Bobcats Season 10 – Week 8 Review

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The Charlotte Bobcats finish a tremendously disappointing week 1-3, a span that saw the team:

  • Barely eke out an overtime win at home against the miserable Bucks, 111-110.
  • Lose a nailbiter to an elite OKC Thunder team at the TWC, 85-89.
  • Have their hopes massacred by a Macedonian in an overtime loss in Atlanta, 116-118.
  • Show up in Salt Lake with minimal effort and urgency in a loss to the Western Conference doormat Jazz, 80-83.

Who Are These Guys?

The Bobcats’ last four games have been decided by a combined ten points. Two of those games were against the worst teams in their respective Conferences (Milwaukee, Utah), one to an above average team on the road (Atlanta) and one against the second best team in the league (OKC). In fact, Charlotte played three elite teams in December (Thunder, Heat, Pacers), losing by a total of ten points – which would be promising if not for the fact that they also dropped two games to the terrible Jazz in the same month.

As it stands today, the Cats are four games under .500 with back to back road dates against the Clips and Blazers on the horizon (a combined 25-6 at home). There’s a great chance Charlotte enters the weekend a depressing 14-20 and out of the Eastern Conference’s top eight. While the Cats’ point differential is a semi-decent -1.3 (6th in the East), the NBA doesn’t hand out Playoff spots to teams who lose lots of games respectably.

With just nine games to go before the half-season mark, the Bobcats must figure out which direction this ship is heading soon or risk both missing the Playoffs AND losing their Top 10 protected pick to the Bulls. Ugh.

Antic Happens

Pero Antic is a 31 year old rookie center from Macedonia who plainly has a thing for Carlos Boozer’s style. That much we know. We also know that he’s taken a total of 68 shots in his short NBA career, one of which was a fallaway three pointer at the buzzer to send his Hawks into overtime against the instantly despondent Bobcats. It was one of the crazier buzzer beaters you’ll ever have the pleasure of witnessing: 6’10” Al Jefferson has a long arm in Antic’s face, Pero’s shooting foot is facing the opposite basket on launch, he falls away into the Bobcats’ bench and… he NAILS IT from perhaps the toughest spot on the floor – between the corner and extended elbow. Just unbelievable.

It was the sort of WTF-once-in-a-season shot that can suck the energy right out of a franchise. While it’s impossible to pin the loss two nights later on a Macedonian center playing thousands of miles away, you have to believe Antic’s dagger wound was at the heart of Charlotte’s lackluster effort in Utah. Let’s hope that the Bobcats can recover soon.

The Upper Limits

Allow me to go Oprah for a moment.

After the Cats two point loss against the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder, Steve Clifford ripped into the team for not executing when it mattered. He singled out individual defense and rebounding in particular and then went on to drop this bomb: “We have to get past the point where everybody is happy the Bobcats don’t get beaten every night. We’re better than that.”

In “The Big Leap” author Gay Hendricks defines a phenomenon he calls the “upper limit” – the highest point on our personal thermostats that we believe we can achieve. Hendrick writes:

“Unfortunately, our thermostat setting usually gets programmed in early childhood, before we can think for ourselves. Once programmed, our Upper Limit thermostat setting holds us back from enjoying all the love, financial abundance, and creativity that’s rightfully ours.”

As evidence, he cites that within two years of winning the lottery, more than 60 percent return to the same net worth prior to their win.

Part of what Coach Clifford is trying to do, perhaps the most difficult challenge he faces, is to transform a perpetually moribound organization’s expectations of itself; to change its identity. One major hurdle in getting to that point is convincing young NBA players who’ve only known losing that their internal thermostats are off. Although long a league-wide punchline, the “Charlotte Bobcats” are not inherently dismal. Just because a player might’ve been involved in a seven win season, does not mean they cannot be a part of a contender in the future…but you must raise the limit. To further Clifford’s point, if being better than terrible is the team’s upper limit, it is not enough. 14-18 is “not bad for the Bobcats” but it’s not good enough.

The reprogramming will take time and will likely need an infusion of sucessful veterans in or around their primes to help break through the glass ceiling. In the meantime, let’s celebrate Steve Clifford’s buzzworthy desire and ambition beacause it’s the only way to truly leave the “Bobcats” legacy behind.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 7 Review

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The Cats finish a nearly perfect week 3-1, a span that saw the team:

  • Beat up the talented Kings in the Queen City, 95-87.
  • Win a stunner at the buzzer in Toronto, 104-102.
  • Play the greatest quarter in Bobcats history in a comeback victory in Detroit, 116-106.
  • Drop a disappointing home gimme against the Jazz on Hornets Reveal night, 85-88.

Still Growing Up

After the Jazz loss, Coach Clifford broke down the current state of the Bobcats succinctly:

  • They are executing on defense and taking the right shots on offense.
  • Effort isn’t the problem.
  • They give up too many “ranged” – aka three point – shots on defense.
  • They are challenged by their lack of “ranged” shooting on offense.

As usual, Clifford was frank and generally upbeat about the team’s progress towards becoming a consistent winner. He didn’t throw anyone (including the front office) under the bus and his point about the team learning to win was accurate. As much as we would like for a nineteen year old NCAA freshmen to save the day, in the NBA there are no shortcuts. Clifford and his staff are instituting the type of system and culture of responsibility that the Bobcats haven’t had in a decade; one that will eventually allow for the team to properly develop and maximize future draft prospects to their utmost. The Jazz loss, like the Magic and Lakers losses before it, was tough but with 13 wins in late December, we can already see progress happening in real time.

#NBA Ballot Kemba Walker

After an abysmal November in which he shot a 2011-like 36% from the field, Kemba Walker has absolutely erupted in December. In eleven games this month Kemba’s shooting 40% from three, nearly 51% overall and averaging 22ppg, 5apg, 4rpg. There’s a legitimate argument that he’s having a better season than either Kyrie Irving and John Wall – both of whom have had a lot more offensive talent around them yet sport fewer wins. With Derrick Rose out for the year and Derrick Williams perpetually nursing an ankle, the East’s PG slots will come down to Wall, Irving, Kemba, George Hill and Jeff Teague. If the Cats enter the break around .500 with Walker leading the way, expect him to earn a spot as the second All-Star in Bobcats team history.

The Greatest Quarter in Bobcats History

Detroit. December 20th, 2013. Charlotte was playing on the road against a physical team that was somehow nailing every three pointer they launched (even JORTS went 2-3 from deep). They lost their backup-turned starting SF Jeff Taylor to season ending achilles injury six seconds into the game. Nothing was going their way. Then the bench trimmed a twenty point lead to thirteen points at the end of the third. Then to eight on a Cody Zeller strip ‘n slam. Then the starters checked back in and Al Jefferson went off, dropping 15 points on a series of And-1’s and twenty footers that played like a YouTube highlight reel in real-time. Charlotte scored 41 points in that quarter while only giving up 17. It’s the kind of quarter you’d expect from a contender like the Spurs or Heat. It was magic. The comeback obviously took its toll the next night against Utah but long-term, the Cats can use that experience as proof that it’s not over until it’s over.

Expect a Trade

 


Clifford talked up Anthony Tolliver and Chris Douglas-Roberts’ work filling in for Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but I guarantee you that behind the scenes, the front office is searching for a “range shooting” wing who can play some defense. Tolliver is best used in spot situations, not the 25+ minutes he’s logged in the last two games. Douglas-Roberts is a decent enough end of the bench guy but there was a reason he started the season in the D-League. The Cats could either go big name (Luol Deng), mid name (Wilson Chandler), or no name (Brandon Rush) in their pursuit depending on what they’re willing to give up. One thing is for certain: in order for Charlotte to have any success long-term, they CANNOT start two non-three point shooting wings. I’d be shocked if both Gerald Henderson and MKG are on the roster this time next season.

The Bugs Are Back

The TWC went absolutely insane during the Hornets Logo Reveal on Saturday night. Hats off to the organization for delivering a fantastic halftime show MC’d by Michael Jordan and four original Hornets (Dell Curry, Muggsy Bouges, Rex Chapman, Kelly Tripucka). The video package debuting the logo was good enough but it was the BUZZZZZZ sound effect and the sea of teal glow sticks that moved the crowd into a frenzy. If this is a preview of the new Hive’s decibel level, the Hornets are going to have a helluva home court advantage next season.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 6 Review

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

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

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

Fork in the Road

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

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

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

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

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

Asik Trade Rumours

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

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

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

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

You sir, are no Bust

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

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

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

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

 

 

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 4 Review

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The Cats finish the week 1-3, a disappointing stretch which included:

  • A flat and unfocused loss at home to the surprising Suns, 91-98.
  • A twenty point beat-down of the Eastern Conference doormat Bucks in Milwaukee, 96-72.
  • Another flat and unfocused loss at home to the lowly Celtics, 86-96.
  • Three good quarters and a horrific fourth in a blowout loss at home to Indiana, 74-99.

The LEASTERN CONFERENCE

We’re approaching the quarter season mark and it is already quite apparent that the Eastern Conference stinks somethin’ fierce. Incoming commish Adam Silver may crave parity but right now he has the AL East. Indiana and Miami might both get to sixty five wins playing amongst this ragtag group. Atlanta, currently the Conference’s third seed, is 8-8 and sports a negative point differential. Tied with them is Chicago, who just lost Derrick Rose for the season (again).
Washington, Detroit and Charlotte have had a few nice moments over the past month but they aren’t going to keep either the Pacers or Heat up at night. As for the rest of the lot…ugh. Fair warning: We’re in for a long stretch bad basketball, folks.
All this terrible play in the East has me scratching my head, trying to decipher how good the Bobcats actually are. I mean, has Charlotte actually improved or did the rest of the conference just lower themselves the Bobcats’ level?

Kemba Walker: The Scoring Guard Whose Shots Don’t Fall

Sure, he’s been shooting a little better over the past week (26-62, FG50% over 4 games) but Kemba seriously needs to get consistent with his shot or his future may not be as bright as we once hoped. Wanna hear something frightening? Kemba is shooting 37% from the field this season. He shot 36% his rookie season. We could be looking at a regression to the mean. I was hoping to see Kemba blossom into top tier NBA point with a low block presence like Al Jefferson to run the offense through but the opposite has happened. Walker’s averaging 1.5 less assists per game on the year, consistently has trouble feeding the post and is laying a ton of bricks in the process. I never bought in to the narrative that Kemba would be a third guard on a good team but if he can’t get that shot to fall regularly, he may not be the third guard on a bad team.

Rich Cho Must Love The Home Depot…

…because he sure love projects (ZING!).

In the midst of watching the Pacers loss, I realized that the team is going to need a lot more than what Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can currently give if they want to be relevant. MKG had trouble defending Paul George all night and wasn’t exactly matching George’s output on the offensive side either. There he goes again turning the ball over in transition, losing his dribble for unknown reasons and/or committing odd turnovers. I find myself having Biyombo Season Two flashbacks with MKG and that’s not a good thing. Gilchrist will likely be able to stay in the league for a while as a lock-down defender (ala Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Tony Allen) but I’m kind of done expecting much else on a nightly basis.
Biyombo and MKG are case studies in why The Jalen Rose Rule of Drafting (a prospect must be able to: shoot, pass, dribble) should never be broken. How many player development minutes, millions of dollars and highly valuable draft picks must a team spend on guys who might top out as “The Next Samuel Dalembert” or “The Next Gerald Wallace”? The NFL already has this figured out: you take projects in the late rounds, sure things in the early ones.
Again, I think Cho has done a very nice job in aggregate – especially in free agency and with the cap – but drafting woes have handcuffed this franchise from the beginning. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue that way.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

 

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 3 Review

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Another week, another .500 split for the league’s (fourth) best Defensive team. A heckuva stretch that saw the Bobcats:

  • Storm back for a win in Cleveland after scoring just 12 points in the first quarter, 86-80.
  • Play three solid quarters against the world champion Miami Heat at home, only to fold in the 4th, 81-97.
  • Battle the title contending Bulls down to the final buzzer in Chi-town, 81-86.
  • Beat up Brooklyn’s aging All-Stars in a big win at the TWC, 95-91.

Defense is Forever

You have to hand it to Steve Clifford. In the past week, his Bobcats have played full-throttle, basketballs to the wall defense for nearly every possession. At 92.8 points allowed on the season, Charlotte has entered an elite group that includes Indiana, Chicago and San Antonio. Remember that last year’s squad averaged a whopping 102.7ppg against – good for 29th overall. That’s a ten point swing that’s been accomplished with a nearly identical roster.

Clifford’s secret sauce isn’t much of a secret strategy-wise. You can see it just by watching the games: sacrifice the offensive rebound to prevent easy transition buckets, protect the paint area in the half court (even if it frees up a three point shooter) and swallow up as many defensive boards as possible. Meanwhile, let your team’s defensive position of strength (hyper-athletic wings) pester opposing perimeter players for 48 minutes a night.

The Bobcats are communicating, hustling and executing on D like they were the Chicago Bulls – which shouldn’t be that big of surprise considering Clifford and Tom Thibodeau’s shared coaching history. It’s only been twelve games, but if Charlotte can continue as a top 5 defensive team and get their best offensive player (Al Jefferson) healthy for good, we might be looking at a 40+ win squad. As last year’s Derrick Rose-less Bulls proved: You can live by the jumper and die by the jumper but defense is forever.

Kemba Breaks Out

Last week we fretted over Kemba Walker’s post-shoulder contusion shooting slump. The fretting was soon upgraded to full-on Regression Alert after Kemba dropped a 14 for 51 stretch over the next three games, dragging his FG% dangerously close to sub-30% levels. Mercifully, a 12 for 20, 31 point performance against the Nets has us hoping again that the slump was an anomaly brought on by Metta World Peace’s thigh.

To Walker’s credit, he never once lost a gear defensively during the slump – highlighted by an amazing 5 steal performance in the Cleveland comeback. Kemba might not be the prototypical NBA point guard but he’s certainly in possession of a prototypical NBA mentality.

High Ceilings?

At least a few times a week, I get a snark-flavored tweet about how the Bobcats are playing their way out of a superstar in next June’s Draft. I understand the fear. I mean, even if Charlotte surprises everyone and makes the Playoffs, just how high is the team’s ceiling? Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will both likely make the All-Star team at least once in their careers. MKG is a jump-shot away from being a multiple time All-Star (but that jumper may never come). Jeff Taylor and Cody Zeller are both likely to become very good NBA starters at some point, at least on the level of their teammate Gerald Henderson. That’s it. That’s the “core”. It’s not very sexy but it’s solid, with room to grow.

And next summer, regardless of how the Lottery shakes out, the team will have around $19 million in cap space to bring in another difference maker. Gordon Haywood and Lance Stephenson are game-ready, under-24 restricted free agents who could immediately upgrade the team’s long distance shooting. The mid-first round picks owed by Detroit and Portland could produce a Dario Saric or Andrew Harrison off the bench. That’s a very good NBA team. One that can win a lot of games for quite a while. And winning for a while breeds a winning culture. That’s called Stage One.

The Miami Heat organization experienced this Stage during the Alonzo Mourning/Tim Hardaway/Eddie Jones era of the late ’90s. Were they good enough to win a title? Nope. Not even on paper. But the culture they created eventually led to the franchise drafting Dwayne Wade and knowing HOW to build around him for their first title in 2006. Not a single NBA champion since 1980 has gone directly from perennial doormat to Larry O’Brien in one Stage.

The Charlotte Bobcats are transitioning from terrible to not bad. The Charlotte Hornets will go from not bad to very good soon after. Let them build a winning culture that knows what to do with talent first, then we can talk about tanking for Lottery saviors later.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 2 Review

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Charlotte finishes a strange week 2-2, a span that saw the team:

  • Successfully complete the second half of a back to back with a victory against the Raptors at TWC, 92-90.
  • Waste a near sell out home crowd in a (surprisingly) uninspired loss against the Knicks, 97-102.
  • Play exactly one great half and one terrible half against a mediocre Hawks squad in an unnecessary loss at home, 94-103.
  • Regroup to outlast the upstart Celtics in Boston for a Conference road win, 89-83.

A Week of Disruption

Just a day after presiding over Charlotte’s back to back wins against New York and Toronto, head coach Steve Clifford checked himself into the hospital, returning to the bench a few days later with two stents inserted into his heart. With former Panthers and current Broncos head man John Fox and Texans skipper Gary Kubiak missing time with similar ailments, it was a tough week for pro coaches.
Associate head coach Patrick Ewing stepped in as Clifford’s replacement, ironically coaching his first game against the team he starred for fifteen years. The New York media had a field day with the storyline but the ensuing results were less than newsworthy. Ewing’s rotations were off all game and his team lacked any sort of emotion. Ewing’s demeanor on the sidelines is reminiscent of Jeremy Lamb’s perpetual sleepy-time expression. While I think the Bill Self-style histrionics are out of place in the NBA, your head coach needs to at least give the impression that he’s engaged. Fortunately, Clifford missed very little time and all things seem to be business as usual just a week later.

Hello: My Name is Big Al

The Bobcats encountered another form of disruption on Monday night in the form of Al Jefferson. The team’s offense was clearly off balance in the second half against the Hawks, which incidentally was the part of the game that Al’s shots started to fall. In fact, the Atlanta loss felt like a microcosm of this team’s greatest challenge going forward: How to integrate the screen ‘n roll heavy free-wheeling style that the team has had a little success with the more traditional, more mature – and I’d argue – more sustainable inside-out offense Jefferson allows for.
The formula worked a little better in Wednesday night’s road win in Boston but that had more to do with Jefferson’s dominance inside (22 points, 11 rebounds) than an efficient team effort. We’ll surely be keeping an eye on this transition in the weeks ahead.

Kemba’s Struggles

When the Bobcats signed Jefferson during the offseason, they likely fantasized at the pairing of he and the quick penetrating AND suddenly sweet shooting Kemba Walker. While Kemba got off to a fantastic start over the team’s first four games, his shooting has taken a nosedive (29% over the last 5 games) since running shoulder first into Metta World Peace’s thigh last week. And it’s not just the jumper. Kemba has morphed into DJ Augustin around the rim, a spot he excelled in last season. In the Boston win, Kemba finished a disastrous 1-13 (including four misses in the paint) that would have sunk the team pre-Jefferson.
Let’s hope that this is just a temporary setback due to the shoulder contusion and not a full on regression.

Missing Shooters

Talk about clairvoyance. Clifford and the front office should be patting themselves on the back for having the foresight to sign Anthony Tolliver in what was then seen as an offseason afterthought. A 5 year veteran “stretch four”, Tolliver (44% 3PFG) and has been the team’s only consistent spot-up shooter in lieu of Jeffery Taylor’s long distance struggles and Ben Gordon’s demotion to 15th man. Barring a mid-season trade or an off the radar free agent signing, Tolliver is the team’s only consistent long-ball threat – a fact that could undermine the team’s offense for the remainder of the season.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz