick. This Bobcats team is better than the dreadful 2011/12 Bobcats team, but then again, you could multiply last years win total by two and a half and still have the worst record in the league.

Charlotte probably won’t find their Kevin Durant in this draft. That ship sailed when Adam Silver announced those fatal words: “The second pick will be made by… the Charlotte Bobcats.” But their Kevin Durant may come around in the next draft in the form of Shabazz Muhammad—or even two years in the future in the form of Jabari Parker.

The worst thing the Bobcats could do is eat up their precious salary cap space with a terrible contract while they’re not competitive. Michael Jordan needs to bide his time until his Kevin Durant comes along. And until then, I think they should roll the dice on a potential superstar (Drummond) and some potential role players (Taylor, Flynn, and Anderson).

Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)

Trading Boris Diaw

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After sixteen games and thirteen losses for the Bobcats, we’ve learned three things:

  1. Charlotte is headed for a Top-5 draft pick
  2. Byron Mullens has way exceeded his expectations as the token awkward white guy off the bench
  3. Boris Diaw has officially worn out his welcome.

With the loss of Kwame Brown, Diaw began the season as the starting center. To his credit, he played like a man possessed in the first three games, posting a 11.7-11-7.7 line. He even showed up big in the two games at Madison Square Garden with a total of 46 points, 13 boards, and 13 assists on 74% shooting. But the rest of the games have been downright ugly. 4.8 points. 5.1 rebounds. 2.3 assists. 30% shooting, including 13% from beyond the arc, and just six free throws in eleven games. It doesn’t even look like he’s trying very hard.

But this is Boris “The Enigma” Diaw we’re talking about; the big man who doesn’t dunk has never been predictable. Then again, he’s predictable in one way: he’s got a bit of Baron Davis in him. If he’s in a losing environment, he’s huddle into his shell. But if he’s playing in an important game—say against a former team like Atlanta or former coach like Mike D’Antoni—he plays above and beyond his normal abilities.

Normally, an enigmatic big man would be no problem for a bad team. Even at $9 million it wouldn’t normally be a big deal. But he’s eating up valuable minutes that Mullens, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. White, and Tyrus Thomas could really use. Now, none of those four are spectacular, but all four need playing time to grow and mature. Diaw is in the final year of his contract, but it’s more than apparent now that he needs to be moved before the season ends.

There is, however, one major issue when it comes to trading Boris Diaw: the $9 million pricetag on his head.

Most contenders don’t have that much cap room just lying around, so they have to ship off another big contract to take on Diaw. Not only that, but among players making around $9 million per year, most are either a) worth about $9 million, and wouldn’t be in a trade for Boris Diaw or b) have multiple years left on their contract, which the Bobcats don’t want to take on.

With that in mind, there are a handful of teams interested in Diaw. They are going to be a contender with a need for a big body off the bench. The Knicks, Celtics and Lakers would all fit that mold, but none of them have any cap room—unless they’re willing to move Tyson Chandler and Kevin Garnett, or get someone inebriated enough to take on Metta World Peace. In other words, it’s not going to happen.

There are two realistic types of trades that will set Boris Diaw free from the temptations of Carolina Barbeque: a straight salary dump for a draft pick or swapping contracts in return for a young player. Let’s take a look at each possibility.

I’d like to think that around the trade deadline, some contender will get desperate. Maybe one of their bigs goes down, so they offer the Bobcats a late-first round pick for Diaw’s expiring contract. But that’s not happening. Again, the Lakers would have been a great fit once Andrew Bynum inevitably goes down with a knee injury, but they’re nearly $30 million over the cap. Realistically, no one will offer a late first for Diaw, and nobody picking at the top-half of the second round will want an aging, expensive forward. So the Bobcats will be looking at a late-second round pick. Joy.

In my opinion, swapping contracts is a much more realistic, even productive, way to try and trade Diaw. Think the Nazr Mohammed trade that landed Morris Peterson and D.J. White. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many matches. Memphis was a good match—O.J. Mayo would’ve been a sweet return—until they acquired Marreese Speights. Denver would also be a good fit, too, but the only contract the Bobcats would conceivably take back would be Andre Miller, who the Nuggets wouldn’t want to move for Diaw if they had to give up someone like Jordan Hamilton.

In the end, I only found one team that was a good trade partner Boris Diaw: the Los Angeles Clippers. After Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, their best big man is Brian Cook. Yes, that very same Brian Cook whose career highlight is being traded for Trevor Ariza. Los Angeles has the cap space to take him on, provided they can find a new home for Mo Williams.

With Kemba here for the long-haul and D.J. (at least momentarily) still here, it doesn’t make sense to trade for free agent-to-be Mo Williams. But if they could find a third team, this trade could work out. And that team is the New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets still need a point guard after (twice) trading Chris Paul, so Mo Williams would be a perfect fit. Here is my proposed trade:

Charlotte gets: Xavier Henry (NOH) and Randy Foye (LAC)
Los Angeles gets: Boris Diaw (CLT) and Trevor Ariza (NOH)
New Orleans gets: Mo Williams (LAC)

From Charlotte’s prospective, they’re going to lose Diaw at the end of the year, so anything they can get in return for him is a plus. Xavier Henry may not have lived up to his rookie expectations, but he didn’t get any burn last year—not so far off from Gerald Henderson’s rookie campaign. Randy Foye is not a major piece in the deal, he’s just a salary equalizer, he’ll depart through free agency next summer.

This works out for the Clippers on two fronts: they get a very nice backup big man and an answer at shooting guard. Chauncey Billups won’t make it through the whole season at the 2, and he certainly won’t be able to guard the likes of Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili in the playoffs. Ariza is a prime perimeter defender. Plus, this allows Eric Bledsoe to finally get some extra PT.

New Orleans finally finds a replacement for Chris Paul, plus salary relief from the nearly $22 million left on Trevor Ariza’s contract. Henry wasn’t playing, since he was buried behind Marco Belinelli and Eric Gordon on the depth chart, so that’s not a huge loss. What this comes down to is saving a bit of cash while figuring out the point guard situation.

However the Bobcats deal with this Diaw Dilemna, it’s unlikely to end out great. The best they can hope for is to pick up a young player or draft pick—someone around the level of Henry may be the best they can do. That is, unless they are intent on trading D.J. Augustin before he hits restricted free agency, opening all kinds of possibilities.

I’ll be pretty surprised if Boris Diaw ends the season a Bobcat. He can certainly help some contender as a 6th or 7th man; the only question is whether or not GM Rich Cho can find a big enough bite for a chubby, lackadaisical, finesse forward.

-Ben Weinrib
you can follow Ben on Twitter @benweinrib