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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.