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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s What Baseline Readers Thought Before the Draft:
There are way too many questions about the crop of players in this year’s NBA Draft. All of these lottery guys are so young, and rather unspectacular, that it’s a mystery who the Cleveland Cavaliers will take with the First Pick. Every single team will try to maximize what they can get out of their respective selections, but the experts claim that there are no future All-Stars available this year. Some clubs are actively looking to make trades, while others are praying that they’ll find the next savior of their franchise. Bobcats fans certainly know what it’s like to watch their team go digging for treasure in June. Now, once again, MJ and his pals are trying to uncover a prospect that’ll finally resurrect the passion of Charlotte’s basketball fans and remind them of that winning feeling.
So, who are the Charlotte Bobcats going to select? Really, how does any club make a determination between the value of Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett, or Victor Oladipo this year? None of the top prospects really seem to separate themselves from the pack. So, let’s cut through all of the smokescreens used by the lamestream sports media and get down to the real gem in the 2013 NBA Draft. You won’t hear the bros on ESPN, or sports-barking radio talk about this guy, but you better brace yourself because this is The Lucas Nogueira Draft!
There’s only one sure thing coming out of the 2013 NBA Draft – and that’s Nogueira! Most Americans don’t yet know of him, but the Brazilian baller has been exploding in the Spanish league and measures in at 7′ with a 7’6″ wingspan. Actually, we’ll all become familiar with him for his domination of the game of basketball and his marketable, soon to be a household nickname, Bebe.
Let’s be honest, there will be a ton of teams over-thinking this year’s Draft and passing on Bebe. But, I guarantee that they’ll regret it. Just as we all knew Bismack Biyombo (#biznation) would be the most amazing player of the 2011 Draft, this year we’ll all get an introduction to the phenomenon that is Lucas Nogueira.
Although it’s not yet known if Bebe can dribble a basketball, his highlights certainly showcase his invaluable abilities – throwing it down and blocking shots. I know some folks say that’s what Nerlens Noel does, but let’s face the facts – Bebe weighs at least 10 more pounds and has two healthy ACLs. But, it’s ridiculous to even put Nerlens and Lucas in the same conversation. Noel might find a jersey on a pro team somewhere, but Thursday’s big ceremony has only one real purpose – the first chapter of Bebe’s Hall of Fame career.
Just like Tim Duncan caught Lebron James after the Finals in 2007 and told him that the league would one day be his to rule, James must pass the torch to Nogueira. Surely, in just a few years, Lebron will no longer be able to deny that he has become obsolete after witnessing Bebe seize back-to-back Championships over the battered bodies of his super-friends. Resistance to Lucas is futile.
If Charlotte’s GM Rich Cho is bright enough to claim Bebe on Thursday, we’ll see the makings of the NBA’s next super team. It’s going to be impossible for Kevin Durant to pass up the chance to join Bebe and Biz down in “Buzz City”. Certainly, this is the kind of guy that Cho stays up all night insisting they’ll discover if they just work hard enough. Over time, the selection of Nogueira will make everyone forget about all of the mistakes of Charlotte’s past drafts.
To all the GMs out their reading Bobcats Baseline (yep, all of them) – Pass on Bebe at your own risk. He’ll carry that grudge onto the court throughout the next decade of domination and throw it your face during his Hall of Fame speech. You’ve been warned.
Baseliners A.S. Chin and Ben Weinrib debate the merits of Kid n’ Play cosplayer/Kentucky freshmen center, Nerlens Noel.
The Nerlens Noel Pre-Draft Debate
ASCHIN: Noel has been 2013’s projected top overall pick from the moment the 2012 Draft was over. Between the length, athleticism and instincts around the basket at both ends, it’s easy to understand why. But here we are, just days before the Draft and there’s talk that the 19-year old Kentucky center may drop out of the top spot. How is this possible? Has the hate gone too far or have the scouts and doctors just had enough time to properly evaluate Noel as a prospect?
BEN: Could there be a better scenario for the Bobcats than drafting Noel? He’s the guy everyone would have expected Charlotte to take had they won the lottery because of his enormous upside and interior presence. Not all great teams have a rim protector, but almost every team with a great rim protector is very good (Indiana, Chicago, San Antonio, Memphis, and even LA). Furthermore, it’s puts Charlotte in prime Wiggins/Parker/Randle position for next summer. What’s not to love with this pick? The dude was a beast at UK and even blew out his knee chasing down and blocking a guard on a fast break.
ASCHIN: I take it that you haven’t listened to the Bill Simmons Father’s Day podcast with Ryen Russillo. Turns out Noel has some world class “bad dudes” running his show from behind the scenes that make Lebron’s entourage look like a MENSA summit by comparison. Nerlens apparently blew off a dozen of the league’s top agents for months before signing with Andy Miller last Friday. Combine that with Noel’s slight frame (tough to add bulk to narrow shoulders), ACL injury, growth plate surgery, raw-as-Biyombo offensive game and you have potentially the WORST Bobcats 2013 Draft candidate. Frankly, Charlotte can’t afford to draft back-to-back-to-back defense-only projects and even if they could, would you really want to invest a Top 5 pick around “the next Theo Ratliff“?
BEN: I actually don’t see the weight issue as such a big deal. Dr. James Andrews recommended Noel drop weight to expedite the recovery, and Noel said he was 228 pounds before the injury. That means he put on 13 pounds in a half year at Kentucky, so he’s shown he can put on weight. But the Bobcats just need to add talent at this point, and he’s the most talented guy on the board. Sure, he may miss two months, but that’s a small sacrifice to make in an otherwise non-competitive season to land the most talented player down the board. He may be Theo Ratliff at the very worst but who is Alex Len if he doesn’t develop an offensive game? Timofey Mozgov? Noel offers the best interior defense in the draft – something the Bobcats desperately need – and he would give them a high-upside 7-footer, something the team has never had. As for the offense, Memphis seems to be doing just fine with about two offensive options, and one of those is Mike Conley. Mike Conley!
ASCHIN: 228lbs?! That’s losing 15% of his body weight in three months – if this were Sean May we were talking about maybe I’d buy it, but a beanpole like Noel? Sounds fishy. Regardless of his physical or mental makeup, I think all this Nerlens talk is doing a severe disservice to the team’s incumbent young rim protector, Bismack Biyombo. Am I crazy for expecting big things from the STILL ONLY 20 YEAR OLD former Lottery pick? Biz really improved his fundamentals this year even if it didn’t show up in the stat sheet and he’s becoming a better on-ball defender game by the game. Also: Biyombo weighs in at a chiseled 245 and still sometimes struggles with uber-bigs like Roy Hibbert (listed at 280). I can only imagine what Hibbert would do to a sub-225 pound bamboo shoot like Noel. #biznation
Bismack Biyombo | #biznation
BEN: I’m a huge Biyombo apologist! Serge Ibaka didn’t break out until age 21 or 22, so I’m not totally concerned he’s having trouble catching the basketball just yet. But imagine how tough it would be to score down low with Biyombo and Noel awaiting. Charlotte could finally stop guards who thrive off penetrating, which has been one of the teams biggest issues. Imagine the two growing together under the tutelage of Steve Clifford–who has a great reputation of developing big men–and Patrick Ewing. Even newly hired Mark Price may help their embryonic offensive games. The only concerns I’m hearing are that Noel won’t play for part of this season (oh no, they won’t win a championship next year!) and his defense is way ahead of his offense. Given that he’s a year younger than Alex Len, don’t you think Noel will be better than where Len is right now in a year? Len has put up back-to-back pedestrian season, including nearly identical offensive numbers to Noel, despite getting much more praise. Len’s line was 12-8-1-2-0 on 53.4% shooting versus 11-10-2-4-2 on 59.0% shooting for Noel. Age matters, too.
ASCHIN: Well, I’m only a little younger than Tim Duncan so by that rationale, I should be drop-stepping Chris Bosh sometime before I hit 40. At some point you realize guys either have elite offensive instincts or they don’t and Noel clearly doesn’t. As well as Serge Ibaka has developed, he’s still very limited offensively. When’s the last time you saw Serge put it on the floor for a straight line drive? High posts? He sticks with his bread & butter 15-20 foot jumpers and finishes around the rim – both firmly in his wheelhouse. I think both Biz and Noel have that type of potential going forward but it would be damn near impossible to play them together without some world-class offensive phenoms surrounding them (see Ibaka & Perk in OKC). I’m not the biggest Cody Zeller fan in the world but I at least understand the philosophy behind considering him as the pick. You’d love to pair Bismack or Noel with a highly skilled floor spacer – especially with a short-range player like MKG at the other forward spot. So it’s gotta be either Biz OR Noel. And I’ll take Biyombo’s work ethic, attitude and physical size over Nerlens any day. #biznation
Also, Noel wouldn’t be able to suit up for the team until at least the All-Star break. I know that you are firmly in the pro-Tank ’13 camp but don’t you think it’s a tad bit disrespectful to ask thousands of fans to spend their hard-earned money on a team BUILT TO LOSE for a THIRD CONSECUTIVE YEAR?
BEN: I don’t believe for a second you’d rather take Zeller over Noel because he’s a “better fit”. I’d rather find fits for elite talent than fit together lesser talent. Just look at when Minnesota drafted Wes Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins because they needed a wing player. As for the last question, I think you can lower ticket prices as a good will offer if you’re really worried about fans, since winning will ultimately draw in the most money. That’s why I’d rather take the best talent (that also allows the team to capitalize on its likely three draft selections next year). Sure, Andrew Wiggins is far from assured, but from the looks of it, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, and Marcus Smart will be very good, too. A top-five choice if you draft Noel? That’s almost assured. Nearly every NBA superstar was taken near the top of the lottery, so why not go all-in on the best talent in this draft and the most hyped draft in 11 years?
ASCHIN: You lost me at “elite talent”. Chad Ford has Noel grouped with a half dozen other prospects in his 3rd Tier – that usually means starter not superstar. I just think Biz and Noel are the same player with similar upside. Nerlens has the edge in finishing instincts around the bucket while Biyombo has the will and physical size that will allow him to defend the league’s elite centers. As for the ’14 Draft, Marcus Smart was projected to be selected behind Noel all season long before he decided to return to OSU. And don’t forget, this time last year Shabazz Muhammed was everyone’s favorite savior. Remember all those “2012: The Greatest Draft Ever” articles? Didn’t exactly turn out that way.
When you combine the Lottery’s odds with perpetual Draft class uncertainty and the Bobcats’ less than stellar Draft record (Cho has been better but far from perfect), you are basically playing the PowerBall with your fans’ time and money. It’s irresponsible and short-sighted. Case in point: during the Hornets’ heyday, NOT ONCE did the team’s fans have championship aspirations. Not once. All the sell-outs, all of the love from the Muggsy to Divac to Mashburn and B-Diddy eras was earned from simply being competitive and hard-working. That’s really all the city ever asked from ’88-’98 – before the lockout and all the Shinn nonsense. Charlotte isn’t Vegas, it isn’t a win-or-gome home town. It only wants you to compete, play hard and not embarrass anyone. That’s pretty much the opposite of tanking.
BEN: Looks like we just differ in philosophies, and that’s okay. However, judging by Cho’s history and reported philosophy, I’m guessing he’s firmly in the Noel camp. Sure, he’s warted, but everyone else in the draft is warted, too. The one point I keep coming back to is that the potential three draft picks next year are among Charlotte’s biggest assets. You make a good point about overrating drafts, but no prep player recently has received the hype of Wiggins or even Parker. They can’t afford to squander having multiple high draft picks in such a highly-touted class, an opportunity that won’t come around for years. Since they already owe Chicago a first-rounder, they have no choice but to go all-in on the 2014 draft. And Nerlens Noel represents the chance to land the best talent in both drafts combined.
With the NBA draft just around the corner, this becomes the most important part of the year for the Bobcats. They have yet another top-five selection—the fifth in their ten-year history—and some key free agent decisions. Most notably former lottery pick Gerald Henderson.
It’s impossible to deny that Henderson has been one of the most successful Bobcats draft picks to date. Which is to say, he’s not a total, unparalleled failure.
Henderson came into the league as an elite athlete known for his defensive acumen. That much hasn’t changed in his four years in the Association, but since he’s been given solid playing time (a.k.a. when Larry Brown left), he’s scored at a very respectable clip, too. He hasn’t put up quite the scoring numbers Kemba Walker has (13.6 PPG vs. 15.2 PPG), but he closes that margin on a per-36 minute basis (16.0 vs. 17.4). Hendo’s been particularly good in catch-and-shoot plays coming off screens—he was sixth in mid-range shooting among shooting guards last year at 43.4%.
But even though he’ll never be a 20 PPG scorer, and his numbers are surely inflated since Kemba Walker is the only other semi-reliable scorer on the team, he’s shown steady improvement each year in the league. From his freshman to his junior year at Duke, he improved his shooting line from .451/.320/.627 to .450/.336/.761, and he showed an even bigger improvement in his first four years in the pros (.356/.211/.745 to .447/.330/.824).
For how little love Henderson gets, he puts up top-15 numbers among shooting guards across the board, making him an above-average starter. 10th in PER (16.48). 11th in scoring (15.5 PPG). 7th in field goal percentage (.447). 14th in free throw percentage (.824). 10th in offensive rebounding (0.8 ORPG). 12th in blocks (0.50 BPG). He doesn’t have a marquee name, and he isn’t (yet) an elite long-range shooter, but you sure could do worse at the 2-guard.
Now, Henderson is a restricted free agent, and the upcoming NBA draft features two young shooting guards who may be available for Charlotte: Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore. One who is very similar to Henderson and one who is completely different.
First let’s take a look at Oladipo, who has a shockingly similar profile to Henderson.
