Steve Clifford is Coach of the Year

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Greg Popovic is an all-time great. Tom Thibodeau is a genius. Jeff Hornacek has done a masterful job. But Steve Clifford is NBA Coach of the Year.

I went back the 1988-89 Season – the first year of the NBA’s late-century expansion boom (Hornets, Heat, T-Wolves, Magic, Raps, Grizz) – looking for a very simple set of criteria:

  1. LONG TERM TURRIBLE-NESS.  A team that had won less than 25 games for at least two consecutive seasons…
  2. REVERSAL OF FORTUNE. Then finished .500 or better in the following season.

The ’95-’96 Spurs won 59 games, bottomed out for a year, won the Duncan Lottery and won 56 games in ’97-’98. Not exactly a lame duck franchise. The ’05-’06 Celtics won 33 games, 24 games in ’06-’07 then traded for Hall of Famer Garnett and won the title a year later. Big turnaround but 57 wins over the previous two seasons hardly made them a bottom feeder. My goal was to find a putrid, stinking embarrassment of a team – that somehow managed to make the leap to respectability overnight.

Short answer: Outside of Steve Clifford’s Bobcats, it’s only happened one other time in the past 26 NBA seasons. A few others have come close.

The Runners Up:

’93-’96 Washington Bullets
Three Season Win Totals:
24, 21, 39
Notes: Webber, ‘Sheed and Juwan made them respectable but couldn’t quite get the Washington Professional Basketball Franchise over the .500 hump.

’97-’00 Toronto Raptors
Three Season Win Totals: 16, 23*, 45
Notes: Nearly had it but the Vinsanity-led squad are disqualified due to the 50-game strike shortened ’98-’99 season. Raps went 23-27 in Year Two, nearly .500. Hardly a bad team.

’00-’03 Golden State Warriors
Three Season Win Totals: 
17, 21, 38
Notes: Much like the ’95-’96 Bullets, the Jamison, J-RICH and Arenas led Dubs couldn’t quite get Golden State above .500.

’10-’13 New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets
Three Season Win Totals: 24, 22*, 49
Three Season SRS: -6.28, -6.37, +1.25
Notes: I’m including the Simple Rating System (point differential) here because of how close the Nets came to qualifying. While a 7.62 SRS swing is a hell of an improvement year on year, the strike shortened 66 game season in Year Two has the Nets 22 win total equivalent to a little over 27 wins in a normal season. The Nets were bad but not quite bad enough.

The Biggest Franchise Turnarounds of the Past 26 Years

’07-’10 Seattle Supersonics/OKC Thunder
Three Season Win Totals: 20, 23, 50
Three Season SRS: -8.04, -6.03, +3.55 SRS
Notes: Doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out. Thunder management went on a Draft frenzy that nabbed the franchise Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka. By the time Serge and The Beard arrived, the other two were ready to win. The organization saw a 27 game improvement in the standings and a 9.58 swing in SRS. And you wonder why “the Thunder model” has taken the league by storm.

’11-’14 Charlotte Bobcats
Three Season Win Totals: 7, 21, 41**?
Three Season SRS: -13.96, -9.29, -.3**
Notes:  The Bobcats improved 20+ games in the standings and achieved a near nine point SRS swing (9.02 as of today). Oddly enough they achieved this with much the same roster that finished the previous 21 win season and with not a single superstar or even All-Star on the roster.

Tremendous Challenge, Tremendous Results

Yes, the bottom of the East has been weak. And yes, Al Jefferson was a key difference maker and should’ve been an All-Star but the team’s other four starters, Kemba Walker, MKG, Gerald Henderson and Josh McRoberts, were starting for Mike Dunlap’s 21 win team a season ago. Gary Neal certainly isn’t adding double digit wins on his own. And while the youngsters have improved, you’d be hard-pressed to find those improvements reflected in places like individual PER or old-school stat columns.

The key difference here is Steve Clifford. His defensive strategy has been fantastic. His professionalism and attention to detail has been fantastic. Given where this team has been for most of their ten years of existence – an absolute laughingstock – Clifford had the steepest mountain to climb, the league’s most difficult challenge. Not only did he succeed, his success produced one of the greatest NBA turnarounds of the past quarter century.

If you have a Coach of the Year ballot, vote Steve Clifford.

 -ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

**Charlotte has three games remaining and we’ll continue to update the team’s win/SRS numbers until the end of the season. 

Bargain Bin Ballers

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Common knowledge says that NBA teams, especially small market teams, must build through the Draft if they have any hope at achieving relevance. While it is true that the Lottery offers organizations the best chance at finding impact players, it’s also true – as Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony have recently discovered – that it takes more than a single impact player to win in the NBA.

The Bobcats are on the verge of both a .500 season and a Playoff berth with a hefty chunk of their rotation made up of guys from the opposite end of Draft Day’s glitz and glamour. Castoffs. Street free agents and end of the bench veterans left for dead by their former clubs. Ironically, this dynamic makes Charlotte less Oklahoma City – a team which the Bobcats have explicitly said they’re emulating – and more San Antonio. The Spurs decade and a half dominance of the league has just as much to do with finding guys off the league value rack and plugging them into a system as it does with winning the Tim Duncan Lottery.

Spurs Bargain Bin Hall of Famers: Bruce Bowen, Mario Elie, Danny Green, Malik Rose, Francisco Elson, Marco Bellinelli, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw…

The confidence gained from consistently uncovering low-cost, hidden gems has emboldened the Spurs front office to gamble on uncertain talent in the Draft: Tiago Splitter was stuck in Europe for a few seasons. Kawhi Leonard couldn’t shoot. Tony Parker was a long term project and it was no sure thing Manu Ginobili’s game would translate to the NBA. None of this stuff mattered to San Antonio’s immediate future. They knew high level temps were just around the corner.

Bargain Bin Ballers aren’t going to be the centerpiece of any contender but they do fill in the gaps and give a team’s stars occasional breaks during the regular season. And if enough of a team’s periphery catch fire at the right time – as Dallas fans witnessed in 2011 – they could swing a title. Best of all, these types of players provide tremendous value in terms of contract/performance and most importantly don’t require a franchise to waste precious first round picks on filling out a roster. The Draft is where you go to find stars (which is why drafting for need in the NBA should be considered a cardinal sin) - the bargain bin is where you go to fill in the gaps.

Charlotte’s Bargain Ballers

Josh McRoberts
Salary: $2,652,000
Acquired: via Trade, February ’13.

“Don’t Call Me McBob” arrived via trade last February for virtually no cost and just a year later is beloved by both teammates and fans as a key facilitator on offense and a hustler on D. Josh’s unique skill-set (his 4.2 assists per game are second most amongst power forwards) allows Kemba Walker to play off the ball as a scorer and McRoberts is just good enough from three (36%) to open a little more breathing room for Al Jefferson to operate down low.

Future: McRoberts has a player option next season at $2.7 million which he’ll opt out of. If Charlotte offers him a fair deal, he could likely return next season. Two years, $10m or three years $15m, sounds about right. Cody Zeller may take over the starting job eventually but McRoberts is still a fine rotation big at that number.

Anthony Tolliver
Salary: $884,293
Acquired: Street Free Agent, August ’13.

Tolliver’s shot has been missing in action for most of the last month but there was a stretch from December thru February where AT was absolute money from downtown (44%+ 3PT), at one point ranking in the league’s Top 5 3PT shooters. His defensive shortcomings are well known but he’s played ok as a system defender in Charlotte – Tolliver’s on/off court defensive numbers are basically dead even.

Future: The front office brought Tolliver in before camp at Steve Clifford’s request for more floor spacers. Since then the Cats have added a couple guys who can do that and more. AT’s deal expires in July and it’s a tossup on whether he returns next season as a Hornet.

Chris Douglas-Roberts
Salary: $535,288
Acquired: Street Free Agent, December ’13.

CDR is this season’s McRoberts. A slashing, tough defending and surprisingly sweet shooting (40% 3PT) wing, Douglas-Roberts has revitalized his NBA career on a team that didn’t have a reliable two-way SF before he arrived. And really, could the Cats have asked for a better intermediate sub/mentor for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Not only are they somewhat similar players, but the two actually have long history going back to MKG’s middle school days in Jersey. CDR’s work ethic and humble demeanor (he’d been struggling just to get back into the league) fit right in the with the team’s “Grit and Grind East” ethos.

Future: The big question is if CDR’s three point shooting will hold up. From 2008-2010, Douglas-Roberts had never shot higher than 32% from downtown – and rarely even attempted them. The Cats could offer him a “show-me” contract similar to the one signed by McRoberts last summer – something like 2yrs, $4m with a player option for year two. If CDR proves the stroke to be no fluke, Charlotte may have found itself their own Bruce Bowen.

Gary Neal
Salary: $3,250,000
Acquired: via Trade, February ’14.

Neal is a classic all or nothing guy. If he gets hot, Gary can single-handily swing a game your way – just as he did for the Spurs in the NBA Finals last year. He’s both a solid deep shooter (39% 3PT) and a creative off the dribble player. He gets lost on screens a lot and is an overall liability on D but there’s a reason San Antonio had him on the roster for three seasons. On a team that often finds itself desperate for points, Neal’s scoring is a major plus.

Future: Gary signed a two year contract with Milwaukee last summer before being traded. He’s on the books next year for the same salary – a relative bargain. Unless he gets dealt again, Neal will rock the teal and purple next season.

Ultimately, the success of Bargain Bin Ballers can be traced to the Bobcats’ new found culture and coaching system. Put this same group of guys on the Kings or Pistons and it’s unlikely that they’d replicate their success - highlighting yet another hidden bonus of finding the right coach and a key reason why I think we’ll see coaching take a higher priority over the next few seasons in the league. A trend the Hornets are thankfully already out in front of.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

What To Do With Biz?

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Picked seventh overall in the 2011 Draft, Bismack Biyombo entered the league with high expectations. As the championed prospect of former OKC exec and current Cats GM Rich Cho, “Biz” (founder of #biznation, brother to Billy) was immediately compared to another shot-swatter from the Congo, Serge Ibaka.

Three years later, Biyombo has certainly lived up to the comparison from a shot-blocking standpoint. His per 48 block numbers trail just behind Serge and he’s the only player in the league to average at least a swat per game while playing less than 15 minutes a night. It’s a near guarantee Biz would rank amongst the league’s Top 5 shot-blockers if he were playing starters minutes.

More impressive is Biyombo’s rebounding. In just 14.3 minutes per game, Biz is averaging 4.9 boards. That’s Kenneth Faried-level insane. Biyombo’s rebound rate of 19.3 blows away anything Ibaka’s ever posted. Again, if Biz were starting, he’d likely be averaging double figure rebounds and crack the league’s Top 10.

The problem, of course, is at the other end. While Serge has moved his gorgeous jumper further and further out to the three point line, Biz still has trouble finishing anything outside of a dunkthat is if he hasn’t fumbled the ball first. Despite extremely limited touches on offense, Biyombo’s turnover rate is twice as high as Ibaka’s and nearly three times the rate of Josh McRoberts – a guy who’s constantly handling the rock. When it comes to protecting the basketball, Biz is less Ibaka and more Kendrick Perkins.

Turnovers are a major no-no for coach Steve Clifford so it’s no wonder the staff was looking forward to Brendan Haywood’s eventual return. While Haywood isn’t nearly the shot swatter Biyombo is, he’s also not going to give the ball away immediately after touching it and offers just enough post scoring so that the team doesn’t have to entirely change the way it plays when Big Al goes to the bench. He’s also a better system defender than Biz – just check out last years defensive on/off court numbers – Mike Dunlap’s Bobcats gave up ten points per game less when Haywood subbed in for Biyombo.

The size of the gap is probably an aberration given the coaching misadventures and Biz’s youth but there is a very real story buried in those numbers. Clifford’s gushing comments about Haywood’s past exploits last summer weren’t lip service. Had he been healthy this season, it’s likely Brendan would’ve taken Biz’s spot in the rotation.

