Charlotte Hornets Roundtable | Post-Lottery Edition

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Big Al and Kevin Love Reunited?

Baseline contributors past, present and future weigh in on the ramifications of Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery:

QUESTION ONE: The Hornets have lucked into Detroit’s 9th overall pick and are now armed with two first rounders (including Portland’s 24th overall selection) and a second rounder in a deep Draft. Should the team keep the picks and add prospects or bundle them with either young vets and their roughly $17 million in cap room to bring in a proven All-Star?

Ben (@benweinrib): I would be shocked if the Hornets make selections at 9, 24, and 45, and had them all on their roster on the first game of the season. The Hornets are at a crossroads where they have the assets (picks and cap space) to pick up a quality player and need to make a playoff push, since their window is as long as Big Al keeps playing at a high level. They could bundle up their picks to move into the 5-7 range to grab Julius Randle or (more likely) will make a run at Kevin Love, Greg Monroe, or Gordon Hayward.

Dr. E (@BaselineDrE): I think the Hornets should be and will be pretty active in trade talks over the next few weeks. With these 3 picks in the 2014 draft, all future picks intact, and some young talent on the roster, the Bobcats could put together a competitive package of assets to snare a big name. With Big Al in his prime and Kemba approaching his, young talent developing, a great coach and a seemingly stable front office, and in the Eastern Conference, the Hornets could actually look pretty attractive to Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony if they are looking to win. Bringing a star like that to our small market is a longshot, obviously, but the Hornets owe it to themselves to sniff around some deals like that.
I also think a small deal for Arron Afflalo makes a ton of sense — if the price is right (i.e. not the #9 pick) it would be a low-risk upgrade at the 2.

Jason (@jasonjefferies): Hendo and a pick to Indy in Sign & Trade for Lance Stephenson.

Bradford (@bradford_NBA): This answer is pretty straightforward for me. If you can grab Kevin Love with a godfather offer, you do it. Maybe Gordon Hayward depending on the package. Otherwise, you have to keep the pick. While I think the top of this draft is overrated, the Hornets are in an interesting position in the top 10 where they don’t really need a franchise guy. They just need to fill out the team with talent and this draft is full of specialists with upside. As for trades, Afflalo is a popular name and he would fit the team well. But he’s 28 and at his peak. He’s essentially a sunk cost. He might add a couple wins, but he’s posted an above average PER once and his value can only go down. The Harden trade taught us that youth and potential are (over)valued with Jeremy Lamb being the centerpiece for OKC. Drafting a young guy with potential can help the team now while leaving them with options down the road. The Hornets have to look at the present with an eye towards the future. I would assume they don’t plan on having a lottery pick for the foreseeable future so you have to take a chance on a young guy with potential that you can develop on the cheap. Or you go grab Kevin Love, who would be awesome with Jefferson and Kemba. But that seems unlikely.

ASChin (@baselinebuzz ): This really comes down to whether the Hornets want to go all-in now while the East is weak or if they want to guarantee a prolonged period of competitiveness. If the number nine pick can nab a potential All-Star, Charlotte gets one on the cheap who can develop and grow with Kemba/MKG/Cody. That core might not lead to a Finals appearance but it would be sustainable and fun. On the other hand, sending the picks to Minnesota for Kevin Love would immediately put the Hornets in the Eastern Conference title conversation – BUT the chances of K-Love staying in teal & purple for more than 18 months are 50/50 at best. Tough call.

QUESTION TWO: If the Hornets keep the picks, who should they target at each spot?

Ben: They desperately need shooting, which means Gary Harris and James Young make a lot of sense. The ninth overall pick is a tad early for Rodney Hood, but he’d be a steal at 24. Of course, I’m going to advocate Jarnell Stokes at 24 (huge hands, great athleticism, at worst a great rebounder) and the incomparable Isaiah Austin (worst-case scenario: superstar) at 45. (Editor’s note: anyone who follows us on twitter knows that Ben is higher on Ike Austin than either of Isaiah’s own parents)

DrE: The biggest need is perimeter shooting/scoring in general, whether that comes from a 2, 3 or 4. So if the Hornets keep the #9 pick, I think it would come down to Zach Lavine, Gary Harris, or Doug McDermott. Obviously at #9 everyone has a shortcoming. LaVine doesn’t have much consistent production to show for his enormous potential and is a little smallish. Harris is on the small side for a 2 as well, with more of a track record of production but without the high ceiling. And McDermott is the more polished shooter/scorer, but with very questionable quickness/athleticism.
I saw where DraftExpress has the Hornets picking Dario Saric at #9, but that doesn’t make much sense to me unless you think he has real breakout/star potential. Because when I watch the video, his game looks a lot like Cody Zeller’s.
PJ Hairston would be intriguing if he’s still there at #24. If any team in the league would be fully clued in to his issues at UNC, it would be the Hornets. If he’s there and they pass on him, you can bet that they think he’s a likely career knucklehead.
Backup PG is another need, but the Hornets will almost certainly deal with that via free agency or trade (think Ramon Sessions or Jameer Nelson).

Jason: Anyone but McAdoo. Seriously, anyone.

Bradford: Outside of NC State (class of 2008, GO PACK!) I don’t watch college basketball so all I have to go on is what I’ve read and some Draft Express videos. I have to think it’s between Zach LaVine, Nik Stauskas, and Gary Harris. Harris is the best 2-way player of the bunch. He’s an absolute bulldog on defense and a competent shooter on offense. Basically a more refined Oladipo. But he’s small for a shooting guard and not an elite athlete. Stauskas is an underrated but still average athlete, but an elite shooter with a quick release and deep range. He can also handle the ball in the pick and roll. There’s lots of talk of him playing point guard in spot duty. He makes the right pass and his shooting off the bounce opens up opportunities. Zach LaVine is one of the best athletes in the draft and a decent shooter. But that’s about it from what I can tell. I’m taking Stauskas personally, but with a low level of confidence. I love the shooting too much and I think the defensive weaknesses can be covered up with a strong scheme. He just needs to be a good team defender like JJ Reddick. He might not have the potential of other guys due to his athleticism, but we know for sure what he can do. As for the 24th pick, I don’t think it matters quite as much. You’re looking for a productive bench player. Shabazz Napier, TJ Warren, Rodney Hood, Jerami Grant, KJ McDaniels. Hood probably doesn’t last that far. I’d probably lean Napier or Warren (what a homer) but all are great pickups that late. PJ Hairston is the wild card if he’s there. I think he needs to get away from the state of North Carolina and start fresh. Too many bad influences for him around here. I’d steer clear.

ASChin: The Hornets are desperate for a dynamic scoring, floor-stretching off-guard and I’m all in on UCLA’s LaVine. He needs to add strength and get smarter on both ends but man, when he’s on he looks like a future NBA star. Long, explosive and oozes confidence. Remember: he just turned 19 in March. LaVine can shoot off the catch and is a transition weapon. He won’t be ready for a couple of seasons but that’s why you trade for a guy like Afflalo as an interim starter. Kemba/LaVine/MKG/Cody could be Charlotte’s core for the next 8-10 seasons. DREAM FOR LAVINE!

QUESTION THREE: Who was the bigger winner in last night’s Lottery: Hornets fans or Rod Higgins? Draft euphoria has completely overshadowed the fact that Charlotte will send its own pick to Chicago as part of his disastrous Tyrus Thomas trade four years ago.

Ben: I’m just still in shock that a Larry Brown trade had cataclysmic long-term effects.

DrE: Everyone associated with the Hornets won big yesterday, but yes, Rod Higgins particularly has to be breathing a sigh of relief that some things have broken his way. Rich Cho is the best thing to ever happen to Rod Higgins. Obviously the Hornets were lucky that the Detroit pick slipped to them, but it was Rich Cho that really made that even possible via the Corey Maggette/Ben Gordon trade. With Gordon’s contract expiring, and the Hornets own pick being conveyed to the Bulls this year to complete the Tyrus Thomas trade, all vestiges of the mismanagement of the Larry Brown era are gone, and Cho has the Hornets positioned very nicely for the next few years.

Jason: Both. Hornets pick ended up being less than stellar, and maybe the lessons learned from the T-Time debacle were worth giving the pick up for.

Bradford: Love this question. I’m leaning towards Hornets fans, but Higgins is certainly happy. As is Cho. Go back in time 3 years and find slightly younger you. Tell them that in 3 years, that aging, cap strapped team that owes a future pick to Chicago would make the playoffs and enter that off-season with a clean cap sheet, no outstanding assets to send out, and the 9th and 24th picks in a deep and productive draft. Oh, and the Hornets are back. Also, not just back as a name and color scheme, but all the records and statistics as well. Then watch younger you either laugh at you, stand with his/her mouth agape, or watch them cry in happiness. For all of MJ’s accused nepotism in running his organization it is clear Higgins isn’t doing much other than running press conferences these days. It hasn’t been perfect, but the Cho and MJ partnership is something to be excited about.

ASChin: Higgins apparently received some Executive of the Year votes earlier this month – but anyone who pays attention knows that Cho runs the show. Pre-Cho Higgins was like Ernie Grunfeld gone wrong. Sure, Rod’s a marginally better public face for the team’s basketball operations and I’m certain he has other talents behind the scenes – but his personnel record speaks for itself. The Tyrus trade was and continues to be a tremendous stinkbomb. Let’s just hope that Chicago doesn’t nab a future star with the pick.
Notice that no one’s talking about this stuff now that Cho’s Gordon/Maggette deal has produced a surprise Lottery pick. WINNER: Rod Higgins

2014 Charlotte Hornets Offseason Preview

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The Bobcats-era wrapped up with an emphatic BANG of a season that saw the team improve by more wins (22) than it won in total the season prior (21). Instead of trotting out a bunch of could-be’s and haven’t-beens to theoretically improve their draft position, Charlotte’s NBA franchise bucked the NBA’s current trend of tanking and revitalized a downtrodden fan-base in turn. Basketball is again something worth talking about in the QC and thanks to Coach Clifford & Company, the excitement won’t just be about a new coat of teal & purple paint.

Still, as fantastic of a season as it was for Charlotte, the first round sweep against the two time defending champs Miami Heat exposed some well-known flaws within the roster. Addressing those flaws while simultaneously building upon the Bobcats’ success will be the front office’s assignment as we head into the inaugural Hornets offseason. Wait, did I just type “building upon success” and “Bobcats” in the same sentence? #NEWWORLDORDER

STEP ONE: A Shooting Guard who can Shoot

I often found myself in the role of Lone Hendo Defender throughout much of the season. Having watched his development over the past five years – from a quarantined rook at the end of Larry Brown’s bench to a quality two-way NBA starting two guard – I was excited to see what Gerald could become on a good team. The answer was a resounding “passable“, a sometimes scoring, sometimes attacking, sometimes lockdown defensive shooting guard whose poor man’s D-Wade game just doesn’t work all that well on a team desperate for long range shooting. Like most of the Bobcats’ opponents this season, Miami smartly packed the paint and crowded Kemba Walker at the point of attack – knowing that the inevitable ball swing to the open shooter wouldn’t hurt them. That’s a problem.

Henderson doesn’t want to shoot off the catch at all – he’ll be wide open and hesitate before taking a bounce or faking a pass only to throw up a clanker out of necessity. His mid-post and iso games were made redundant once Jefferson was added to the mix and Hendo wasn’t able to transition his game over the course of the season to compensate. I like Gerald and think he gets an unnecessary bad rap from the fans but it’s obvious that he’s a bad fit on a Kemba/Big Al centered offense.

The good news for Charlotte is that there are a few options to remedy the issue either in the draft, free agency or via trade. With Portland’s 24th overall selection, the Hornets will likely have a shot at former Tar Heel P.J. Hairston (controversial, high upside), Duke’s Rodney Hood (safe, lower upside) or the UCLA SG prospects Jordan Adams (good mechanics, iffy results) and Zach LaVine (skinny and raw). None of these guys will step in and be instant All-Stars but could provide a nice boost in the limited role of floor-spacer.

Free Agency offers a couple of high priced young vets in Lance Stephenson (combustible, questionable fit) and Gordon Hayward. Hayward is probably the team’s ideal target as a sweet shooting, shot-creating big wing but he’s a restricted free agent that Utah says they want to keep and there’s rumored to be a long line of suitors should the Jazz change their minds.

One cheaper, under the radar alternative might be OKC’s Thabo Sefolosha. While Thabo’s not a shot creator like Lance or Hayward, he’s been a fantastic “three and D” knockdown guy for many years and shouldn’t cost the team more than $4 million or so per season. Although Sefolosha struggled with his stroke this season, he shot 40%+ from downtown in the previous two. Perhaps most importantly, Thabo won’t kill Clifford’s defense while he’s out there.

On the trade front, Charlotte’s has already been linked to Orlando’s Arron Afflalo (42% 3PTFG) via ESPN’s Mark Stein. Afflalo’s nearly thirty and only has one more guaranteed season on his deal – so don’t expect GM Rich Cho to give up much (maybe a couple of 2nd Round Picks) for Arron’s services – but putting Afflalo in teal & purple could provide an immediate upgrade for Charlotte’s distance shooting without having to break the bank short-term.

STEP TWO: #BringBackMcBob, Part II

In an unexpected karmic re-balancing, Josh McRoberts has provided the answer to a long asked QC Hoops question: “What if Boris Diaw gave a damn? Unlike the bovine Segway Surfer, Josh brings maximum effort every game and is beloved by both teammates and fans alike for his abilities as a floor-spacer and distributor. One of the most unique players in the league, McRoberts functions often as the team’s spot-up shooting point guard in the half court, rarely creating for himself. Outside of Kevin Love, there probably isn’t a better fit for Charlotte’s offense with Kemba Walker still progressing as a traditional point and Al Jefferson desperate for floor spacing.

Retaining McRoberts, who will likely opt out of his two-year deal he signed last summer, is of tremendous importance. With an expected cap increase coming for all teams, expect Josh to command around $5-$6 million per season on the open market.

STEP THREE: Backup Point Guard

Ramon Sessions had his flaws: He was guilty of tunnel vision, he wasn’t a reliable three point shooter and he was a less than stellar perimeter defender. But he was light years less destructive for Charlotte than his trade deadline replacement, Luke Ridnour.

While Luke’s abilities as a traditional floor leader came in handy, he proved to a be a fantastically bad shooter (39%FG, 30%3PTFG) who couldn’t draw fouls and was a gi-normous liability on defense. Fans complained when Ramon’s second unit minutes became a constant barrage of head down drives. But at least “Sesh” turned those drives into trips to the line, easy layups or – at worst – short rebounds. Luke’s second units often devolved into hot potato on the perimeter until the shot clock forced a bad three or a Luke giveaway.

Fortunately, both Ridnour’s and Sessions’ deals expire this summer and Ramon has let it be known that he’d like to be back. That would be a-ok with me and it’s likely that some of his former detractors would welcome Sessions back with open arms after having been subjected to Ridnour for a few months.

Charlotte could also hit the trade or free agent markets looking for a fit. If Jameer Nelson gets bought out by Orlando (likely), Clifford would surely love to have him backing up and mentoring his height-challenged PG of the future. Philly’s Tony Wroten has his warts but offers an intriguing combination of size and potential – he likely doesn’t fit into the Sixers’ future plans with Michael Carter-Williams on the roster so could be made available for the right price.

Unrestricted free agent options includes guys like Greivis Vaquez, Rodney Stuckey and Mario Chalmers. Chalmers in particular would be an interesting signing as a spot up shooting, high-end backup whose acquisition would simultaneously weaken a division opponent.

STEP FOUR: Give Big Al a Break

The Bobcats have $6 million committed to the Bismack Biyombo and Brendan Haywood combo next season and neither is an ideal backup for Big Al. Biz is a complete non-factor on offense as well as a turnover machine and Haywood can’t even get on the court, having missed the entire ’13-’14 season with a foot injury.

In an ideal world, the Hornets could find a rebuilding team to take on Biz’s upcoming $3.8 million salary in a straight dump and use the space created either via free agency or trade to bring in a veteran two-way replacement.

One outside-the-box free agent pick is PHX’s Channing Frye – a legit “stretch five” 6’11” guy who can nail threes (37% 3PTFG on 5.3 attempts per game). Bringing Frye in with the second unit could open up the paint for more drive opportunities for guys like Gary Neal and allow MKG an opportunity to work in the post.

Regardless of who they end up with, Charlotte will need to figure out how to get Big Al some rest – he played 35 minutes a night for Clifford this season and is nursing a ruptured plantar fasciitis. Given his age (29) and body type, Jefferson would be better off decreasing his minutes down closer to the 30 per game mark. For that to happen, Cho will need to find a capable backup.

STEP FIVE: Young Guys Doin’ Work

The Hornets can’t solely depend on outside help if they want to get better, their recent Draft picks have to grow as well.

Kemba Walker should spend the entire offseason working on his shot. As much as we love Kemba, 39% from the field just isn’t going to cut it. There were many nights this season where Walker’s 6-18 or 4-16 shooting actively hurt the team.

Conversely, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist might want to shy away from rebuilding a fundamentally broken shot and spend more time on developing a post-up game and maybe even add a floater or hook to his repertoire. Those skills could pay instant dividends, especially if the front office can add shooting around him.

Cody Zeller has voiced his concern about adding bulk, saying that it might hamper his speed and leaping ability. Fortunately, it’s 2014 and there are ways to add core, functional strength without bulking up too much. Cody needs to divide his time between strength training and the mid-range jumper all summer.

Jeff Taylor is a complete unknown at this point. He’s nearing 25 years of age and rehabbing a torn achilles. His shot was ok in theory pre-injury but produced horrific results in practice. He seems like a great young guy and we’re hoping for a full recovery for JT down the road but expectations should be kept at a minimum.

STEP SIX: Keep On Keepin’ On

Coach Clifford somehow turned Charlotte into a Top 10 defense in his first season and has said on multiple occasions that he’s just getting started implementing his advanced scheme. Since you can’t add systematic nuance with a complete roster overhaul, expect much of the Hornets core roster to remain the same. Upgrading the shooting guard position, retaining McRoberts, finding suitable backups for Big Al & Kemba and continuing the youngsters’ development internally will only vault the Hornets higher into the Eastern Conference.

Speaking of which, some have questioned if Charlotte has enough core talent on hand to compete for anything beyond a Playoff seed and those people are sort of missing the point. In the modern history of the NBA, no franchise has ever gone from perpetual doormat to champ and perpetual doormat is exactly what the Bobcats were for nearly all of their ten year history.

Michael Jordan, Cho and Clifford are building a culture of competent, competitive basketball. It may lead to legitimate title contention and it may not but for the first time in forever, Charlotte’s hoops franchise is worth the blood, sweat and tears of a fan’s investment. They will play hard, they will play smart and, for the first time in ages, they will make you proud to let the world know where your allegiance lies.

Go Hornets.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

 

Ben Gordon: Trade Scenarios and Expectations

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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

Are the Bobcats a Playoff Team?

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Bobcats Illustration by Mike S.

Last season we saw an aging and aching Boston squad hobble into the post-season as a 41-win seventh seed while the oddball mix of young talent in Milwaukee did just enough things right to default into the eight spot. With both of these franchises taking a clear step back this summer, which 2013 Lotto teams will rise up to take their place in the Eastern Conference Playoffs?

SEEDS 1-4 | The Locks – Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Nets

Miami are the champs and didn’t get appreciably worse. Indy pushed the Heat to seven games and that was before massively upgrading their bench. Chicago gets their former MVP back. Brooklyn added two Hall of Famers to a roster that already looked like the Casual Fan All-Star team. Chisel these four into your 2014 Eastern Conference bracket.

SEEDS 5-6 | One Catastrophe Away – Knicks, Hawks

If Carmelo Anthony or Tyson Chandler miss any major amount of time, the Knicks are toast. Same goes for Atlanta if either Al Horford or Jeff Teague go down. Barring disaster however, both of these rosters are strong enough to secure a playoff spot in the East.

SEEDS 7-8 | The Best of the Rest – Pistons, Wiz

The last two Eastern Conference Playoff Spots are theirs to lose: Detroit just dropped all that Corey Maggette cap money on Josh Smith, then upgraded Brandons (Knight to Jennings) – they seem hell-bent on forcing that Top 8 protected pick they owe Charlotte out of the Lottery. The Wizards were 24-25 when John Wall played last year and are banking on their max-man to finally stay healthy (though he’s never played more than 69 games in a season).

THE ALTERNATES | If Everything Goes Right – Cavs, Raptors, Bobcats

I’m assuming the Celtics are all in on The Wiggins Lottery and that Milwaukee’s ever increasing oddball roster won’t have enough offensive firepower to stay in close games (although the young defenders along the frontline are very intriguing). That leaves us with…

Toronto. Rudy Gay and Demar Derozan are talented, high-usage scorers but will need to establish a pecking order and get others involved. Summer League MVP Jonas Valanciunas could be a beast in the middle and last year’s Lotto Pick Terrence Ross could morph into Klay Thompson East. The Raps notched 34 victories last season despite having to incorporate Gay on the fly. They’re the most likely candidate to jump into the eight seed should one of the above franchises stumble.

Cleveland wants to put the post-Lebron Lottery days behind them but the Cavs only won three more games than the Bobcats last season – astounding when you factor in Charlotte’s paper-thin front court and coaching problems – and the jump from 24 to 40 wins is rarely made without adding a superstar. If the ramshackle center duo of Anderson Varajao and Andrew Bynum can’t synchronize their annual injured reserve stints, Cleveland will struggle to reach the post-season

Finally, we have our beloved Proto-Hornets in Charlotte. Coming off a tremendous offseason that saw the team massively upgrade their coaching staff and front-court, Kemba & The Gang will likely surprise many by actually competing on a nightly basis. The addition of Al Jefferson will aid in Walker’s transition from dynamic scorer to dynamic point guard. Jefferson and Cody Zeller’s inside/out abilities will free up driving lanes for the still 19-year old Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Both the coaches and reserves on the Bobcat bench are the strongest in franchise history. These are all signs for optimism should everything come together.

Unfortunately, the interior defense is a major question mark and the Cats’ two strongest defenders (MKG, Bismack Biyombo) are liabilities on the other side of the ball. Also, the bulk of the team’s core is still incredibly young and inexperienced.

Given the talent parity in the East’s muddy middle, it’s unlikely Charlotte will make the post-season jump this season – but that’s probably not the team’s plan anyway. A successful 30-34 win campaign combined with at least two (potentially three) 2014 first round picks, $10-$12 million in cap space and another year of growth under a legit coaching staff should be more than enough fuel to launch the ’14-’15 Charlotte Hornets into the Playoffs and keep them there for a while. UNLESS…

A ‘James Harden Scenario’ Appears

If Charlotte shocks everyone by playing .500 or so ball by the All-Star break and a disgruntled All-Star becomes available (Lamarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, ???), the Cats have enough in the war chest to out-bid anyone. Large expiring contract? Check. Enticing 2014 First Round Picks? Check. Young prospects on cheap rookie deals with some upside? Check. In this kind of James Harden scenario, Charlotte could certainly separate themselves from the middle of the pack ahead of schedule and find themselves playing meaningful games next April.

-ASChin
@BobcatsBaseline

 


POLL : Will The Bobcats Make The Playoffs?

  • Yes, Easily (14%, 37 Votes)
  • Just Barely Get In (29%, 78 Votes)
  • Close, But No Cigar (29%, 79 Votes)
  • No Way (16%, 42 Votes)
  • Hope Not (12%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 268

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Bobcats State of the Roster: Summer 2013 Edition

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It’s been a while since we’ve done a proper “State of the Roster”. Granted, this is due mainly to the fact that the “state” has been (purposefully) terrible since the Gerald Wallace trade two and half years ago. But here we are in the sunny summer of 2013 and the Charlotte Professional Basketball Team is finally back on the road to relevance. Let’s break down the most incredible offseason in “Bobcat” team history and ponder what the team’s next moves will be:

May 21st: The Bugs Are Back

Michael Jordan didn’t waste any time cranking up the hype machine. The team officially announced its intent to rebrand as the Charlotte Hornets. It was a slam dunk, no-brainer of a move. Needless to say, the fanbase has been reinvigorated. Opening night, 2014 is going to be INSANE.

May 27th: The Best Coaching Staff in Charlotte Hoops History

A week later, Charlotte introduced new head coach Steve Clifford. A former Lakers, Magic and Rockets assistant and a product of the Van Gundy coaching tree, Clifford is respected and highly regarded by people who matter. Head over to Bobcats.com and check out any video that features Clifford – you’ll be amazed at how impressive this guy is. Three weeks later, the team announced Patrick Ewing as associate head coach and added former Cavs sharpshooter Mark Price and former Hawks HC Bob Weiss to the staff. An embarrassment of riches.

Cody Zeller illustration by Mike S.June 27th: The Big Handsome

On Draft night, GM Rich Cho shocked everyone by selecting Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller. An uber-athletic seven footer, Zeller possesses the skill level and work ethic to become a legitimate NBA stretch four-high post machine ala Chris Bosh or Lamarcus Aldridge. Zeller showcased this ability in July’s Summer League by averaging a near double-double (16ppg/9rpg thru July 20th).

June 29th: Mullens Mulligan, The Return of Henderson?

Two days after the Draft, Charlotte extended Gerald Henderson his qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent. The artist formerly known as BJ was set adrift, finally washing up on the SoCal shore a month later.

Al Jefferson illustration by Mike S.

July 4th: The Biggest Free Agent Signing in CLT Hoops History

In an unprecedented move, Charlotte agreed to terms with Big Al Jefferson on a three year, $41 million deal, amnestying headcase Tyrus Thomas in the process. The move was a signal to the rest of the league that the team was finished with the D-league Tank Squad and ready to compete.

July 5th: Bring Back McBob

Last year’s feel good player of the year, Josh McRoberts will be back as he and the team agree to a two year, $5.5 million deal. The hashtag’s job is now complete: #BringBackMcBob = #McBobIsBack!

What Happens Next

Henderson, the Bearded Swede and The Humbler

The last big item on the team’s offseason to-do list is Gerald Henderson’s contract situation. He’s been extended the qualifying offer, so will be back in some capacity unless another team offers up a pricey deal Charlotte is unwilling to match (not likely). Reports are vague as to the specifics of the impasse but I’m guessing the Cats are offering somewhere between $4.5-5.5 million per while Henderson’s reps are looking at something closer to the $8-9 million per deals that Demar Derozan and OJ Mayo have signed. Note to Gerald: You aren’t getting that kind of money from Charlotte. Mainly because Rich Cho is top-tier cap strategist and negotiator but also because of….
Jeffery Taylor. The guy has has been blowing up the Summer League and it’s a near certainty the team views him as potential Henderson replacement long-term. Already 24, Taylor isn’t much younger than Gerald but he’s on a minimum contract for the next two seasons and has shown the ability to be a big-time “Three & D” player going forward. With Jefferson and Zeller in the mix, Charlotte isn’t going to be as desperate for Henderson’s “Kobe-lite” type of offense; a spot up shooter like Taylor makes much more sense as a part of the projected starting five. Also, Henderson has built his halfcourt game on isos, post-ups and baseline twos – those types of shots will eventually go to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as he matures.
This isn’t to say that Henderson won’t return. Ideally, he’d come back on a reasonable two year contract, allowing the team to audition both he and Taylor in the SG role until both hit their contract summers in July ’15. A two year, $10 million deal would also be very tradable should a team make an offer for Gerald over the next couple of deadlines.
Gordon the Expiring. Ben is entering a contract year and will definitely be auditioning for his next team. At $13.2 million, he’s a tough number to fit into a trade but not impossible. A contender faced with bench scoring issues and armed with a couple of expiring contracts of their own would be the ideal candidate. If Cho has a shot at squeezing yet another asset out of that Stephen Jackson > Corey Maggette > Ben Gordon salary slot, I’m sure he will.

2014 Draft Fetishists Rejoice!

After the Josh Smith signing (and rumors of a Brandon Jennings sign & trade in the works), the Pistons seem hell-bent on making the postseason in 2014 – meaning that Charlotte will very likely possess that Top 8 protected pick Detroit owes them. I have the Pistons as a probable 7th seed, placing the selection at around fifteenth overall. Mitch McGary, come on down!
The first rounder Portland owes is a little more dicey. The pick is Top 12 protected and the Blazers have actively improved their roster over the summer but the Western Conference is brutal. Portland will have to battle the T-Wolves, Pelicans and Lakers for that final spot and if a key injury takes them out of the race early, look for Rip City to morph in to Tank City.
As much as I love Charlotte’s offseason, I still can’t see them making the Playoffs in 2014. MKG, Taylor, Zeller and Biyombo will need at least another year under their belts before they’re ready for prime-time all the time. Expect the team to win just enough games (30-32) to keep that Top 10 protected 1st Rounder they owe away from the Bulls.

State of the Roster: July 2013

After a fast and furious offseason, the team’s roster has taken shape…

Point Guard: Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions.

Call them the Ty Lawson/Andre Miller of the East: Both guys notched big-time PERs last season and offer different looks at the position. Clifford wants a third point guard on the roster, so expect the team to bring in a veteran deep bench guy like Jannero Pargo or Keyon Dooling. Seth Curry will likely be given a camp invite as soon as he’s back to full health.

Shooting Guard: Jeffery Taylor, Ben Gordon.

Obviously, Henderson will start here if/when he’s re-signed. Taylor has shown flashes but he’s still at least a half-season away from shouldering a starting gig. Gordon is a nice weapon when used in limited minutes.

Small Forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeffery Taylor.

MKG played around 25 minutes a game last season but should see a bump this year. If Henderson doesn’t return, it’s likely the team will sign a veteran wing with some range and move Taylor to SG full-time. Also, look for MKG to take a big leap offensively playing alongside Jefferson and Zeller. Putbacks and back door cuts should be the order of the day every day.

Power Forward: Cody Zeller, Josh McRoberts.

Depending on Cody’s development, McBob may get the early starts at the four. Still, this is a big upgrade over the Tyrus Thomas/Byron Mullens combo that started last season. Call it both an addition and an addition by subtraction.

Center: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood.

If the Cats can stay around .500 by January, expect Jefferson to get major All-Star consideration. He’ll be the unquestioned focal point of the team’s offense and should swallow up a ton of boards. Biyombo will have two more seasons to develop before his rookie deal is up, pairing Biz with Zeller or Jefferson gives the still 20-year old a much better chance to succeed as he’ll only be asked to play to his defensive strengths. Haywood’s light contract (2yrs, $4m) combined with his experience should make him prime trade bait for a contender in need of a two-way backup center. If Brendan is moved, look for Summer League invite Henry Sims to compete for the sixth big man spot.

In Conclusion

Forget the moaning and whining about Jefferson’s contract or where Zeller was selected and think of it this way:
The Bobcats replaced the historically bad frontcourt of Gana Diop, Tyrus Thomas and Byron Mullens with Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller and Josh McRoberts. Larry O’Brien contenders? Of course not, but they’re also a big step up from the league-wide punchline they’ve been over the last two and a half seasons. Combine that with another year of development from Kemba, MKG, Taylor and Biz, up to three 2014 first round picks, around $12 million in cap space next summer and a Buzzworthy name change and it’s safe to say that Charlotte’s NBA team is finally on the road to respectability.

-ASChin

 

This Is Big

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Al Jefferson illustration by Mike S

Charlotte’s signing of “Big” Al Jefferson is monumental in so many ways

A few semi-coherent ramblings on today’s big news from halfway across the globe:

The Biggest Name Free Agent Signing in Charlotte Hoops History.

Derrick Coleman, Bobby Phills, Johnny Newman, Kenny Anderson, David Wesley and Ramon Sessions. Together these players make up the biggest “name” unrestricted free agents the Hornets and Bobcats have ever lured to the QC. Until today. Al Jefferson is one of the league’s best offensive centers and was a highly coveted free agent coming into the offseason. And Charlotte signed him. It actually happened. You can complain about Jefferson’s defense or his “fit” with the team but at the end of the day, a perpetually moribund, off-the-map franchise closed on a guy who had interest from Dallas and the Lakers. This is huge because:

  • Removes the glass “Free Agents Won’t Sign with Charlotte” ceiling. There’s a new precedent now. Live with it. Charlotte can lure big name free agents. I can’t believe I’m typing this.
  • Dispels the “Michael Jordan is too cheap to sign good players” myth. Bye-bye. Move on to something else please.
  • Signals the end to purposeful losing AKA tanking. Blowing it up for one year can be rationalized. Stinking in perpetuity? Nope. It is a disgrace to the league, the fans, the city and to the game itself. And the Horncats are done with it. Hallelujah. Also, every other team in the league is tanking this year so it wouldn’t have worked anyway.
  • Arrives in conjunction with the Tyrus Thomas amnesty. Thomas was the final remnant of the Larry Brown/Rod Higgins era of short term gain for long term pain. The draft pick owed to the Bulls for T-Time still looms but hopefully Charlotte will be good enough to place that pick in the mid-late teens sooner than later.
  • Allows the teams’ young prospects to play with a bona fide scoring threat. When was the last time Kemba Walker or Gerald Henderson weren’t the focal points of an opposing team’s defense? Between Jefferson and Cody Zeller, the Bobnets will have the most scoring punch in the frontcourt since Jamal Mashburn and Elden Campbell anchored the low block in the late ’90s. I can’t wait to see this team play together and what it will do for Kemba, Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist offensively.

I’ll update this post tomorrow once I sleep the delirium away. Until then, enjoy the holiday Bobcats/Hornets fans. Your team is relevant again.

-ASChin

Charlotte Picks Cody Zeller Fourth in Wild NBA Draft

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Cody Zeller illustration by Mike S.

Bobcats GM Rich Cho Selects Cody Zeller

Turns out the rumors were spot on. Cody Zeller wasn’t at the top of any mock draft (at least not this year) but Rich Cho & Co worked him out, ran the numbers and made the call. And I like it.

MJ & Cho

The pick shows that MJ has given Cho carte blanche to run the team. Whether Zeller works out or not, this is massive step forward for MJ as an owner: Hire smart people, let them do their job. If not, hire even smarter people and allow them to do better ones. MJ is the greatest basketball player of all time, now it’s time to create opportunities for others to excel at their careers be it Rich Cho or the team’s next GM.

Zeller’s Skills

You may not have heard for all the uniform (or uninformed?) boos but Cody Zeller is a tremendously skilled 7-footer who is ready to step in and contribute right away. A pick ‘n pop weapon, Cody can shoot the mid-range or roll to the rim off the bounce. He’s the fastest, quickest big in the Draft and will be fantastic in the Kemba-led transition game. UPDATE: Cho, Higgins and Clifford said as much in their post-draft pressers; while Kemba Walker was apparently a big fan of the pick.

Belief in Biz

The Zeller pick also shows a ton of faith in 2011 first rounder Bismack Biyombo. The Bobcats have given up on prospects all too often throughout their history. Biz won’t turn 21 until August and exhibited a much wider array of skills in his sophomore campaign. Pairing him with a skilled big like Zeller will take a ton of pressure off Biyombo to dominate offensively. New head coach Steve Clifford and associate HC Patrick Ewing will have a lot of young talent to mold over the next couple of seasons.

Where He Ranks

Remember also that Cody Zeller would have gone Top 3 in last year’s vaunted Draft class had he declared. Zeller’s game was picked apart much like Harrison Barnes during his sophomore season. They say familiarity breeds contempt and that has been true in the Draft for a while. Nerlens Noel only managed half a season with Kentucky; fans and scouts salivated over what their imagination projected him to be next year, not who he is or will be.

McRoberts/Henderson Returning

I’d imagine the Zeller selection only helps the team’s decision to bring back another Indiana-born and raised big man: Josh McRoberts. McBob played great for the Cats after coming over from Orlando at the trade deadline and should come somewhat reasonably priced. Josh does a lot of the same things Zeller can and will aid in Cody’s transition to starter.

Additionally, the pick can only mean good things for Gerald Henderson fans. By passing on Kansas guard Ben McLemore, Charlotte has to fill the SG spot by either re-signing Hendo or bringing in someone else via free agency. Bank on Gerald coming back. UPDATE: The team announced earlier today that Henderson would be extended his qualifying offer, while Byron Mullens would not. This opens the door for both Henderson and McRoberts to return next season. We’ll know for certain once the free agency period begins in couple of weeks.

Humphries Trade Rumor

UPDATE: SI.com’s Chris Mannix tweeted after the Boston/Brooklyn mega-swap that PF Kris Humphries could be re-routed to Charlotte. A proposed Ben Gordon for Humphries trade was rumored during February’s deadline. There are a few over-priced veterans entering expiring years floating around the league so a Hump/Gordon swap could be expanded into a three team deal to include others (Danny Granger for example). Keep a look out for this one. A hard-nosed, down and dirty rebounder, Humphries could be the perfect complement to both Zeller/McRoberts when Biyombo is out of the game.

-ASChin
twitter: @bobcatsbaseline


Here’s What Baseline Readers Thought Before the Draft:

POLL : What to Do with the 4th Draft Pick?

  • Alex Len (29%, 33 Votes)
  • Anthony Bennett (37%, 42 Votes)
  • Cody Zeller (11%, 13 Votes)
  • Trey Burke (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Trade the Pick (22%, 26 Votes)

Total Voters: 115

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