Being Bad Has Never Felt So Bad

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’11-’12 Charlotte Bobcats Quarterly Report: Vol. 1

The Charlotte Bobcats have started nearly all of their first seventeen games deficient in talent; they’ve ended most of them deficient in effort. Not exactly the sort of problem you would have expected from a young, Paul Silas-coached team. So who or what is the culprit for this early season malaise?

Issue Number One: The Diaw Dilemma

Out of shape, neurotic and enigmatic, Boris “Ladyhips” Diaw has been the poster-boy for the Bobcats ennui. His 27 point outburst against the Knicks  notwithstanding, Boris has been relegated to the bench as his perpetual disappearing act had driven the coach, ownership and fans one step too far.

Worse yet, Diaw’s mere presence has constipated the Bobcats frontcourt situation:

  • DJ White has clearly outplayed him thus far.
  • The team is committed to Tyrus Thomas for another three seasons.
  • Bismack Biyombo isn’t ready enough to play center full-time.

The Cats would love to rid themselves of Diaw’s expiring contract in order to allocate precious developmental minutes to the other three but how many teams in the league have both the need and the expiring contract Charlotte would require to make a deal?

The Knicks and Suns would seem the logical answers but neither of those teams have the types of players/assets the Bobcats would need in return. Baseline’s own Ben Weinrib postulated a Clippers scenario that could work but Charlotte may have to resort to benching Diaw for the remainder of the season and wait for his contract to expire in July.

Issue Number Two: Maggette Looks Done

@Baseline DrE noticed it from game one: Corey Maggette looks spent. His jumper isn’t falling, he’s not getting to the line,  he’s consistently a step slow on D and a strained calf has sidelined him for most of the month. This is all bad news considering that Silas practically designed the entire offense around him before the season started.

As is stands, the team is paying him $10 million this season and still owes him another $10 million for next. While the entire concept of “amnesty-ing” a player must stink to a small market squad like the Bobcats, one could only imagine that’s it’s being discussed, especially if the team can somehow convince a big name FA to take their money. That’s probably not going to happen so look for Maggette to remain in Cat-stripes until the summer of 2013.

Issue Number Three: Kemba Keep Your Head Up

Classic Bobcat conundrum: Your strengths are your weaknesses. D.J. Augustin has really elevated his game this season, thus putting rookie point Kemba Walker in a primarily off-guard role. This works ok about 30% of the time, meaning the 30% of the time Kemba makes his “head down, Monta-Ellis-inspired” step-back jumpers. The problem isn’t that Kemba isn’t a good enough a shooter yet, it’s that he’s learning a lot of bad habits that may come to limit his impact and future growth.

Kemba will need to play PG in the NBA. A decent team simply can’t start a six foot two guard and expect to win many games. He’ll need to learn how to distribute first, work the opposing defense and manage the game, shooting only when necessary. I don’t think the damage is irreparable but Coach Silas will need to transition Kemba to the role of PG sooner rather than later in order for Walker to rise above his current ceiling as “a rich man’s Nate Robinson”.

Issue Number Four: Mullens Gives As Much As He Gets

Mullens-mania has been one of the few bright spots over the past month. The young man has a nice shooting touch, good offensive feel for the game and seems to give half a crap about improving. That’s fine. The problem is that Byron is a textbook turnstile on defense with the opposing offense going right at him as soon as he checks into the game. Weak-side help defense? Fuh-get about it.

Unless BJ can bulk up and learn some killer mano y mano D during the offseason, his primary role in the league will be that of a 20 minute a night backup/change of pace center — which, by the way, isn’t a bad thing at all. It sure as heck beats playing in the D-League.

Issue Number Five: Silas Senility

This is the most surprising issue of all. Paul Silas’s mission for the season should be clear: LOSE GAMES, DEVELOP YOUNG PLAYERS.

Simple, right? While Sugar Bear has a proven adept at losing, his most recent rotations suggest ignorance or obstinacy in the face of facts. Both Kemba and Biyombo need to be receiving as many developmental minutes at their NATURAL positions as possible. Same can be said for Henderson, Augustin, White and Mullens. Instead Silas has been trotting out a “F.U.” lineup featuring:

  • Matt Carroll (12th man, near expiring deal)
  • Eddie Najera (14th man, expiring deal)
  • Derrick Brown (11th man, expiring deal)
  • Boris Diaw (discussed, expiring deal)
  • Cory Higgins (13th man, expiring deal)

Good for tanking games? Yes. Good for developing prospects? No. Good for desecrating the sport/wasting fans money? Absolutely.

FIRST QUARTER PLAYER TIERS:

TIER ONE – THE KEEPERS

1. Gerald Henderson.

Still only 24 years old, “Hendo” has become the rare sequel better than the original. While he’ll probably never develop into a team’s go-to scorer, Henderson’s gifts as a shut-down defender and his ever-improving jump-shot make him a bona-fide starter in the league. Henderson started driving to the lane more in the last few games, getting to the line and drawing fouls. His ho-hum PER might not reflect it at the moment but Henderson is THE LONG TERM solution at two guard.

2. D.J. Augustin/Kemba Walker.

You gotta love the fact that Augustin has stepped up in the face of a challenge. Kemba should be taking notes: D.J. notched a near 3:1 assist to TO ratio during the first sixteen games of the season, nailing 38% of his three balls while averaging 15 ppg.

He’s a restricted free agent after the season and I don’t see a scenario in which the team doesn’t re-sign him. Fortunately with Rich Cho running the negotiations, Charlotte fans needn’t worry about the team overpaying.

The issue of course is what to do with Walker. Kemba has an incredible set of intangibles and is already a much more dynamic scorer. With a couple of seasons learning the position, Walker could be in line for the starting gig. If Cho can ink Augustin to an attractive contract, the Bobcats may find themselves with an ideal trading chip a year plus down the road.

3. Bismack Biyombo.

He didn’t exactly burst onto the scene but in limited appearances, the big man has shown flashes of incredible defensive potential.

First off, he’s a physical freak. Apparently the “strongest” and “toughest” guy on the roster, Biyombo’s build is deceivingly slight. During warmups last week I saw him stand next to D.J. White, a legit 6’9″ PF. Same height but while White’s arms dangled around mid-thigh, Bismack’s fingers nearly touched his kneecaps. Jay Bilas just climaxed reading that.

Opposing offensive players are noticing too. Biyombo is averaging nearly 5 blocks per 40 minutes of play and subjectively you can see players alter shots, launch high floaters or avoid the lane altogether when he’s in the game. I honestly thought it would take a couple of seasons for him to have any impact but thus far, in limited minutes, he’s done much more than advertised.

4. OKC’s D-Leaguers

If D.J. White is your backup PF, giving you 14-20 minutes a night, you’re in good shape. If Byron Mullens is your backup C, giving you 14-20 minutes a night, you’re in good shape. If either of these two are your starters, you are in bad shape.

Lesson: Re-sign both players to cap-friendly deals (White this summer, Mullens next summer), play them as upside backups and win games. Start them and lose games. The end.

TIER TWO – WHAT DO WE DO WITH YOU?

1. Tyrus Thomas.

Tyrus gets his own sub-category. The team owes him another three years, $24 million AFTER this season. Mentally he’s as lost as ever (we expected that) but physically he looks borderline emaciated after an apparent offseason working out with Austin Daye and Angelina Jolie.

This has all conspired to make Tyrus virtually untradeable. He’s owed too much for too long to amnesty so it looks like the team is stuck with him for at least the next two or three seasons. Sadly, the Bobcats still owe Chicago a first rounder in that time for his services.

TIER THREE – “MEH”

1. Derrick Brown.

I want DBrown to be better than he is but the team is simply much worse while he’s on the floor. It’s hard to justify this with actual plus/minus numbers on a team that loses by twenty every night but anecdotally, Brown just doesn’t seem to understand the basics of the game - every other play he’s involved in ends with a turnover, missed shot or a foul.

2. Cory Higgins.

I’ve seen more than a few plays that tell me he’s a legit NBA player but Cory will absolutely need to work on a consistent jump shot to have any chance of staying in the league as a role player.

3. Reggie Williams/Edwardo Najera.

Have very high hopes for Williams once he comes back in March. The team desperately needs a hot hand off the bench and that fits Reggie’s MO. Najera will be gone next offseason when his contract expires. In the meantime, he looks like a guy who took a wrong turn out of the YMCA locker room and ended up in TWC.

TIER FOUR – GET ‘EM OUT OF HERE

1. Boris Diaw.

Already discussed.

2. Corey Maggette.

See above.

3. Matt Carroll/Gana Diop.

Called on and paid well to do exactly one thing each and neither does that thing all that well. Fortunately, they’ll both be off the books come July ’13 and Diop at least has value as a semi-tough big in the meantime.

Two STARters Away

With Augustin/Walker, Gerald Henderson and (eventually) Bismack Biyombo, the Bobcats are just two starters away from fielding a solid playoff contender. Unfortunately, those two starters will need to be ALL-STARs.

The good news is that they’ll probably get one in this year’s draft. KU’s Anthony Davis, UCONN’s Andre Drummond, Baylor’s Perry Jones and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger could all blossom into big-time NBA players and would fit quite nicely next to an emerging Bismack Biyombo at PF. UNC’s Harrison Barnes and KU’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could become the dominating offensive force on the wings the Bobcats desperately need.

Combine Augustin/Walker, Henderson, Biyombo and one of the diaper-dandies above with max cap room this summer or next and the Bobcats could find themselves in a very favorable position sooner than later.

Until then, Enjoy the Rebuilding Bobcats Fans…

-ASChin

Twitter: @bobcatsbaseline

The Morning After

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Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer (Click to go to an Observer slideshow of Gerald Wallace: The Bobcat Years))

To recap, at yesterday’s trade deadline, the Bobcats:

  • Traded Gerald Wallace to the Trailblazers for Joel Pryzbilla, Sean Marks, Dante Cunningham, New Orleans’ 2011 1st round draft pick and the Trailblazers’ 2013 1st round draft pick.
  • Traded Nazr Mohammed to the Thunder for Morris Peterson and DJ White
  • Waived Derrick Brown, Sherron Collins and Dominic McGuire to make room on the roster.  It is anticipated that Marks and Peterson may eventually be waived as well.

The Wallace trade is admittedly hard to swallow.  It’s difficult to write about him without sounding histrionic.  Forget that he was the last “original Bobcat” from the inaugural season of the franchise or that he had become its “face”.  The face is superficial.  Wallace embodied the franchise.  Underappreciated, grinding away to overcome obstacles, sacrificing to offset shortcomings, eventually achieving a modicum of success and respect, only to reach a plateau that wasn’t high enough, Wallace’s arc mirrored the Bobcats’.

Though I’d been an advocate of rebuilding, I’d harbored a fantasy that that the Cats could keep Wallace around and do more of a “reboot” on the fly by moving Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and/or Mohammed.  Ultimately, it seems as if the market for those guys wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it might be.

And so faced with a bloody bottom line, a capped out roster, and no better than a 50% chance at making the playoffs this year (indeed, statistical models pegged it as more like 25%), Jordan made the difficult but correct decision to initiate a rebuild by trading the most beloved player on the team for the financial relief he needs and the draft picks this team requires for the future.

Pryzbilla’s contract expires after this season, so the Bobcats effectively saved the $21 million that would have been due Gerald Wallace over the following two season.  And most importantly, the Bobcats get two first round draft picks.  Yes, both of these picks will likely be mid-late first round.  Yes, the 2011 draft doesn’t look particularly strong.  Yes, the Hornets pick won’t come around until 2013.  And yes, Jordan’s history with the draft is anything but sterling.

But the object is to build a winner.  Building a winner in the NBA takes stars.  And small-market teams have only one way to get stars — the draft.

After trying the Larry Brown team-building model for a couple of years, it appears that Jordan has come around to the above reality.  It was time, folks.

Notes

  • So the Bobcats will get a look at two young power forwards.  Dante Cunningham is signed to a minimal deal through the rest of the season, while DJ White is on his rookie contract through next year, with a reasonable qualifying offer for the 2012-13 season.  White is the better prospect, having been selected late in the first round in the 2008 draft, but has been saddled with injuries and caught in a numbers game at the 4 spot in Oklahoma City when healthy.
  • Speculation now turns to the coming offseason and whether Stephen Jackson and/or Boris Diaw can/will be traded as the next step in the rebuild.  Frankly, now that Gerald Wallace is gone, I’d just as soon prefer the Cats go ahead and do that.
  • The Bobcats will face Wallace and the Trailblazers next Saturday, March 5th in Portland.  Then the following Friday, March 11th, the Cats will host Wallace and the Trailblazers here in Charlotte.

-Dr. E

POLL : What's your reaction to the Gerald Wallace trade?

  • Anger: Screw MJ, I'm done as a fan of this team! (14%, 23 Votes)
  • Sadness: I can't even talk about it... (16%, 26 Votes)
  • Acceptance: I'm disappointed, but understand. (51%, 83 Votes)
  • Shoulda been Jack. (19%, 30 Votes)

Total Voters: 162

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