Points at a Premium

If you haven’t heard, the Bobcats have a hard time scoring. They’ve played better at that end since the All-Star break but against a good D, the late game offense generally devolves into a triple teamed Al Jefferson with Kemba Walker left to improvise. In order to stay in close games, Clifford relegates Biz’s fellow one-dimensional phenom, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, to the bench in favor of a good to league average three point shooter (Anthony Tolliver, Gary Neal or Chris Douglas-Roberts) just to keep the opposing wing defenders honest. MKG can at least catch a ball and do a few things with it once he has it – so if he’s sitting, you know Biyombo’s not sniffing crunch time.

All of which brings us to the premise of the post. Despite the strides Biyombo has made over the last few seasons, there’s essentially zero chance that he’s in their long term plans for the following three reasons:

1. Al Jefferson. Big Al’s the most talented player in franchise history and has at least 4-5 solid seasons left in him. Thus, the starting center spot is occupied for the foreseeable future and you can’t play Al & Biz together. Next.

2. MKG. Unless you like watching 3 on 5 hoops or want to lose a ton of games on purpose, you absolutely can’t play MKG and Biz together in the same lineup. Since Big Al’s return from an early season ankle injury, MKG and Biz have barely logged any minutes together. Clifford’s no fool. If the Cats keep either long term, it’ll be MKG.

3. Money. Two off-the-court comps for Biz: Derrick Williams and Evan Turner. As a high Lottery pick, Biz is due $3.8 million next season and after that, the team would have to extend a $5.2 million qualifying offer as the first step towards restricted free agency. So yeah, it’s not gonna happen. Just as Williams’ and Turner’s contracts spooked their respective teams into abandoning them this season, Biyombo’s looming free agency and disproportionate cap hold will likely jettison him to another team as soon as a decent opportunity presents itself.

Open for Biz-ness

So where exactly would that opportunity be? The team acquiring Biz would ideally be both offensively advanced and in desperate need of a rim protector who doesn’t have to score. Dallas, Portland and Golden State immediately come to mind as potential candidates. Unfortunately the Warriors have serious cap issues and another raw center (Festus Ezeli) returning from injury next season. The Blazers practically have a stable of developing young could-be bigs at the end of their bench. But Dallas…oh yes, Dallas. I think we might have a match!

Consider first Mark Cuban’s penchant for aggressively raw big men with over-sized contracts (Erik Dampier, Gana Diop, Haywood, Tyson Chandler). Now combine that with an offense practically tailored for Biz: the league’s all-time greatest stretch four and a couple of pick and roll instigators in the backcourt:

“Nah Biz, just set this pick and get the hell out of the way. We’ll take care of the rest.”

The Mavs are practically starting Old Biz now, with veteran Sam Dalembert occupying much the same role. Biyombo’s directive would be clear and simple: Get rebounds, dunk putbacks and block shots. Sure, he’ll still have to improve his hands and figure out how to not foul out of games before halftime but once he does, Big D could be Biz’s ticket to a big payday.

So what would Charlotte receive in a Biyombo to Dallas trade? The Mavs don’t have a first round pick to trade until after the Draft (when they’ll likely send it to OKC) – and no one in their right mind would pay that high a price anyways. What Dallas does have is Boston’s 2014 2nd Round pick. As of today, that’s the 34th overall selection in the Draft and with a deep class on the way, Charlotte could find an intriguing guy who slips (Isaiah Austin, James Young, Mitch McGary) or a Euro “draft & stash” prospect for the future. Best of all, the Hornets would save around $3.2 million in the deal – giving them the ability to find a two-way veteran backup on the cheap (ala Golden State with Jermaine O’Neal).

And really, from an “asset” perspective the trade would basically be a wash. Remember that Cho originally traded up from 19th in order to pick Biyombo at seven for basically no cost (unless you count an angry Stephen Jackson as an asset). Swapping a late first for the 34th pick in a deeper draft a few years later is hardly the worst thing that’s ever happened to the franchise – and the real mistake of course was passing on Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Nic Vucevic on Draft night back in 2011.

In the meantime, let us enjoy our remaining time with Biz, soaking in his incomparable likability, his endlessly entertaining tweets and his tenacious effort each and every time he steps on the court. After all…

ALL YOUR BLOCKS BELONG TO BIZ!

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

 

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