The Mastermind

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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.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, MKG. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT

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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:

MY PERSONAL MESSAGE TO MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST

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
@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats 2014 Trade Deadline Scenarios – Part Three

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I just couldn’t help myself. After last night’s statement win in Detroit, the 2014 NBA PLAYOFF-bound Charlotte Bobcats got the fake trade juices flowing! So here’s a little last minute scenario as we approach the Deadline’s final 24 hours.

The Allow Us to Help You Tank and ReGroup Scenario

TRADE: Charlotte sends Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions and two 2nd Round Picks to the Nuggets for Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller and Darrell Arthur.

Denver is squarely out of the Western Conference Playoff picture and owes the least favorable of its own or the Knicks’ first rounder to the Magic in June’s Draft. As of today, they’d be conveying their own pick (13th) to Orlando and they’d wind up taking New York’s 1st in the Bottom ten.

With the widespread consensus being that this is a ten player Draft, problems arise for Denver if the Knicks push their way into the Eastern Playoffs (always a possiblity). The Nuggs would then send a mid-round pick to the Magic and keep their own late Lotto selection. Enter the Charlotte Bobcats.

Denver not only makes their team worse this year (insuring a higher pick in case of a Knicks Playoff run), they double down on the bet by empowering a New York eight seed rival AND shave nearly $15 million off next season’s books for a mini-free agent run in the summer. Ditching that much salary would be a godsend for the Nuggs as they are nearly up against next season’s tax threshold and that’s before signing any draft picks, etc. Also Andre Miller is a miserable distraction and wants out of Colorado as soon as possible. Boom-boom-boom.

That’s all great for the Nuggets but what does Charlotte get out of the deal?

For one, it really only costs them a year of cap space – but this time, instead of renting it out for pick-bait like Ben Gordon, they’d be gaining useful rotation players. Second, and most importantly,  this trade is really about youth. Stick with me for a moment…

Having Chandler on the roster gives Charlotte a one or two year rental (via team option) on a tough defending, three point shooting small forward who has proven over his career that he doesn’t mind coming off the bench. I mean, could there be a better platoon mate for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? MKG stays in the starting lineup while Chandler closes out games. The Cats have been doing this very thing recently, playing Anthony Tolliver in crunch time to space the floor. Wilson could do much the same with a much more varied offensive game and with little drop off at the defensive end. Better yet, Chandler’s team-option would expire the summer of MKG’s extension – if Kidd-Gilchrist develops like Charlotte hopes, he’ll be handed the full-time gig then without straining the team’s books.

Arthur’s presence does much the same for Cody Zeller, giving the Cats a low cost/low risk pick ‘n pop alternative while Cody adds strength and works on his mid-range shot. Darrell’s struggled this season in a new system but has shown in the past to be a decent pick ‘n pop shooter slash pick and roll defender in Memphis. Either way, he’s only owed $3.5 million for one more season – so the risk is minimal.

Finally, there’s Professor Andre Miller. Exiled after his public controntation with Brian Shaw in December, the 37 year old veteran is still on the Nuggets books for next season at a little over $4.5 million. What on earth could Dr. Dre have to do with the Bobcats youth movement?

Barring some late season miracle, the Detroit Pistons won’t be making the Playoffs this season and they probably have too much talent to drop inside the Bottom Eight – which means that Charlotte will likely get their first rounder and be picking somewhere between nine and thirteen come late June. I’m sure Rich Cho’s database has precise odds on this scenario but I can only go with my gut and my gut tells me that it’s better than 50-50. Say 65-35.

One of these three prospects are going to be on the board when the Detroit pick comes up: Marcus Smart (stock falling), Tyler Ennis (stock rising) or Zach LaVine (stock all over the place). Charlotte could absolutely use a long-term backup slash co-ball handler to team with Kemba. Playing one season with The Professor can only speed up a young point guard’s development, am I right? Not to mention what Kemba could learn from the old man.

In summary, adding a few short term rental vets could take some of the immediate (and unwanted) pressure off the young Hornets by giving them a little breathing room to grow into their full-time roles.

As far as this season goes, it’s hard to imagine Arthur being any more of a liability at either end as Cody is today. Chandler provides distance shooting off the pine without sacrificing perimeter defense – Wilson can also slide over to SG for stretches, allowing Clifford to stay big on the wings. Sessions’ and Miller’s games couldn’t be any different – Chandler’s bench scoring and Miller’s post-game and passing wizardry should be able to offset Sesh’s second unit offense for the most part.

And before anyone screams “this kills our chance at a marquee free agent this summer!” – have a look at the list of guys coming up. The most intriguing names will be restricted and near impossible to get. The one intriguing unrestricted, Lance Stephenson, won’t be coming to the QC without a massive overpay (which could be dangerous).

By the time the next meaningful free agency summer comes along in July of ’15 (Hibbert, MGasol, KLove, Aldridge all unrestricted), Charlotte’s books would be clean enough that they could throw max money at a guy if either Henderson or Big Al opts out of their player options (wink-wink) and re-signs long-term. Charlotte could also sign and trade those players. They’d have options then without sacrificing winning today or major Draft chips tomorrow.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats 2014 Trade Deadline Scenarios – Part Two

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We’re just three days away from the Trade Deadline and the suddenly Playoff-determined Bobcats are on the clock. We return with Part Two of our plausible trade scenarios list (find Part One here) …

The Righting the Wrong Fit Scenario

TRADE: Charlotte sends Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Brendan Haywood and Portland’s 1st Round Pick to the Warriors for Harrison Barnes and Marreese Speights.

Barnes is a volume scoring distance shooter miscast as a backup in Golden State. Kidd-Gilchrist is a rim slashing defensive stopper stuck on a team desperate for spacing. They’ve both struggled this season and this trade would not only upgrade their respective teams’ needs today but could also raise the ceiling on both of their careers long term.

The Warriors have made defense a priority and MKG’s tenacity on that end either as a sub for Iggy at the three or as a small-ball four could do wonders for Golden State come Playoff time, especially when Andrew Bogut checks out. On offense, Kidd-Gilchrist would have a tremendous amount of space to slash to the rim or post up while playing with the Splash Brotherseasy buckets and a reduced offensive role could build MKG’s confidence as he works on his perimeter game.

In return, the future Hornets receive Jamal Mashburn 2.0, a multi-talented scorer who can both stretch the floor and create his own shot. They’d also be betting Coach Clifford can extract some of the defensive potential Barnes has flashed since playing at North Carolina.

The cost of this swap – sending out a late first rounder and taking on an extra year of Marreese Speights – is more to the ego than it is to the team. The Cats’ front office would be admitting that it made a mistake in the 2012 Draft and is now paying interest on the penalty.

 The Helping a Friend Hit Restart Scenario

TRADE: Charlotte sends Ben Gordon and Portland’s 1st Round Pick to the Cavs for Luol Deng.

Cleveland basically paid the same price for Deng just a couple months ago – back when they had a different general manager who thought (or was instructed to think) his team was on the verge of something. The Cavs are currently three games back of Charlotte for the 8th Playoff spot and sports an ugly -5.3 point differential. Deng has also let it be known through back channels that he will not be re-signing with Cleveland in July so if the Cavs are going to recoup anything on their investment, they’ll need to do it quick.

The Cats do the deal betting that a combination of Al, Kemba, Clifford and cap space will be enough to lure Luol back in July. In the meantime, Deng instantly becomes the best small forward in the franchise’s history (I’m not discounting Crash, Deng is that good). His defensive skills are well known and, having played under fellow Van Gundy alum Coach Thibs in Chicago, should be able to fit right into Clifford’s scheme in Charlotte.

Offensively, Deng can hit from distance often enough to keep teams honest (career 33%) and has the right combination of personality and chops to either drop twenty a night or facilitate for other players. Deng turns 29 in April and the Cats would likely pursue a two year extension at around $12m per – timing it perfectly with MKG’s restricted free agency.

The Intriguing Salary Dump Scenario

TRADE: Charlotte sends Ben Gordon, Bismack Biyombo and Portland’s 1st Round Pick to the Celtics for Jeff Green and Brandon Bass.

The Blazers pick should be enough to get this one done – as perpetually intriguing as Green’s talent is, he turns 28 in August and is owed $18 million for the next two seasons. The Celts fast forward their rebuilding efforts by dumping a combined $25 million and add yet another late first rounder to their stockpile – if any team can make a run at Kevin Love this summer, it will be Boston.

Charlotte gains a Small Forward who loves the corner trey and who has traditionally defended that position well. We covered Bass’s pick & pop capabilities in Part One. Charlotte’s overwhelming needs heading into the deadline were to upgrade the Power Forward position and add floor spacing. This trade does both at a relatively low cost.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

 

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 10 Review

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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.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 9 Review

Standard

The Bobcats finish a grueling week 1-2, the back end of a West Coast road swing that saw the team:

  • Get hammered by the Clippers at the Forum, 85-112.
  • Get ABSOLUTELY hammered by the sweet shooting Trailblazers in Portland, 104-134.
  • Regroup a little in Sacramento to sweep the season series against an all-time “bad energy” Kings squad, 113-103.

Hanging In There

Charlotte finally returns home Tuesday night after a tough 1-4 road trip. They stand at 15-20, good for 7th in the Eastern Conference and will, with any luck, get starting SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back mid-month. That’s great news because over the next eleven games, the Bobcats will play eight dates against mid to low level Eastern Conference opponents. By the end of the month, we should all have a much better understanding of just how good this Charlotte team is and where they’ll ultimately finish in the pack.

Range Shooting Woes

Wanna know what happens when you combine an elite three point shooting offense and a porous three point defense? Go back and watch Charlotte at Portland for the answer. The Blazers went 21-33 from downtown in that game, with their starters going an amazing 13-16. By comparison, the Bobcats hit 22 three pointers in their last three games combined, taking (a respectable) 52 attempts to do so. Teams have been trouncing the Cats from long range all season and what happened at the Rose Garden Thursday night was the nadir.

A mediocre Bobcat three point defense has gone terrible since losing perimeter defenders MKG and Jeff Taylor to injury and Charlotte doesn’t have anywhere near enough shooting of its own to counteract. The Western Conference is a dangerous valley filled with long distance snipers and returning East with a healthy MKG will help but in the long run, Charlotte must reverse the three ball deficit to get to the next level.

Al Jefferson = David Lee?

In a somewhat controversial move, Western Conference coaches voted David Lee as the upstart Warriors’ lone All-Star selection at last year’s break. Lee was having a career year, sure, but anyone paying attention could tell you that Steph Curry was the engine that made that team go. Unfortunately, with last year’s Western Conference PG position stacked with talent, Curry would have to wait.

A similar situation may present itself this year in the East as Jefferson and Kemba Walker co-lead the upstart Cats. As long as Charlotte stays around .500 and in the Playoff race by the end of the month, the chances for one of those two to get in are very good. Kemba is unquestionably the team’s leader, its heart and soul, but a crowded East PG situation hurts his chances. Kyrie Irving leads the fan vote and will get the start. John Wall is a near lock and with Al Horford out (more on that later), Jeff Teague’s status as leader of the third seed Hawks will be tough to pass up. Kyle Lowry is arguably out-Kemba-ing Kemba with his recent explosion north of the border and don’t forget rookie Michael Carter Williams’ Magic Johnson impersonation in Philly.

Does Kemba deserve an All-Star spot? Absolutely – he and Big Al are the only consistently above average players on the Cats roster – but the coaches may find it easier to give the third PG slot to a Raptor (Lowry) and award Jefferson the Bobcats’ spot. Horford and Brook Lopez are out with extended injuries. Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh and Andre Drummond are the only other legit big men having good years. If the Cats can stay decent, Big Al’s first All-Star selection is as good as guaranteed.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz