‘Tis the Season (to be in the Lottery)

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Bismack & Kemba Wallpaper by metalhdmh (via deviant art)

2011 Charlotte Bobcats Preview

Two things you need to know about the ’11-’12 Charlotte Bobcats season:

  • They are going to be very, very BAD.
  • It will be one of the BEST seasons in franchise history.

Sound strange? It is. But that’s just part of the fun of being a Bobcats fan. You see, the organization has spent its entire eight year run in Charlotte “winging it” from one blunder to the next — hoping that the ship will right itself magically both on the court and off. No more hoping. This team has a plan. And a good one at that.

Newly hired GM Rich Cho set expectations early with a ballsy Draft Day trade that sent out Stephen Jackson and returned potential building block Bismack Biyombo. Kemba Walker came two picks later and now the team enters training camp with sights set not on this season but onward towards the summer of 2013.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE COMING MONTHS

1. Making the Playoffs = DISASTER.

Cho has seen this movie before and he didn’t like the ending. REPEAT: You’ve got to be bad before being good. Being bad means a high lottery pick in a LOADED 2012 Draft. Charlotte has little chance of landing a superstar via free agency so the ONLY WAY that they’ll get one is in the draft. With Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Perry Jones and Jared Sullinger just seven months away from shaking the Commissioner’s hand, the Bobcats MUST bottom out this season in order to have a shot at Lottery love. To make matters worse, if the ‘Cats somehow finish outside the top fourteen, their pick goes to Chicago as late payback for Tyrus Thomas.

BOTTOM LINE: Be Entertaining But Do Not Win Games; expect a losing record.

2. Cheap, Young, No-Name Free Agents.

At $49.7 million in guaranteed contracts, the Bobcats are already at the mandated 85% salary cap floor level. There is NO REASON to spend money on name-brand Free Agents this December. Here’s an exercise: Every time you see a commenter whining about how the Bobcats should sign Jamal Crawford, your immediate response should be laughter, followed by an immediate heaving sob when you remember that the team owes a combined $54 million to Corey Maggette, Boris Diaw, Gana Diop, Matt Carroll and “Don Juan Draper” Najera over the next two seasons.

The goal here is to sign young, low-cost/high-potential players to short contracts (ideally two years) and see what they can do. I’ve already chronicled the prospects of Earl Clark, Brandon Wright, Nick Young and Josh McRoberts. I’ll add one more intriguing name a little bit later…

BOTTOM LINE: Expect the Bobcats to make a run at a young, cheap free agent over the next few weeks.

3. What Cap Space Means to Small Market Teams.

Let’s be honest: Cap space for the Knicks and cap space for the Bobcats are two entirely different beasts. You’re never going to read a HoopsHype headline screaming: “Derrick Rose demands Sign and Trade to Milwaukee”. It just doesn’t work that way. Disgruntled Superstars want brighter lights, bigger cities. The only chance small market teams have in a star driven league is to draft homegrown talent, build a championship caliber nucleus around him and pay him gloriously.

In the meantime, small market clubs like Charlotte can utilize their cap space by taking on bad contracts in exchange for draft choices or maintaining flexibility in the case a not quite-Superstar is available in a trade. Charlotte will be around $17 million under the cap next summer and nearly $40 million under the cap in the summer of 2013. By maintaining flexibility, the ‘Cats will in prime position should a team dangle picks or an All-Star over the next few seasons.

BOTTOM LINE: Expect the Bobcats to be in the market for a salary dump-for-draft picks deal by the trade deadline.

4. Don’t amnesty Gana Diop.

The amnesty “waiver” clause is a slap in the face to well-managed small market franchises. The “amnestied” contracts still have to be paid out, they just don’t count against a team’s cap — which means free spending teams like the Lakers, Wizards, Magic, Mavericks and Knicks essentially get a higher cap than the rest of the league.

Don’t get me wrong, Gana Diop and his albatross full-midlevel deal has been an unmitigated disaster, a final “F.U.” from Larry Brown, but if you have to pay the guy anyway why not try and get something out of him. Even if its only one point, one block and two and a half rebounds in eleven minutes. The Bobcats aren’t going to need the cap space for the next two years anyway and having Diop’s contract on the roster will help* them reach the 85% cap threshold in the meantime.
(*Note that this will be the first time Gana Diop has ever helped the Bobcats in any way)

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t expect the Bobcats to waive Gana Diop this season.

5. Re-Sign Kwame Brown ONLY if the money is right.

Kwame was a great redemption story last season. He played hard and kept the team in games with his rugged low post defense and surprising collection of double-doubles. The issue is that at 29, Brown is just a little too long in the tooth for the Bobcats plans. If he’s looking for more than $4 million per, then the team should let him walk.

There is one other option: If the team is in love with him and wants to secure his services for another three or four seasons, they could throw him a “Nick Collison” deal by handing him $8 million this season and $3.5 over the next three. This would give Kwame a 4 year $20 million deal without jeopardizing future cap flexibility in the summers ahead.

BOTTOM LINE: Expect the Bobcats to re-sign Kwame ONLY if they can fit him into their long-term salary cap plans.

6. What to do with Boris Diaw?

It’s the final year of his contract and you would hope that he’ll be motivated to earn one last big payday. If so, then great. The Bobcats would like nothing more than for Diaw to come in, play hard and catch the eye of a contender in need of frontcourt help. A badass Boris could mean another draft pick or prospect via trade while an average one will at least mean cap relief come July.

BOTTOM LINE: With Bismack, Tyrus and D.J. White already at the PF spot, Diaw could be the first Bobcat traded this season.

7. Redemption Song: Sign Adam Morrison

“Old Bobcats, yes, dey rob I;

Sold I to Los Angeles,

Minutes after they took I

With da third overall pick.”

Adam Morrison is making a comeback. Sure, we’ve all seen that ridiculous scrap AMMO picked with an 18 year old kid in Serbia but did you see the sick highlight reel where he dropped 30 in old-school Gonzaga-mode just a few games later? Morrison is angling for a return to the league and I can’t think of any better team to do it with than the one that drafted him five years ago. The ‘Cats needs another scorer off the bench, needs depth at the SF position and Morrison will no doubt come cheap. It worked with Kwame, why not try it with the ‘Stache?

BOTTOM LINE: I can’t think of a better storyline for the Bobcats this year than to have Adam Morrison come back and average double figures off the bench. It’s worth a shot.

In summary, expect the Bobcats to be bad but entertaining this season and next. Expect them to add draft picks and young FAs. Expect them to let veteran contracts expire while young guns learn on the job. And finally, expect them to be very, VERY GOOD starting November, 2013 when Rich Cho and MJ will be hanging in the owner’s suite, smoking Cubans and saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

-ASChin

How The Bobcats Can Improve : Escaping The Nottery – Ver. 2.0

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Charlotte Bobcats Offseason Checklist – PreDraft Edition

A little over a month ago I began part one of this series by defining the titular “Nottery” as:

A place where franchises go to die: Not good enough to be good and not bad enough to get good. Bobcats owner Michael Jordan understood this more so than any other when he made the controversial Gerald Wallace trade last month. Good isn’t good enough and if you want to get better, sometimes you gotta get a little worse.

Flash forward to last Monday when my bald-headed AmerAsian brother from another mother capped off his initial press conference with the following zinger:

One of the worst things you can do in this league, I think is be a middle-of-the-road team. After the team traded Gerald Wallace, I think there’s a lot of parallels (with Cho’s previous gig in Seattle/OKC). We got some cap room coming up, some assets and picks.

What can I say, great minds think alike.

So without further ado, let’s get to some good old fashion rosterbation, Southern Style!

SECTION 1. WHAT WE GOT

Before we head out to the supermarket, we should take a look in the cupboard. As badly as the Bobcats finished the season, the team does have a few assets.

a.) D.J. Augustin

Has clearly shown that he can be a top 20 starting PG in the league (although our own @BaselineDrE insists that Earl Boykins would destroy him in a PER contest). D.J. can shoot and has figured out how to score from in close. Perhaps no player currently in the league benefited from J.J. Barea’s Playoff Explosion more than Augustin. D.J. has more upside, is more versatile and stronger. Could be headed for a breakout season and newly crowned Bobcats GM Rich Cho repeatedly brought his name up during last week’s press conference – the team seems committed to him.

Another couple of positives: He proved that he could shoot his way out of a slump and is still on that sweet rookie deal.

b.) Stephen Jackson

Volatile and getting a bit long in the tooth, Jackson is a former champ and the Bobcats’ best player. He’s the only guy who can consistently create his own shot and when he’s on, can single-handily carry the team to a victory. Showed up at a team workout last month twenty pounds lighter and in great shape. Coach Silas intimated that at this weight JAX could play another 4-5 seasons. His contract is probably untradeable until at least the summer of 2012 so look for JAX to remain in his role with the team next season.

UPDATE: AP’s @mikecranston1 announced that other teams have been inquiring about Jackson’s availability so there could be a scenario in which the Bobcats start next season without one of the League’s most under-rated two way players.

c.) Tyrus Thomas

Needs to prove that he can stay healthy and stay focused but when he’s in physical and mental shape can really change the game from a defensive perspective. Solid rebounder and excellent shot blocker who has a nice mid-range jumper. Bobcats have invested a ton of cash hoping the Tyrus experiment works out. Best case scenario: Starting Power Forward for the next five seasons. Worst case scenario: Severely overpaid role player.

d.) Gerald Henderson

Very good defensive guard. Very athletic. Shown promise as a cutter but jump shot is still erratic. Henderson is another unknown. May one day become a great long-ball shooter but not there yet. Finished the season on an absolute tear, going for nearly 15ppg in March and April while shooting nearly 46% from the floor just over 34 minutes a game.

UPDATE: Had hip surgery in early May to repair a congenital flaw that led to chronic knee pain. Brass hopes he’s back 100% by the start of training camp.

e.) D.J. White, Dante Cunningham (RFA), Shaun Livingston

Three youngish rotation players who have shown flashes of potential. White seems to have the most upside and is still on his rookie deal. Livingston has managed to carve out a place in the league after destroying his knee a few years ago. Cunningham showed flashes as a full-time three (recording possibly the team highlight of the year by smacking away a KG gimme at the rim) but was busted for possession of the chronic after the season and has yet to receive his $1 million tender from the team.

Total it up and you have seven players who’ll most likely be suiting up for the Bobcats next season. That’s half a roster. Combine them with two first round draft picks next week and the CAP CRUNCHERS (Gana Diop, Matt Carroll, Eddie Najera) and you’re down to just two roster spots available to improve the team.

SECTION 2. WHAT WE NEED

Augustin, Jackson, Thomas and Henderson will most likely return as four of the team’s starters. Livingston, White and possibly Cunningham will be solid contributors from the bench. That still leaves some major needs:

a.) Men in the Middle

A pleasantly mediocre surprise, Kwame Brown will be an unrestricted free agent come July and the team will need to make a major upgrade if it wants to compete. Gana Diop is currently the only center on the roster and he was bad before the season ending achilles injury. With Diop not likely to see action until at least next December, the Cats will most likely have to add size in Thursday’s Draft (see below) and hope Kwame gives them a bit of a hometown discount once FA starts after the new CBA.

b.) Bench Scoring

Augustin, Jackson and (if he develops a jumper) Henderson can handle most of the scoring as starters but the team lacks any sort of big time scoring presence from the bench. The Bobcats will need to find someone capable of taking off some of the scoring load. Coach Silas has been very vocal about his team’s lack of three point shooting and there are some players in the middle of the draft who could fill that need. Some veteran help might come relatively cheap in the way of Delonte West, Anthony Parker or Mike Dunleavy should Cho feel the need to stock up.

c.) Stars

Either through the draft or through crafty trades, the Bobcats will need to find a way to bring in a guy who’ll move the turnstiles and put down game-winning buckets.

This need won’t likely be met during the draft or in free agency this year but with Diaw and Najera coming off the books next summer and with Jackson transitioning into an expiring year, the Bobcats could make some serious noise in the vaunted summer FA class of 2012 (Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard).

SECTION 3. THE DRAFT

Just a few days away and the Bobcats sit pretty with picks number 9 and 19 in a muddy first round.

I’ve been racking my brain about this on Twitter and have come to the following conclusion:

It’s gonna be a wing and a big man.

Can’t say in what order but looking at the options available to the team at number nine and the dearth of quality starting fives in the league my gut tells me it’s going to be Southern Cal’s Nikola Vucevic first and whichever wing is available around pick nineteen next.

This would be high for Vucevic, who wasn’t even a first round lock at the end of the college season, but after his outstanding workouts around the league and after surveying the competition I think Bobcats management will pull the trigger simply because Nikola represents the best value.

Think of it this way: At 7ft, 260 and with three years of NCAA experience Vucevic has the body to come in and play right away. Between his soft touch around the hoop and a nice collegiate three point jumper, the guy would immediately be the most offensively potent center in team history (well, at least since Primoz Brezec). He plays a position which traditionally is well over-paid so by drafting a rookie the team could lock a potential starter into a four year rookie scale deal. Killer timing for next year’s free agency bonanza. Defensively, Vucevic’s slow-footedness is a concern but he’s a solid rebounder and would be a great fit next to Tyrus Thomas.

COMPS: Mehmet Okhur, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez.

At pick nineteen, Master Cho could then look at the abundant number of wing players (Jordan Hamilton, Marshon Brooks, Chris Singleton, Tobias Harris, Darius Morris) still on the board. He could roll the dice and take a player like Boston College’s Reggie Jackson. With the Heat reportedly high on the Rondo-clone, the Cats could screw over a division rival while adding another dimension to their backcourt.

The IDEAL scenario, of course, would be a second-tier wing player like Kawhi Leonard dropping to the Bobcats at #9 and then maneuvering up from #19 to select Vucevic before the Rockets can nab him at #14. I just don’t see how this is a possibility though if Houston is in fact ready to Nikola with the last pick in the Lottery.

SECTION 4. FREE AGENCY

No one knows what the new CBA will look like next season (if there is one) but I’d be willing to bet that the Bobcats’ situation won’t change much. Once all of the expirings come off, the team will sit at around $49 million in salaries, around $10 million south of this year’s cap. Add in the two first rounders along with (possibly) re-upping Dante Cunningham, the team should be at around $54 million.

Obviously, the remaining $6 million wouldn’t be enough to bring in a big-name star (even if there was one in a weak FA class) but the extra wiggle room may help them pull off a deal or two IF the team is lucky enough to import a decent center from another team.

Free Agent Centers 2011:

a.) DeAndre Jordan.

Made big strides this season but the high-flying athlete probably doesn’t make much sense to pair with a similar player in Tyrus Thomas. Clippers also seem intent on keeping him.

b.) Marc Gasol.

Will likely command around $10 million+/per on the open market. Gasol is a lower rent version of his All-Star brother but is only 26 and could develop into top tier center himself given the right circumstances. He’s a restricted and the Griz have stated that they’ll re-sign him but given the historical ownership thriftiness and the fact that Z-Bo’s deal is also up makes me think that Gasol could be had with a big poison-pill offer sheet. To make a move for Gasol, the Bobcats would likely have to find a taker for Boris Diaw’s $9 million expiring contract first (see TRADE section).

c.) Kwame Brown.

Performed adequately for the team as a starter this season and could be brought back as a backup if the price is right.

d.) Other Potentially Interesting FAs.

Big Baby Davis, Nene (ETO), Shane Battier, Carl Landry (who they’ve tried to sign before), Sam Dalembert, Craig Smith, Brandon Wright.

SECTION 5. TRADE

Boris Diaw, Boris Diaw, Boris Diaw. Did I mention Boris Diaw? I just can’t see any way the Frenchman stays on the Bobcat roster come training camp. Only on the books for a final season, in a contract year (so will likely be motivated – see Chandler, Tyson) and has proven that when he gives a crap can be a game-changing presence in the lineup. All these factors combined with the Coach’s obvious dissatisfaction in Diaw’s inconsistent performances will likely land Boris in another uniform next season.

Potential Trades:

a.) Boris Diaw to Toronto for Leandro Barbosa + 33rd Selection.

Colangelo wanted him last summer and they need size. Both players on expirings, Bobcats trade big for small but also shave another $1.4 million off the books to go after a FA. ‘Cats get the bench scoring they’ve so desperately needed and another high second rounder for an international draft ‘n stash.

UPDATE: With the Raps hiring of “D”wayne Casey, odds are that Toronto will be actually playing a little defense this season, making this trade more likely if the ‘Cats wanted to make it.

b.) Boris Diaw to LAClippers for Chris Kaman.

Again, both players on expirings. Clips get the third big to rotate with Griffin and Jordan. Bobcats take on an additional $3.2 million and risk Kaman’s recent injury history but if it works out, then they have a high-scoring starting center for the first time in franchise history.

UPDATE: With rumors flying around a possible Iggy for Kaman swap, this offer looks rather paltry. Would the Clips be in the market for a Stephen Jackson for Kaman trade?

c.) Boris Diaw + the #19 to TeamX for cap space.

In this deal, the ‘Cats could find a team with cap space in need of a versatile big and compensate them with either this year’s late first rounder or Portland’s pick in 2013. The ‘Cats would then have around $18 million to pursue a free agent target like Marc Gasol.

UPDATE: This seems very unlikely.

SECTION 6. WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE

Whenever the ’11-’12 NBA season starts, the Bobcats (barring major injury) will look quite a lot better than currently configured.

If the team simply follows the recipe above, they could trot out:

PG: Augustin/Livingston

SG: Henderson/Chris Singleton/Carroll

SF: Jackson/Chris Singleton/Cunningham

PF: Thomas/D.J. White/Najera

C: K.Brown/Vucevic/Diop

Not bad. Depending on the development of the youngsters, the team could even compete for one of the final seeds in the East. But I don’t think that’s Rich Cho’s plan. Again, in order to get better, some times you have to get worse. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the team bottom out by trading both Diaw and Jackson by the trade deadline and finishing it up with a bunch of 25 and younger types logging major minutes. That is the OKC model anyway. A high lottery pick in 2012 and a boatload of cap space could then launch the Charlotte basketball franchise into the stratosphere.

Until Version 3.0…

Enjoy the Nottery, Bobcats Fans,

-ASChin

The Bobcats Season – Over and Out.

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What An Unexpected Ride

This past season for the Charlotte Bobcats served up an entertaining mixture of speculation, anticipation, disappointment, surprise, frustration, and a general sense of curiosity. Heading into it, the team had made a deal to unload the financial burden of Tyson Chandler and had no Draft selections to boost their roster. The team’s training camp began with real questions around DJ Augustin’s ability to lead the team as a starter and the growth of  Gerald Henderson and Derrick Brown in their second year in the NBA. It was assumed that Tyrus Thomas would build upon his success from a previous late-season run after arriving in Charlotte, and most thought he would eventually replace Boris Diaw as the team’s starting power forward. The Bobcats looked to have their strongest players, Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, on the wings and aimed to make it through the year with a cobbled assortment of players at the center position.

That was all pre-season talk, though. Larry Brown was trusted to take the team further than the quick sweep we witnessed in their first Playoff appearance. If Larry saw a roster need that had to be filled in order to reach the post-season, it seemed only logical that the organization would find a way to give him what he demanded. Eventually, that logic evaporated as the team seemed to lose games and lose interest in running Larry’s system. Interestingly, the only roster acquisitions that seemed to satisfy Brown were the minor free agent signings of Dominic McGuire (D-Mac) and Shaun Livingston. Otherwise, the Hall of Fame coach was expected to plug in the likes of Matt Carroll, Kwame Brown, Eduardo Najera, and Sherron Collins to forge a better on-court product.

Stumbling Out of The Gates

Early on in the season, it seemed that the Bobcats were just taking a little longer to “mesh” than most other squads. Those following the team could have argued that the level of talent on the roster was deeper than ever before. With so many middle-tier players on the payroll, it appeared that the front office had planned to either make due with a roster below the salary cap or leave some flexibility to make a trade to improve the team. As the Cats stumbled in the standings, speculation over the next move certainly followed. Coach Brown had set a pattern in place since his arrival. If he didn’t like what was happening with the team’s play, he would find a way to shake up the roster. Fans knew this and it was expected that a roster move was sure to happen. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, or DJ Augustin that were shipped out. The organization decided to send Larry Brown out of town.

While it was easy to support Brown when the team had experienced an increasing level of success, the Bobcats management seemed to catch on to the “Next Town Brown” template. With the team struggling and playing less and less entertaining basketball by the week, it only felt naturally to look to the future. Raising the question of “How does this team get better” probably shook GM Rod Higgins to face the tough truth that the Bobcats were financially frozen and their on-court product was on the decline.  Perhaps, the team reserved a bit of blame for Larry Brown. Overall, it seemed that the team’s performance had slid far too much and improvement wasn’t going to be delivered by the old, griping, and disheartening coach. The Cats had no money to really improve the team, and needed to begin to develop their young guys – players that Larry Brown had glued to the bench.

New Energy

The arrival of Paul Silas brought an equal dose of curiosity and excitement to the team. After recurring blow-out losses under Brown, the Bobcats quickened the pace and let DJ Augustin play to his strengths. Surely, Michael Jordan had to have felt some comfort in his decision to switch coaches. Not only had the team become better and more entertaining on court, but the younger talent on the roster had begun to show improvement and playing time under Coach Silas. The improved play of DJ Augustin was astounding, and it just seemed to be a bit confusing as to why no one had seen this from the young guard until Brown’s departure.

As the Bobcats had crossed the mid-point of the season, they were finding a way to improve their record despite their ailing big men. Gana Diop was shelved for the season with a tough achilles injury, and Nazr Mohammed seemed to have run out of luck with several nagging injuries. The All-Star break came and went for the team, as the club had no participates (Rufus doesn’t count) in the Association’s annual celebration of peak performers. So, most of the club returned from the short vacation to talk big about making a run at the Playoffs. Actually, that didn’t seem so outlandish at the time. Despite the 9-19 hole that they had dug for themselves to begin the year, Charlotte was sitting around the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference standings. With plenty of games to go, it was expected that the club could rebound and save their season. Heck, some thought the Cats might even try to nab someone to help make that push before the trade deadline.

Well, things really went in the opposite direction. Once again, Michael Jordan’s Bobcats were active at the league’s trade deadline. Though, this time around the team wasn’t looking to acquire talent.

The Trade

So, what would you have thought if someone had told you back in September that during the 2010-2011 season the Bobcats would fire the best head coach that the franchise had ever seen, trade away the All-Star that fans loved, and still close the season with Stephen Jackson on the roster? Well, it played out just about like you would have thought. The team was shaken apart, as to leave Larry Brown’s “vision” in the dust and adjust for the future. Gerald Wallace was about as heartbroken about being traded to Portland as his Charlotte fans were. And, good ol’ Cap’n Jack made it through the season with a load of technical fouls, showed his clutch abilities throughout it all, and his body fell apart in late March after carrying the team for most of the year. Oh, and the guys that were expected to help Stephen Jackson never did come through as the Cats surrendered to the Draft Lottery by April. Tyrus Thomas was unable to return from his knee surgery and fellow power forward Boris Diaw brought it once in every four or five games. The team limped through the end of their schedule with Kwame Brown as the only true center.

Oh, and what would you have thought back in the Fall if someone told you that the Bobcats would be starting Kwame Brown? Surprisingly, he wasn’t as bad as you would have thought. Let’s not consider him the franchise center, but he was valuable for the team on both sides of the floor.

Quiet Close to the Season

So, the Bobcats headed down the last weeks of the season with a fading hope of another Playoff appearance. Though, what may have been more important for the team was the manner in which their younger and newer players seized the opportunity in the playing time given to them by Paul Silas. During the final games of the season, Gerald Henderson was often  the team’s primary offensive option. He showed his strengths, while learning to become an efficient guard. Clearly, young Gerald had big shoes to fill with the departure of “Crash” Gerald. Luckily, the team didn’t see him recoil.

Looking forward, Charlotte has a lot of decisions in front of them. Clearly, the organization has made a concerted effort to enter the “rebuilding” stage. The off-season should provide the team with the ability to improve as they hold a load of salary cap flexibility, young talent, and Draft selections. Still, it’s apparent that the team has holes, and will work to fill them as they build. Next season’s rookies can’t be expected to carry the team, and the free agent class isn’t all that “star-studded” this summer. With Jordan’s efforts to free up his options, he’ll want to make the most of each of his assets whether it be Draft picks, cap room, or promising players on the Bobcats roster. The 2011-12 season could just serve as a stepping stone for the club as they continue to develop, grow, and wait for the right additions via free agency. So, a short season due to a lock-out might just be exactly what Jordan and Co. are forecasting. If the rebuilding Cats are going to be really bad next year, let’s hope it’s only for 40 games or so.

-Mike

POLL : This Season: Where Did It Go Wrong?

  • Trading Tyson Chandler for Dampier (39%, 71 Votes)
  • Not Re-Signing Raymond Felton (14%, 26 Votes)
  • Starting Nazr Mohammed (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Firing Larry Brown (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Trading Gerald Wallace (32%, 59 Votes)
  • Re-Signing Tyrus Thomas (6%, 11 Votes)
  • Cutting Sherron Collins (5%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 182

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How The Bobcats Can Improve : Escaping The Nottery – Ver. 1.0

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Charlotte Bobcats Offseason Checklist

Ah, the Eastern Conference. ‘Tis a place where a bad team can go 2-9 in a late season slump and still be only a game or two out of the Playoffs. The current Race for Eight bears more resemblance to peewee football hot potato than a professional sports exercise. Someone please just win some games and put us all out of our misery.

Which brings us to the titular “Nottery,” a place where franchises go to die: Not good enough to be good and not bad enough to get good. Bobcats owner Michael Jordan understood this more so than any other when he made the controversial Gerald Wallace trade last month. Good isn’t good enough and if you want to get better, sometimes you gotta get a little worse.

SECTION 1. WHAT WE GOT

Before we head out to the supermarket, we should take a look in the cupboard. As poor as the Bobcats have been playing recently, the team does have a few assets.

a.) D.J. Augustin

Has clearly shown that he can be a top 15-20 starting PG in the league. Can shoot and has figured out how to score from in close. Defense isn’t as big of an issue as current rules have made it nearly impossible to defend the position. Proved that he could shoot his way out of a slump. Still on his rookie deal.

b.) Stephen Jackson

Volatile and playing too many minutes for his age, Jackson is nonetheless the Bobcats’ best player. He’s the only guy who can consistently create his own shot and when he’s on, can single-handily carry the team to a victory. His contract is probably untradeable until at least the summer of 2012 so look for JAX to remain in his role with the team next season.

c.) Tyrus Thomas

Needs to prove that he can stay healthy and stay focused but when he’s in physical and mental shape can really change the game from a defensive perspective. Solid rebounder and excellent shot blocker who has a nice mid-range jumper. Bobcats have invested a ton of cash hoping the Tyrus experiment works out. Best case scenario: Starting Power Forward for the next five seasons. Worst case scenario: Severely overpaid role player.

d.) Gerald Henderson

Very good defensive guard. Very athletic. Shown promise as a cutter but jump shot is still erratic. Henderson is another unknown. He’ll probably never be a great long ball threat but if he can develop a consistent mid-to-long range shot could become a very good player.

e.) D.J. White, Dante Cunningham (RFA), Shaun Livingston

Three youngish rotation players who have shown flashes of potential. White seems to have the most upside and is still on his rookie deal. Livingston has managed to carve out a place in the league after destroying his knee a few years ago. Cunningham should keep improving now that he’s playing the three position full-time.

Total it up and you have seven players who’ll most likely be suiting up for the Bobcats next season. That’s half a roster. Combine them with two first round draft picks in June and the CAP CRUNCHERS (Gana Diop, Matt Carroll, Eddie Najera) and you’re down to just two roster spots available to improve the team.

SECTION 2. WHAT WE NEED

Augustin, Jackson, Thomas and Henderson will most likely return as four of the team’s starters. Livingston, White and Cunningham will be solid contributors from the bench. That still leaves some major needs:

a.) Men in the Middle

As pleasantly mediocre as Kwame Brown has been, he’s an unrestricted free agent come July and the team will need to make a major upgrade if it wants to compete. Gana Diop is currently the only center on the roster and he was bad before the season ending achilles injury.

b.) Bench Scoring

Augustin, Jackson and (if he develops a jumper) Henderson can handle most of the scoring as starters but the team lacks any sort of big time scoring presence from the bench. The Bobcats will need to find someone capable of taking off some of the scoring load.

c.) Stars

Either through the draft or through crafty trades, the Bobcats will need to find a way to bring in a guy who’ll move the turnstiles and put down game-winning buckets.

SECTION 3. THE DRAFT

Charlotte will most likely pick around #10 and #18 in the draft barring a improbable Bobcat Playoff berth, lottery miracle or a late-season collapse by New Orleans.

The ‘Cats will should have the opportunity to nab players like Kentucky’s Terrence Jones (Iggy-type SF), John Henson (long defensive SF), Texas forwards Tristan Thompson (poor-man’s Elton Brand) and Jordan Hamilton (O.J. Mayo, Jr. check that, DrE is saying Rashard Lewis or Danny Granger, Jr.). Kentucky point Brandon Knight (Jordan Crawford-like combo guard) and Moorehead State’s Kenneth Faried (Reggie Evans with upside) should also be on the board.

It’s by all accounts a weak draft and the ‘Cats would be better off not drafting for need. The center crop is thin but fortunately there are enough solid SF candidates who could be brought in to eventually replace Stephen Jackson a year or two down the road.

SECTION 4. FREE AGENCY

No one knows what the new CBA will look like next season (if there is one) but I’d be willing to bet that the Bobcats’ situation won’t change much. Once all of the expirings come off, the team will sit at around $49 million in salaries, around $10 million south of this year’s cap. Add in the two first rounders along with re-upping Dante Cunningham and the team should be at around $54 million.

Obviously, the remaining $6 million wouldn’t be enough to bring in a big-name star (even if there was one in a weak FA class) but the extra wiggle room may help them pull off a deal or two IF the team is lucky enough to import a decent center from another team.

Free Agent Centers 2011:

a.) DeAndre Jordan.

Made big strides this season but the high-flying athlete probably doesn’t make much sense to pair with a similar player in Tyrus Thomas. Clippers also seem intent on keeping him.

b.) Marc Gasol.

Will likely command around $10 million/per on the open market. Gasol is a lower rent version of his All-Star brother but is only 26 and could develop into top tier center himself given the right circumstances. He’s a restricted and the Griz have stated that they’ll re-sign him but given the historical ownership thriftiness and the fact that Z-Bo’s deal is also up makes me think that Gasol could be had with a big poison-pill offer sheet. To make a move for Gasol, the Bobcats would likely have to find a taker for Boris Diaw’s $9 million expiring contract first (see TRADE section).

c.) Kwame Brown.

Performed adequately for the team as a starter this season and could be brought back as a backup if the price is right.

d.) Other Potentially Interesting FAs.

Big Baby Davis, Nene (ETO), Shane Battier, Carl Landry (who they’ve tried to sign before), Sam Dalembert, Craig Smith, Brandon Wright.

SECTION 5. TRADE

Boris Diaw, Boris Diaw, Boris Diaw. Did I mention Boris Diaw? I just can’t see any way the Frenchman stays on the Bobcat roster come training camp. Only on the books for a final season, in a contract year (so will likely be motivated – see Chandler, Tyson) and has proven that when he gives a crap can be a game-changing presence in the lineup. All these factors combined with the Coach’s obvious dissatisfaction in Diaw’s inconsistent performances will likely land Boris in another uniform next season.

Potential Trades:

a.) Boris Diaw to Toronto for Leandro Barbosa.

Colangelo wanted him last summer and they need size. Both players on expirings, Bobcats trade big for small but also shave another $1.4 million off the books to go after a FA. ‘Cats get the bench scoring they’ve so desperately needed.

b.) Boris Diaw to LAClippers for Chris Kaman.

Again, both players on expirings. Clips get the third big to rotate with Griffin and Jordan. Bobcats take on an additional $3.2 million and risk Kaman’s recent injury history but if it works out, then they have a high-scoring starting center for the first time in franchise history.

c.) Boris Diaw + Future First Rounder to TeamX for cap space.

In this deal, the ‘Cats could find a team with cap space in need of a versatile big and compensate them with either this year’s late first rounder or Portland’s pick in 2013. The ‘Cats would then have around $18 million to pursue a free agent target like Marc Gasol.

SECTION 6. WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE

Whenever the ’11-’12 NBA season starts, the Bobcats (barring major injury) will look quite a lot better than currently configured.

If the team simply follows the recipe above, they could trot out:

PG: Augustin/Livingston/Brandon Knight

SG: Henderson/Carroll

SF: Jackson/Jordan Hamilton/Cunningham

PF: Thomas/D.J. White/Najera

C: Kaman/Brown/Diop

The team would still be well under the $60 million cap and have enough flexibility the following summer to make a major splash in the vaunted Free Agent summer of 2012. No need to fret, Bobcats fans. I think MJ has a plan and if he follows it correctly, the team may well be in contention sooner rather than never.

Until Version 2.0…

Enjoy the Nottery, Bobcats Fans,

-ASChin

POLL : This Season: Where Did It Go Wrong?

  • Trading Tyson Chandler for Dampier (39%, 71 Votes)
  • Not Re-Signing Raymond Felton (14%, 26 Votes)
  • Starting Nazr Mohammed (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Firing Larry Brown (2%, 4 Votes)
  • Trading Gerald Wallace (32%, 59 Votes)
  • Re-Signing Tyrus Thomas (6%, 11 Votes)
  • Cutting Sherron Collins (5%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 182

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Waiting for The Next Good Hand

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Although we’ve seen a lot of huffing and puffing recently from Bobcats fans and local media, the team’s latest stretch of road beat-downs and lackluster efforts shouldn’t be so hastily bundled into last month’s Gerald Wallace salary dump (cue Abraham Lincoln voice) “for this was their path all along.”

You see, there’s a very good reason why the Charlotte NBA franchise dropped five consecutive road games to solid Western Conference teams and that reason is that the Bobcats aren’t very good. They aren’t good without Gerald Wallace and they weren’t good with him. They were simply adequate.

But they were tearing up the league once Sugar Bear Silas took over,” you contend. Yes, they were putting notches in the win column but the vast majority of those wins came against the lowliest of Eastern Conference opponents and most of the quality victories came at home. To “beast it” in the Association, a team must be able to not only beat good teams at home but also occasionally on the road and, most importantly, must do both of these things consistently. *

Combine the Bobcats lack of talent with the early season Larry Brown-orchestrated funk, the loss of Tyrus Thomas and the unexpected lights-out play of Philadelphia and Indiana and you can see why Michael Jordan pulled the plug. A seasoned gambler looking at these Playoff odds would fold and wait for the next hand. That’s exactly what MJ has done and while it might not be pretty now, the ‘Cats are in a much better position long-term to be relevant.

ROSTERBATION NOTES:

-It’s been a pleasure watching Gerald Henderson go through the ups & downs of a young starter. Some nights the guy looks like a keeper and on others he looks rather lost. His jumper is still not as consistent as it needs to be and I’m hoping that he and his family enlist a specialist to work with him on the skill during the summer. The athleticism that Henderson leans on so much now won’t be there in six or seven years. Hopefully Gerald fulfills his potential as a Kobe-lite by rounding out his skill-set over the next few offseasons.

-I don’t think it’ll be too difficult finding a taker for Boris Diaw’s expiring contract if he puts up a few more performances like the one he did against the Clips last evening. My gut (pun intended) feeling has always been that Boris is simply bored with Charlotte and the systems in place. He’d be much better off in a more metropolitan city. Moving him this summer (along with one of the first rounders acquired in the Wallace trade) would put the Bobcats in the position to take on a max-level star via trade or signing for the first time in a very long while.

-In my opinion, Jordan’s rebuilding plan was hinted at the day the team extended Coach Silas’s contract for next season. It was a clear move to the coach that the blame for the team’s struggles wouldn’t be placed exclusively on his shoulders. Unless the ‘Cats can recruit top notch talent to come to Charlotte this summer, the team will most likely struggle for another season as they build their young nucleus of players for a successful run in ’12-’13.

-ASChin

*Let’s go ahead and call it “The Dallas Test.” The day that the Bobcats go into Big D and scalp the previously unscalpable Mavericks easily on the road, they’ll have made the jump. Until then, they’re either bad or not good enough.

Bobcats Begin Post-Gerald Era With Win Over Kings

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(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Despite only dressing 8 players due to Thursday’s trades, the Charlotte Bobcats defeated the Sacramento Kings 110-98 at the Cable Box on Friday night. Stephen Jackson settled down after an early technical foul and led the Cats with 30 points on 11-19 FG.

AP Recap |  Box Score |  Highlights

The Kings were without their best player, Tyreke Evans (plantar fasciitis), and aren’t that good with him, so this is nothing to get too excited about. Nonetheless, there were some encouraging signs.

Obviously, the fact that the Cats were able to win so shorthanded is a story.  After the expected starting five of DJ, Gerald Henderson, Jack, Diaw and Kwame Brown, the Cats could only call on Shaun Livingston, Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera off the bench.  Winning any NBA game with just those 8 guys is noteworthy no matter the opponent.

But most importantly, the guys that need to step up did so — at least for one night.

For better or worse, this is Jack’s team the rest of the season.  And under stressful circumstances, made even more so by the presence of his nemesis, referee Eli Roe, you wouldn’t have been blamed for expecting the worst of Jackson going into the game.  Like clockwork, Roe called Jackson for a charge just minutes into the game.  Jack was immediately rattled, drew a tech (from Derrick Stafford, to be fair), and was benched.  But Jack was able to gather himself, avoid any further trouble with the referees, and pour in his 30.

DJ Augustin played his second straight solid game coming out of the All-Star break, torching Beno Udrih for 23 points on 9-11 shooting.

And Gerald Henderson dropped 21 points (8-17 FG, 5-6 FT) to continue his strong February.

Notes

  • On the other hand, Boris Diaw was pretty much a no-show.  Knowing Boris, he’ll probably give pretty much the same effort tomorrow night, but end up with a near-triple-double.
  • I appreciate what Eduardo Najera has brought to the table in Tyrus Thomas’ absence.  On some nights, his toughness and defense have been a godsend to Paul Silas.  But this better be the first and only time I see him shoot five three-pointers in a game.
  • DeMarcus Cousins was fun.  Where to start?  13 points, 10 rebounds and 7 turnovers.  Seven turnovers?  But the talent is obvious, and in such a huge body.  If the Kings could get an elite young point guard (Kyrie Irving?), move Evans to the 2, and have those three figure it out together — watch out. And then there was the random benching to start the second half.  But my favorite is Cousins’ array of scowls.  Seriously, he had this one in the first half when a call didn’t go his way that showed elite, freakish expressionism.  I’m thinking Cousins is going to be the first rookie since Rashad McCants to make it to my 1st Team All-Sourpuss squad.  Hopefully he’ll get to spend some time with Stephen Jackson at the photo shoot, because I think those two are kindred spirits.
  • So I see that Indiana lost to the blown-up Jazz, which means the Bobcats are just a half-game out of the 8th playoff spot.  You know, it’s not as if the Pacers are some juggernaut, or some veteran-laden steady team.  They’re young, with an interim coach, and they rely pretty heavily on Danny Granger.  I’m just saying it’s not impossible for the Cats to overtake them, especially with Tyrus Thomas getting ready to return.  Stranger things have happened.
  • The Cats will practice tomorrow, and expect to have Joel Pryzbilla, Dante Cunningham and DJ White there to get acclimated.  Next game is Sunday evening, 6PM ET against the Magic in Orlando.

-Dr. E

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Bobcats Down Raptors; Trade Deadline Approaches

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DJ (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Bobcats handily defeated the Toronto Raptors, 114-101, on Tuesday night at the Cable Box.  DJ Augustin led the way with 23 points and 8 assists/o turnovers, while Gerald Wallace relentlessly drove at Toronto’s weak interior defenders en route to 14-15 FTs and 20 points.

AP Recap |  Box Score

The Bobcats took the lead late in the first quarter and never looked back.  They stretched the lead out to double digits in the second and nearly out to 20 briefly in the third.  A meaningless Raptors rally cut the Cats lead to 11 midway through the fourth before Gerald Wallace closed the door for good by getting to the line for 5-6 free throws on three consecutive possessions.

Boris Diaw had a strong game with 16 points (6-10 FG), 9 assists and 4 steals.  Gerald Henderson added 15 points (5-11 FG) and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench.

The Raptors are pretty much a mess, and it starts with their best player.  7’0″ center Andrea Bargnani is about as soft as they come, and his nonexistent defensive ability and effort set the tone for the rest of the young team.

Notes

  • Stephen Jackson left the game in the third quarter after taking contact and landing awkwardly during a layup.  Jackson left the floor limping and holding his left hamstring.  He soon returned to the bench, but did not re-enter the game.  Jackson said after the game the injury was not a concern and that he could have played if called upon.
  • Nazr Mohammed did his best Kevin Love impression, grabbing 14 rebounds in just 24 minutes off the bench.
  • Boris capped his night of with a breakaway dunk that was rather out of character.  After a feed from DJ, who had stolen the ball in the backcourt, Boris cocked it back behind his head before stuffing it two-handed.  I would say that he was inspired by this past weekend’s slam dunk contest, but you and I know there’s no way Boris watched that.
  • Weird line for Jerryd Bayless.  He was about as relentless going to the rack as Gerald Wallace and had 11-12 FT, but was 0-4 from the field.   He also tallied 10 assists, but gave up 4 turnovers and committed 4 fouls.
  • The Pacers took care of the Wiz tonight, so maintain their one game lead on the Bobcats for the 8th playoff spot.
  • Bobcats don’t play again until Friday night when they host the Kings at the Cable Box, 7 PM ET start.  The Kings will be without Tyreke Evans, who is missing time with plantar fasciitis, and Carl Landry, who is about to get traded to the Hornets for Marcus Thornton.

Thoughts at the Trade Deadline

Bonus trade deadline thoughts!  Now that the Carmelo deal is done, some other smaller deals are starting to go down.  The deadline is at 3 PM ET on Thursday.  Several sources have indicated that the Bobcats have been active on the phones.

But Paul Silas has been quoted both Monday and Tuesday as saying that he doesn’t think the Bobcats will be making a trade; his quote from Tuesday made it sound as if the Bobcats had only received ludicrous proposals from other teams: “We’re not just going to give people away and that’s what most teams want you to do.”

That’s basically code for: “You know who we’ve got on the block.  We’re ready to deal, but you’re going to have to step your offer up.”

And while I agree that the Bobcats should only trade Gerald Wallace if they get a Godfather offer, and should be pretty picky about giving Boris Diaw up, I wouldn’t be as choosy about a Stephen Jackson trade.  I’d jump on a mix of an expiring contract and a draft pick in a heartbeat, but that’s probably not happening.

Whatever the case, despite Silas’s proclamation that “nothing’s happening”, expect to hear the Bobcats continue to come up in deadline buzz over the next day and half.

-Dr. E

POLL : What should the Bobcats do at the trade deadline?

  • Trade Gerald Wallace (23%, 12 Votes)
  • Trade Boris Diaw (17%, 9 Votes)
  • Trade Stephen Jackson (34%, 18 Votes)
  • Stand pat and make a playoff push (26%, 14 Votes)

Total Voters: 53

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