Both are undersized but long juniors from major programs (6’5” 215 with a 6’10.5” wingspan and 8’6.5” standing reach for Henderson and 6’4” 213 with a 6’9” wingspan and 8’4.5” standing reach for Oladipo). Even Chad Ford’s pre-draft notes on them are eerily similar:
Versatile 2-guard, does almost everything well
Plays the game very smoothly
He’s a great athlete, has NBA strength
Has a very consistent midrange jump shot
Is quick enough to take his man off the dribble
Strong enough to post up guys
Excellent rebounder for a guard
Good basketball IQ
Excellent perimeter defender
Needs to increase his range
Still not a consistent 3-point threat
A bit undersized for his position
Very inconsistent in his 2 years at Duke
Crazy athletic swingman
Tough, physical player
Best motor in college basketball
Improving jump shot
A bit undersized for his position
Can be turnover prone
That’s two different ways of describing the same player. Why draft someone who resembles Gerald Henderson when you could have the actual Gerald Henderson and another player?
There are obviously some differences between them that favor Oladipo (42” vs. 35” vertical and .441 vs. .336 junior year 3-point percentage, although their .338 and .329 3-point percentage throughout college makes it closer). But drafting the Hoosier just seems redundant when there are other players on the board.
The good news (?), though, is that Oladipo probably won’t be on the board when the Bobcats select fourth; Orlando reportedly has an eye on him with the second pick.
Ben McLemore, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. His game is based on shooting instead of defensive intensity, something the Bobcats have been searching for ever since they traded Jason Richardson.
McLemore’s redshirt freshman year was a mixed bag, since he shot 42% from beyond the arc and nearly joined the 50-40-90 club (.495/.420/.870) but also faded in the NCAA tournament and deferred to Elijah Johnson all year. He even had 11 20-point games, although he also had 12 games with 11 or less, including a 2-point performance in the Round of 32 against North Carolina.
McLemore has the raw tools to be an All-Star and a solid defender, but he hasn’t shown the killer instinct of a superstar. Say what you want about intangibles, but McLemore does have one skill the Bobcats desperately need: shooting.
In a vacuum, I like McLemore. But the cost of drafting McLemore isn’t just “missing out” on Anthony Bennett or Alex Len, it’s losing Gerald Henderson, too. Charlotte wouldn’t bring back Henderson after drafting McLemore because there simply aren’t enough minutes for the development of Walker, Ramon Sessions, McLemore, Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Jeff Taylor. McLemore will probably be a good player, but will he be better than whomever else the Bobcats would draft and Henderson? I’m guessing that’s a no.
Gerald Henderson will never be Kobe Bryant, but the Bobcats, according to the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell, understand his value. Three-and-D wings are becoming very important—look at Danny Green in these Finals—and Charlotte understands GH’s value more than any other team.
Interestingly enough, Kemba’s scoring (18.3 vs. 17.8), shooting (43% vs. 41%), three-point shooting (37% vs. 32%), assists (6.0 vs. 5.7), and rebounding (3.7 vs. 3.4) all tick up when Henderson is on the floor.
Henderson won’t cost as much as DeMar DeRozan’s leviathan 4-year $40 million deal—the Raptor was drafted three picks before Henderson in ‘09—he’ll be more in the $5-6 million range, a bit above his $4.3 million qualifying offer. The Bobcats have the right to match any offer another team gives, but it’s hard to imagine him getting an offer much higher than the mid-level exception. The market will likely dictate a four-year pact for about $22 million, although he’s probably worth even more than that.
If the choice comes down to a rookie shooting guard (McLemore) or Henderson and a rookie big man (Bennett, Len, or even Noel), I’m taking the latter every time.
And if that doesn’t convince you, Henderson has my favorite nickname in the NBA: The OG (The Other Gerald). That has to count for something, right?
Part Three: ’11 and Beyond: From The Ashes, a New CHOpe
Having been so thoroughly fleeced in every trade and flummoxed in every Draft, Jordan & Higgins were at least humble enough to admit that they were clueless.
Just weeks before the 2011 Draft, Trailblazers general manager Rich Cho was fired after less than a year on the job. Blazers owner Paul Allen wasn’t thrilled with Cho’s “communication style” and decided to lay down the axe immediately. Portland’s loss was Charlotte’s gain as Jordan quickly hired Cho to run the Bobcats in the same capacity, “promoting” Higgins to President of Basketball Operations – supposedly due to his steller work as GM. The Cho hiring signified a major shift for Jordan as an owner and he deserves a great deal of credit for it. While Allen fired Cho for not being a “yes man”, Jordan sought out the strong-minded GM for the exact opposite reasons.
Cho’s pedigree instantly re-ignited the hardcore fanbase: armed with an accomplished academic resume in both engineering and law, Cho began his NBA career as a member of the Sam Presti-led Seattle/OKC organization during the mid-’90s. Cho was (and still is) regarded as one of the brightest front office minds in the game – an expert negotiator with a progressive approach towards talent evaluation via proprietary information gathering and advanced statistical analysis. The man’s resume was impressive but the task ahead of him – rebuilding an asset starved franchise – was monumental.
The 2011 Draft: Bismack Biyombo C Congo, Kemba Walker PG UCONN.
Cho made an impressive pre-Draft move just weeks after being hired, somehow upgrading from the 19th overall pick (via Portland) to the 7th spot for the slim price of “downgrading” from Stephen Jackson to Corey Maggette. Armed with picks 7 and 9, Cho went the traditional route, nabbing a big man and a point guard to begin the re-building process.
How It Played Out: After two seasons it seems that Kemba Walker has All-Star potential. Whether he gets there or not depends on the front office surrounding him with some legitimate NBA talent. On any given posession Walker has been the team’s best offensive option; to pass to a teammate has been mostly a perfunctory exercise as no Bobcat outside of Gerald Henderson has managed any sort of sustainable scoring. We know that Walker can run the break, we know that he can get to his spot as well as anyone, we know that he’s a leader. Kemba has the heart to get to the next level but he’ll need help along the way. Regardless, he’s already become the Bobcats’ best draft pick since fellow UConn Huskie Emeka Okafor and for this franchise, that’s a bonafide win.
Then there’s poor Bismack Biyombo. Unlike his NCAA Champion “Thunder & Lightning” classmate, Biz entered the league as an extremely raw 19 year old project. He needed consistency, patience, veteran guidance and attention. What he got was a lockout shortened training camp, three coaching staffs in three years, an unearned role as starting NBA center and the youngest, worst roster in the NBA. Yet, through all of this, Biyombo has improved. Ironically, given Cho’s background in advanced stats, Bismack’s advancements are better evaluated with the naked eye than the spreadsheet. During Biz’s sophmore campaign we witnessed the following: at least three step-back jumpers (including a ridiculous call-off fadeaway on Thaddeus Young), dozens of baby hooks over both shoulders, vastly improved footwork, aggressive putbacks and transition buckets. Biyombo even learned how to go straight up for a dunk off the catch – did he even record a clean catch during his rookie season? Don’t get me wrong, Biz is still extremely limited offensively. The maddening habit of bringing the ball way down after an offensive board is still there. But between the elite defensive flashes, the intellect, the youth (Biyombo can’t legally order a drink until August) and the work ethic, we might be looking at an NBA All Defensive First Teamer in the next few years.
How It Should Have Played Out: As nice as Cho’s inaugural Draft was, he did miss out on a couple of gems. Passing on Kawhi Leonard once can be forgiven (thirteen other teams committed the same sin) but passing on him twice? Selecting Leonard with the Biyombo pick would’ve freed up Charlotte to take Andre Drummond the following season, giving them a nice Leonard/Drummond/Walker core going forward. Cho also passed on smooth shooting Klay Thompson, the crazy energy of Kenneth Faried and do-it-all center Nikola Vucevic. But ultimately, when measured against the team’s lurid Draft history, none of these gaffes even register. A solid first Draft for Rich Cho and a solid start to the rebuilding process.
The 2012 Draft: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist SF Kentucky, Jeffrey Taylor SG Vanderbilt.
How It Played Out: When you build from the ground up, you need everything. Cho’s second Draft was all about solidifying the foundation, regardless of current skill level or position. After losing the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, the Bobcats ended up with whom many believe to be the leader of the 2012 NCAA Champion Wildcat team, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. His rookie season played out much as everyone expected. The shooting wasn’t there yet – opposing defenses needed only to protect the paint when MKG and the rest of his brick-laying squad came to town – but the on-ball defense, rebounding and transition offense were at times stellar. Kidd-Gilchrist achieved these modest feats despite being the youngest player in the league (he won’t turn 20 until September) and while playing for the league’s least credible coach (yet another Higgins catastrophe – but that’s another topic for another column). It was MKG’s relentlessness and work ethic that made him the obvious pick for a franchise in need of a massive culture shift.
With the first pick in the second round, Cho nabbed another defense-first wing stopper in Vandy’s Taylor. Armed with tremendous physical size for his position and a solid stroke from long distance, Taylor provides an intriguing “three & D” combination at the two guard spot. He’ll need to improve his handle to thwart close-outs but the defensive intensity is there. This guy could be a legitimate Danny Green-type player in two years.
How It Should Have Played Out: Given his age, it’s still way too early to second guess the MKG pick. Harrison Barnes or Bradley Beal would have immediately provided the spacing and scoring the Cats desperately need. Andre Drummond has the imposing size and hops to be a Dwight/Amare hybrid if he can kick the injury bug. Damian Lillard’s ceiling may have already been reached but he’ll remain one of the league’s top point guards nonetheless.
Regardless of how it all plays out, the 2011 and 2012 Drafts represent a massive shift for the franchise. Cho’s Drafts demonstrate a measured strategy and philosophy. The Bobcats are now in the business of drafting hard-working, uber-athletes with great attitudes and sky-high upsides. Two years later, we still don’t know if the strategy works but, for the first time in franchise history, we at least know there is one.
Up Next: The 2013 Draft – The Final Draft in “Bobcats” History!
On May 31st, 2007 Bobcats expansion architect Bernie Bickerstaff stepped down as both coach and general manager, replaced by former Golden State executive and longtime “friend of Michael” Rod Higgins. Higgins would preside over the next four Charlotte drafts to mostly awful results though it must be noted that many of his personnel moves were likely at the behest of either an absentee Jordan or a certain kvetchy, neurotic head coach. As with Bickerstaff, Higgins’ tenure started out decent enough but nosedived fast.
The 2007 Draft: Brandon Wright PF UNC, Jared Dudley SF Boston College, Jermareo Davidson C Alabama.
Wright (8th overall selection) never played a minute in Charlotte as Higgins used his connections with the Warriors to engineer a Draft Day trade. In exchange, the Bobcats received their biggest “name” player to date, Jason Richardson. A hyper-athletic, sweet shooting two guard, “JRich” had missed a big chunk of games during the Warriors’ Playoff run the previous season and coupled with the sudden emergence of Monta Ellis, was deemed expendable by Golden State management.
With the 22nd overall selection (from TOR via CLE) the Cats picked up blue collar small forward Jared Dudley. Jermareo Davidson, a 2nd round pick selected one spot ahead of future Bobcat Josh McRoberts, was sent to Charlotte as part of the Richardson deal.
How It Played Out: At the time the JRich trade made all kinds of sense for Charlotte. First, having whiffed on Brandon Roy in the ’06 Draft, the Cats desperately needed a floor spacing, high scoring two guard to pair with Gerald Wallace. Second, they needed someone who was ready to do this immediately as both Emeka Okafor and Wallace were already in their mid-20s primes. Finally, the local fanbase hadn’t exactly come out full force for a no-name, no-win team and needed someone at least vaguely recognizable as an NBA player to get excited about.
As a two-time Slam Dunk champion and 20ppg scorer, Richardson was exactly what the doctor ordered. He started all 82 games for the Bobcats that season, averaging 21.8ppg on 44% shooting and a phenomenal 40% from downtown — phenomenal because he shot 599 threes on the year, making 243 of them (that’s more than Kemba Walker and Ben Gordon hit combined during the ’12-’13 season). Richardson rebounded at a high rate (5.4 per), made some spectacular dunks and played hard every night. So why aren’t we talking about JRich as one of the all-time great Charlotte ballers? The answer to that question is precisely what has plagued the Bobcats franchise from the beginning: coaching and management instability.
Earlier that summer, following the departure of Bickerstaff, Jordan began a search for what he called “the next Avery Johnson“, a former player, ideally a point guard, who could relate to and inspire young prospects to win big. His choice was Sam Vincent, yet another former teammate, whose biggest head coaching gig to date was with the Nigerian Women’s National Team. I swear I didn’t make that up. Vincent’s lone season with the Cats went much as you’d expect and less than a year later Jordan replaced Vincent with (very) old chum Larry Brown.
Cut to December 10, 2008: Larry Brown so despised Richardson’s efficient (18.6 PER), exciting all-around game that he sent Jason and promising youngster Dudley (aka the Bobcats entire 2007 Draft) to the Phoenix Suns for role players Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. Despite Richardson’s outstanding first season in the QC, the Cats class of ’07 never really had a chance to shine.
How it Should Have Played Out: It’s easy to say that Charlotte should have kept the 8th pick and selected Florida center Joakim Noah, who went one selection later to the Bulls. But at the time the organization was committed to Okafor long term and there were major questions regarding Noah’s role in the pro game. Had the organization resisted overpaying Emeka (again, they bid against themselves) and not kowtowed to Larry Brown’s every neurotic wish, Okafor would likely still be manning the middle for Charlotte today as a solid Top-15 NBA center. Had the organization stuck with their strategy and either retained Bickerstaff or hired a competent head coach who could work with the roster he was given, the JRich Draft Day trade would look a lot better in retrospect and it’s likely Richardson’s name would be synonymous with the franchise as much as Wallace’s has. The organization could have also given Dudley at least another year or two to blossom before trading him for a greater return.
2007 Draft Fun Fact 1: To date, only two of the twelve Bobcat first round draft choices have signed rookie deal extensions: Okafor and Dudley. That pretty much says all you need to know about the Charlotte Bobcats as a franchise.
2007 Draft Fun Fact 2: The Bobcats are so bad at drafting that picking Dudley one spot ahead of Wilson Chandler isn’t even worth mentioning. Just a run of the mill Bobcat screwup.
Grade: B+ (for the Draft Day haul), F- (for what they did with it)
The 2008 Draft: D.J. Augustin PG Texas, Alexis Ajinca PF France
Brown was hired just two months before this Draft and had already started making demands on Higgins and Jordan to get the players he wanted. Even though Brown had been both a point guard and a Tar Heel himself, he was not a fan of incumbant starter Raymond Felton and wanted the organization to draft a new point man whom Brown could mold from scratch.
The story is by now infamous. The Bobcats were on the clock with the 9th overall pick and had sent a representitive to the podium to relay the selection of Stanford center Brook Lopez. Larry threw a hissy fit at the very last moment and the pick was changed to Augustin, a five foot ten inch sophmore from Texas. But Larry wasn’t done yet. He was convinced that there would be another quality big available later in the first round so urged the Cats to make a blind trade with Denver for the 20th overall pick in exchange for a future first rounder. With that selection, Charlotte selected the great French BMX rider Alexis Ajinca.
How It Played Out: Classic Bobcats. They make a mistake and reach for a point guard in ’05 (Felton), assign him three coaches in four years and decide that he’s a bust. Learning nothing from the experience, they use another Lottery pick to reach for another PG (Augustin) three years later which creates an unnecessary controversy that ends up screwing up both of their careers. Presto! Ah-la-ka-FAIL!
D.J. had some nice moments in Charlotte early (43% 3pt FG percentage as a rook) but never really put it together. To the surprise of no one, Augustin’s size was a major liability on defense and unlike the handful of successful small lead guards, D.J. couldn’t finish anything at the rim. Once defenses figured out that Augustin could only punish them on the perimeter, D.J.’s shooting percentages tanked. Four seasons later, he signed on as the Pacers’ backup for the league minimum.
It is an extemely impressive feat that Alexis Ajinca makes the Bobcats’ Mount Rushmore of terrible draft picks – the exclusive club that it is. What Brown and Higgins saw in Alexis is a mystery: He had no real basketball skills, just a tall lanky man-child who could occasionally hit a jumper. His attitude and work ethic were questioned from the start. Even fellow frenchmen and teammate Diaw seemed to distance himself from the kid. Long story short, Ajinca was jettisoned to Dallas less than three years later as part of the Tyson Chandler reverse salary dump, never to be seen or heard from again.
How it Should Have Played Out: The 2008 NBA Draft may go down as one of the greatest draft classes of all time. We’re only five years in and already have one MVP (Derrick Rose), five All-Stars, at least a dozen legit Playoff-quality starters along with another dozen ten-year career guys. The Bobcats had to try REALLY HARD to screw up a Draft like this – especially since they owned two of the Top 20 picks – yet somehow, some way, Brown and Higgins pulled it off.
Let’s start with the obvious. They should’ve drafted Lopez. It was just as obvious then as it is now: seven footers with skills like Brook’s are a lot rarer than mediocre 5’10” point guards. Case closed. And just how bad was the Ajinca pick? Here are the guys drafted immediately after Alexis: Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee, Kosta Koufos, Serge Ibaka, Nicholas Batum, George Hill, Darrell Arthur. You could’ve picked a random stranger off the street, blindfolded them and had them throw a dart at the draft board and ended up with a better prospect. So yeah, instead of walking away from the decade’s deepest draft with Lopez/Ibaka, Lopez/Batum or Lopez/Hill, Charlotte reached for two guys who’ll be lucky to total nine seasons in the league combined. There are literally not enough F’s or minus signs I can give this debacle.
The 2009 Draft: Gerald Henderson SG Duke, Derrick Brown SF Xavier
How It Played Out: Whoa! What’s this? Did the Bobcats find a way to not completely blow a Draft???!!! While I would’ve loved to have seen the team make an aggressive move up to take homegrown Steph Curry (7th overall), staying put at pick 12 and landing Gerald Henderson was as big a Draft win as this organization has had since its inception (a sad truth). Sure, passing on Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson subtracts some points but the Cats already had two Lotto PGs on the roster and needed some youth at the wings. The best part about Henderson is that he was likely the organization’s second choice as rumors before the draft had Larry Brown very high on Louisville’s Terrence Williams (of course he was). Thanks to former Nets GM Rod Thorn, T-Will went 11th and the Cats dodged a major bullet.
This July, Henderson may very well be, wait for it, the THIRD Bobcats draft pick to sign a rookie deal extension!* It probably won’t be with Charlotte but beggars can’t be choosers. While it’s doubtful Henderson ever earns a trip to an All-Star game, as a plus defending, Rip Hamilton-lite, Gerald has become an honest to goodness NBA player.
*Editor’s Note: Henderson did indeed sign an extension later that summer (3yrs, $18m) – thus becoming the SECOND ever Bobcat draft pick to sign an extension with the team.
It didn’t start out that way. Coach Brown, likely still bummed that he didn’t get T-Will, benched Henderson for most of his rookie season while 2nd Rounder Derrick Brown stayed in the rotation. Midway through year two Coach Brown was ousted and “Hendo” saw his playing time double under new coach Paul Silas. In years three and four, Henderson was a proud co-Captain of Team Tank, providing some of the era’s rare highlights. His reward? At least $5-6 million annually from someone this July. Nice work Gerald, you’ve earned it!
How it Should Have Played Out: Ideally, the team would’ve used the 2010 pick that they swapped for Alexis Ajinca to trade up five spots for Steph Curry. One can only imagine how the QC’s favorite hoops son would’ve have ignited the fanbase new and old. Watching Steph swish deep threes while wearing his dad’s old Hornets #30 would’ve made even the most hardened of Charlotte NBA fans misty. Actually, no, don’t imagine it. It’ll just make you sad. And then angry. And then sad all over again.
In May of 2010, the Charlotte Bobcats made their first ever Playoff appearance. The series wasn’t competitive – they were swept by the Orlando Magic in four games – but young franchises traditionally celebrate their initial break-throughs into the post-season, toasting their efforts as the first of many appearances to come. But this wasn’t the case with the Bobcats at all. In fact, the appearance signaled the beginnings of a very dark time in Queen City hoops history. A time the franchise is still mired in today.
In order to achieve their lone Playoff cameo, Michael Jordan and Rod Higgins had sacrificed the franchise’s future with short-sighted, cap-killing trades and draft pick give-aways while handing over whatever talent that was left to a senile phony of a head coach primed for sabotage. Suddenly, all of the franchise’s past blunders would collide, setting them on a collision course with rock bottom.
The 2010 Draft: No Pick.
How It Played Out: Want to know how the Charlotte Bobcats became the national laughingstock they are today? Let’s take a short detour back to the year 2010 and see how Jordan & Higgins demolished the franchise’s future in Four Easy Steps…
STEP ONE: The Bobcats didn’t have a first round draft pick that year because they had traded it two seasons earlier for Alexis Ajinca.
STEP TWO: The team traded ANOTHER future first round pick at the Trade Deadline for Tyrus Thomas. And since you can’t trade a future first round pick for a restricted free agent then have him walk, MJ and Higgins promptly signed Thomas to a 5-year $40 million contract that July.
STEP THREE: The Tyrus contract was bad news for 2005’s fifth overall pick (and starting point guard) Raymond Felton. The team was in major cap trouble and had another Lottery point guard (D.J. Augustin) already on the payroll. Just five years earlier the team had choosen the Felton/Sean May combination over Chris Paul and now both were gone via free agency netting zero compensation in return.
STEP FOUR: Having dedicated over half of their cap space to the legendary likes of Gana Diop, Nazr Mohammed, Boris Diaw and the noveau riche Tyrus Thomas, Jordan & Higgins decided to make a final major move to trim salary. Their solution: Trade Tyson Chandler to Dallas for the instant cap relief of Erick Dampier’s unguaranteed contract and over $20 million worth of Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera. The trade was ridiculed from the moment it happened and only looks worse with time. Let’s break it down:
Jordan & Higgins had painted themselves into such an unnecessary salary corner over the years that they had to choose Diop and Mohammed over future Defensive Player of the Year Chandler. That’s a tragically terrible move on its own but IN ADDITION to this devestation, they were somehow talked into taking on three more years of dead-weight, end-of-the-bench salary in the forms of Carroll and Najera. The trade was so lopsided that it actually swung an NBA Championship ten months later. It was simply the worst transaction in franchise history (which is no small feat) and possibly the league’s worst trade since Boston’s McHale/Parish heist of Golden State thirty-five years earlier.
Now back to the 2010 Draft…
How It Should Have Played Out: Had the Bobcats not traded their pick, they would have selected 16th overall. Kevin Seraphin, Eric Bledsoe and Avery Bradley were picks 17, 18 and 19 respectively. None are likely to be All-Stars but each is a bonafide rotation player and are drastically more talented and valuable than Alexis Ajinca ever will be. Between his lowly Drafts, questionable trades and a blatant display of nepotism (wasting a roster spot on his son Cory over two seasons), it is absolutely ASTOUNDING that Rod Higgins still has a job in the league – with the same team no less! All I can say is, those compromising photos of MJ better be worth hiding.
GRADE: F- (for the Draft),
F————————————-(for the Higgins Era)
NEXT UP IN PART THREE: MJ HIRES A SMART PERSON TO PRESS RESET!