Bobcats Season 10 – Week 3 Review

Standard

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

Standard

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

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 1 Review

Standard

What’s this?! A Charlotte NBA team fielding an actual competitive NBA roster?! Is that a qualified NBA coach with a real deal playbook and sensible rotations? Are those Bobcat Draft Picks doing things??!! Are the Byron Mullens days really behind us for good???!!!

Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of rough edges to smooth out for this young team but the first week of the FINAL BOBCATS SEASON shows plenty of promise – and promise has been in very short supply over the past few years at the TWC.

Charlotte finishes the week at 2-2 after:

  • Losing the season opener to a loaded Rockets team in Houston, 83-96.
  • Edging the playoff contending Cavs in the home opener, 90-84.
  • Laying an effortless stink bomb in New Orleans, 84-105.
  • Shocking the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 102-97.

UPON FURTHER EXAMINATION

Clifford’s Impact

We still don’t know what the Cats’ offense is going to look like once Al Jefferson is fully integrated (he’s been nursing an ankle since the opener) but the safe money is on Charlotte continuing with heavy pick and rolls and off-ball screens for their point guards. Gerald Henderson, the team’s lone wing who can create his own offense, has been dreadful from the field (30%) during first four contests, meaning that the Bobcats’ only real chance at opening up good shot opportunities is through out-hustling or confusing opponents via screens.

Here’s how 99% of Bobcats offensive possessions have gone during the past week:
IF PG = “Kemba Walker” THEN:
PASS BALL TO “Josh McRoberts”;
LOSE DEFENDER ON BASELINE SCREENS;
RECEIVE HAND OFF FROM “Josh McRoberts”;
SHOOT.

IF PG = “Ramon Sessions” THEN:
YELL AT “Cody Zeller”;
FIND PICK SET BY “Cody Zeller”;
DRIVE AND GET FOULED.

The “SHOOT” option hasn’t really been working out as the Bobcats rank second worst in the league in FG% at 40%. They’re in the bottom ten worst in every 3PT shooting statistic and second worst in FT%. Coincidentally, Charlotte’s 89.8 points per game is third worst overall.

Now for the positive: The Bobcats have been getting to line like a team full of 2006 D-Wades, averaging 33.0 attempts per game – good for third in the league behind the star-powered Rockets and Clippers.
Take a quick guess at who’s ranked 10th in the NBA in FT attempts, one spot ahead of Lebron James? None other than “Razor” Ramon Sessions at 32 freebies in just 96 minutes played. Dude is averaging a free throw attempt every three minutes; just an insane number to start the year.
Another positive: Clifford’s Bobcats are only allowing opponents 95 points per game – tied for seventh best overall. That’s up from second worst overall (102.7) last season. Let’s hope the small sample size holds up.

The 21 And Under Club

Prospects Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller all had some fine moments during the week but it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who tapped furthest into his UPSIDE with a defensive master class against Carmelo Anthony in New York. Anthony ended up with 32 points but most of that damage was done with MKG out of the game. After getting his nose busted by Kenyon Martin on a hard foul early in the second half, MKG returned midway through the 4th quarter and went full lock-down on Melo, constantly harassing the superstar on and off the ball. In just 26 minutes, Gilchrist dropped 16 points, grabbed 8 boards and swatted 3 shots, including a Gerald Wallace-esque breakaway block on Carmelo that ended in a coast to coast layup. I’ve publicly questioned MKG’s selection as the 2nd pick overall pick in last year’s Draft but if he can build on this type performance consistently, I’ll be proven absolutely wrong and loving every minute of it. Keep it up, young fella.

“A Ben Wallace Type”

Know this: without perennial NBA castoff Jeff Adrien, the Bobcats would be 0-4. With Jefferson nursing a sore ankle and backup Brendan Haywood out until February, Clifford needed someone to step up and provide size and toughness in the middle. With 24 boards and 4 blocks in the past three games, Adrien has certainly delivered.
Ironic that his teammate Biyombo, a Lottery pick, was projected by experts as “a Ben Wallace type”, when it is Adrien who is the perfect heir apparent to Big Ben. Officially listed at 6’7″, the former UCONN Huskie looks to be no taller than 6’4″ Gerald Henderson in person sans mohawk. Like Wallace, Adrien was undrafted and floated around the league for a couple of seasons before finding a home. Big Ben hit his stride with Detroit at age 26. Adrien seems to be doing the same with Charlotte now at 27.

Kemba Walker

From Rick Bonnell’s excellent Knicks game story:

“Every day I’m around him, I’m more convinced he’ll be the leader of a really good (NBA) team,” Clifford predicted.

Tell us something we already didn’t know, Steve.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 Preview: Michael Jordan Has(n’t) Figured It Out

Standard

As we enter the final “Bobcats” season, perhaps no one in the organization has more to prove than owner Michael Jordan. Throughout the summer, League pundits and comment-thread snarks have been quick to point out that MJ’s latest offseason was yet a further demonstration of his ineptitude:

  • Nepotism Part 1: Jordan promoted his brother Larry to “Director of Player Personnel” back in July. MJ’s son, daughter and a host of other long-time friends are already employed by the team in various capacities.
  • Nepotism Part 2: Jordan brought in old friend Patrick Ewing to serve as the team’s associate head coach, continuing the Bobcats tradition of using their bench as courtside seats for friends & family (J.B. Bickerstaff, Stephen Silas, Charles Oakley, Cory Higgins).
  • Coaching Carousel: Jordan hired the team’s fourth coach in five seasons in June.
  • Draft Dunce: Jordan ignored two highly touted prospects, Ben McLemore and Nerlens Noel, and instead “reached” for Indiana’s Cody Zeller with the Draft’s fourth overall pick.
  • Free Agent Foibles: Jordan over-paid an offense-only, aging free agent, forgetting that his young team was the worst defensive squad in the league the season before.
  • Tank Timing: With an super-hyped 2014 Draft Class looming, Jordan picked the wrong offseason to improve the team and lower their Draft Lottery odds.
  • Perpetual Screw Up: Jordan presided over a tone-deaf, scattershot Hornets re-brand announcement that left just as many confused as excited.

     

While I can’t defend MJ’s continued fascination with nepotism, I believe the other accusations to be mostly pre-conceptions in search of evidence. Pretend for a moment, that Jordan didn’t have the decade-worth of “bad owner” baggage and look at it from another perspective – MJ might be figuring this ownership thing out:

  • Quick to Learn: Jordan owned up to his mistake of hiring the inexperienced Dunlap and moved quick to bring on highly respected veteran NBA assistant Steve Clifford.
  • Outside the Circle Part 1: Jordan hired Clifford even though he wasn’t part of or recommended by someone from MJ’s inner circle (Larry Brown, Dunlap via George Karl).
  • Outside the Circle Part 2: Jordan further committed to another outsider by supporting GM Rich Cho’s decision to draft Zeller – an EXTREMELY risky position for someone with MJ’s draft reputation.
  • Shrewd Businessman: Jordan fought hard for the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement back in 2011, then leveraged the new economics in his team’s favor. MJ immediately re-invested the revenue-shared funds back into the team, amnestying PF Tyrus Thomas ($16m in off the book salary).
  • Free Agent Closer: Jordan signed former Utah center Al Jefferson, who, outside of being a nightly double-double machine, is also the biggest free agent signing in Charlotte’s 25 year NBA history.
  • Populist: Spotty announcement aside, Jordan had the insight to Bring Back the Buzz, an incredibly popular move in the region that has re-invigorated a large part of the Hornets’ dormant fanbase.

Long time NBA fans probably remember MJ’s killer fadeaway jumpshot – the one he rode to six Larry O’Brien trophies. Some may have forgotten that Jordan didn’t have that shot until he’d been in the league for ten years. There’s a good chance that MJ is at it again.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 Preview: New Developments

Standard

Wednesday marks the beginning of Season Three of the Rich Cho era. Let’s take a look at how his Draft picks have improved over the offseason.

Bismack Biyombo – 2011 Draft, 7th Overall

Aside from learning how to properly secure a basketball and get yoked, #biznation has used the offseason to string together the individual defensive skills we saw over his first two seasons. There have been long stretches over the preseason in which Biz has looked like a legit defensive force. Most obvious is the enhanced rebounding. After Al Jefferson went down with an ankle injury, Biyombo returned to the starting lineup and racked up 19+ boards on three separate occasions, finishing at 10.6rpg in just 28.8 minutes per. That’s up from 7.3rpg in similar minutes last year. Perhaps more impressive has been Biz’s defensive awareness. He’s not getting lost on pick and rolls or when the ball swings hard to the other side of the court – a key skill for a rim protector.

Now for the bad news: Outside of surer hands and a vicious tomahawk slam, Biz’s offense is still a ways away. He also continues to go for the off-ball shot-block instead of boxing out. I’m not worried. With Ewing/Clifford’s continued guidance Biyombo can only improve. Al Jefferson will return to the starting five opening night but look for Charlotte to use Biz much like the Bulls uses Taj Gibson as a change of pace 6th man defender off the pine. Also, Biyombo just turned 21 in August and considering that he would’ve been at the bottom of this list last October, chalk the progress up as a massive improvement.
GRADE: A

Jeff Taylor – 2012 Draft, 31st Overall

How much more can be said of Taylor’s offseason? The confidence and aggressiveness that began in Summer League continued into Eurobasket and the Preseason. Quite simply, Taylor looks fantastic and if not for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s draft position, Jeff would be starting for the team opening night. Taylor’s three point percentage dipped during the preseason but the stroke is smoother and he’s looking to shoot it more. Taylor’s improved his handle, off the dribble shot and is getting better squaring up against defenders one on one. Love what I’m seeing.
GRADE: B+

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – 2012 Draft, 2nd Overall

Mixed results. The jumper looks as broken as ever and he’s still hopping while shooting free throws. Guess old habits die hard. The good news is that Clifford has started mixing in more ways to get MKG post-up opportunities and the 20 year old is making opponents pay when he gets in the paint. Rebounding is obviously a strength, as is on ball defense. He’s still a ways away from being 2010 Gerald Wallace and I hope the team continues the patient approach with him. A couple more seasons under assistant coach Mark Price’s tutelage will hopefully move things in the right direction.
GRADE: C+

Kemba Walker – 2011 Draft, 9th Overall

The guy with the least to prove this preseason has had an absolutely forgettable one. His shooting percentage has dropped to rookie year levels (36%) and he seems less comfortable overall running the offense. It’s the Preseason and it’s Kemba so there’s probably no need to worry. Between learning a new system, experimentation and saving his intensity for the regular season, expect Walker to turn it on once the games start to count.
GRADE: C-

Cody Zeller – 2013 Draft, 4th Overall

It’s only his first preseason so the young big is just figuring it out. The good news: he’s a smart player who always seems to be in the right position and is drawing a ton of fouls (31 attempts in just 183 minutes). He’s got a great motor as advertised and the mistakes he makes are all in the flow of the game, so there’s only an adjustment or two to be made in order to correct it. Also, he’s been solid on the offensive boards (2.5 ORPG in just 22 minutes), collecting put-back attempts often.

The bad news: He’s getting to the line but shooting an abhorrent 55%. When Bismack Biyombo has a 5% FT shooting edge on you, you might have a problem. Also, as @BaselineDrE pointed out before the Draft, Zeller tends to make himself “small” when getting into the lane. Not sure if that’s a trait he picked up as the runt of the Zeller NBA litter but in this league, seven footer’s with wingspan problems can’t play like Iverson. Let’s hope he learns to use his height and vertical leap to his advantage in the paint as the season progresses.
GRADE: INCOMPLETE

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 Preview: 5 Fearless Predictions

Standard

Prediction One: Biyombo Is No Bust

We’ve caught a glimpse of it in the preseason: the uber-raw teen Draft idol from the Congo has started to put a few things together in his third year. Bismack is making clean catches on passes he would’ve fumbled last season and is rebounding at a near Vucevic-ian rate. Those of us panicked at Biyombo’s sophomore regression can finally breath a sigh of relief. It seems the big fella’s work ethic combined with Coaches Clifford & Ewing’s steamlined directives (rebound, defend and the rest will come) have propelled #biznation from third world to “developing world” status. Biyombo may not start many games this season with Al Jefferson in the mix but by the end of Biyombo’s rookie deal, Charlotte may have themselves the next Samuel Dalembert.*
*which is a big upgrade from last year’s “the next Mouhamed Saer-Sene”

Prediction Two: Cody Zeller will not win ROY

Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball” is just that: a pure basketball player with an outstanding feel for the game. As a rookie on a team with at least three legit NBA scorers (Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson), Cody will instinctively do what’s best to make the offense flow; putting his teammates in a better position to score. Great news for the Bobcats’ offense but bad news for Cody’s Rookie of the Year chances. Averaging a 10ppg/6rpg/4apg line won’t turn many heads. In fact, don’t be surprised to hear a lot of “we want Cody to be more aggressive” pleas from Clifford & Co. midway through the season. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s Anthony Bennett, Orlando’s Victor Oladipo and Sacramento’s Ben McLemore will all likely be in “shoot first, ask questions later” mode from the opening tip. All-Rookie 1st Team for Cody? Sure. ROY? Not feeling it.

Prediction Three: Kemba Walker will Struggle, then Thrive

Dear Kemba,
You probably won’t believe this but there are actually a few dudes on your team worth passing the ball to this year! I know, I know. I couldn’t believe it either but then I did some fact checking and it turns out that it’s true. Even better, one of these dudes is a Top 3 low post scorer in the league who demands double teams 24/7/365! Remember that one guy with the weird name, comically long arms and the brother named Billy? Yeah, even he learned how to catch the ball this offseason. Wild, I know. So the good news is that you won’t have to play 1 on 5 on offense anymore. The bad news is that you’ve basically spent the first two years of your pro career learning how to play 1 on 5. Bobcats fans can count the number of successful pick and rolls you’ve executed on Rufus Lynx‘s hands and feet. I know it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment early on but I bet that if anyone can make the transition from Iverson to Isiah, it’ll be you Kemba.
Sincerely,
-ASChin

Prediction Four: Ramon Sessions Will Be Great (Again)

Ramon Sessions led all NBA bench players last season in free throw attempts and makes despite missing 21 games. That’s kind of insane. If you haven’t heard, free throws and threes are basically extra points, thus extremely valuable to an efficient NBA offense. Ramon is also an outstanding pick and roll player and an improved defender. Last year’s Walker/Sessions combo was the East’s unheralded answer to Ty Lawson/Andre Miller and Steph Curry/Jarrett Jack. Don’t listen to the “Clifford doesn’t want to go small” noise. Sessions will get just as much run this season; he’s simply too good to be kept on the pine.

Prediction Five: MKG will be Benched or Traded

The Bobcats spacing issues are very real. Sure, Walker will shoot from deep in certain situations, as will Henderson but it’s not their first inclination to do so. Zeller’s just now getting comfortable shooting from mid-range consistently and Josh McRoberts’ career 31% mark won’t keep many defenders up at night. This means Charlotte desperately needs double-team punishing, knock-down shooting to come from the Small Forward spot. Unfortunately, the guy currently holding down the starting job might be the worst jump shooter in the league.

I’m no MKG hater. On the right team, with the right system, Kidd-Gilchrist could potentially transform into a game-changing defender and slasher. But the Bobcats are doing him no service surrounding him with non-shooters at this stage of his career. One solution is to insert last year’s 2nd Round pick, Jeff Taylor (34% 3FG), into the starting five, allowing Kidd-Gilchrist to play with a stronger shooting 2nd Unit backcourt (Sessions/Ben Gordon). Eventually, once his shot improves, the team could ease Gilchrist back into the starting five.

I’ve said it before, MKG is the wing-version of Derrick Favors. Utah used a slow and steady development approach on an equally raw, athletically gifted prospect and are now reaping the rewards. They didn’t throw him into the fire to pickup bad habits and have his confidence broken.
But would the Bobcats’ front office be willing to take the inevitable PR hit that comes with benching a former number two overall pick? Would MKG’s young psyche be able to handle the demotion?
If the organization doesn’t like the answers to these questions, they may look to trade MKG while he still has the upside sheen. A combination of MKG, draft picks and Gordon’s expiring would likely net an All-Star if one were to hit the trading block. For the benefit of both the player and organization, this may be the best solution overall.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Ben Gordon: Trade Scenarios and Expectations

Standard

Ben Gordon illustration by Mike S

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

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

So what the heck happened to that guy?

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

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

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

SCENARIO ONE: Goodbye and Good luck.

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

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

SCENARIO TWO: Trade Bait.

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

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

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

Fake Ben Gordon Trade Type 1a:

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

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

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

Fake Ben Gordon Trade Type 1b:

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

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

Fake Ben Gordon Trade Type 2:

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

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

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

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

Ben Gordon Illustration by Mike S.

SCENARIO THREE: Hey, I Remember That Guy!

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

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz