2010-11 Bobcats Season Preview: The Next Move?

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Baseline contributors DR. E and ASChin discuss their thoughts on the Charlotte Bobcats roster.

DR. E-

The Larry Brown era in Charlotte has been marked by frequent and often dramatic shakeups of the roster. His “grass is always greener” approach to evaluating other players (and other coaching positions) around the league relative to his own is well documented. By and large, this tendency has been welcomed by a Bobcats front office in need of some expertise/direction/chutzpah. Meanwhile, the fanbase has been encouraged as the transactions have resulted in short-term improvement and the team’s first playoff berth thus far.

So it’s fair to ask, how long until the next roster shakeup? And what positions/players are most likely to be affected?

ASCHIN-

This is clearly a matter of when, not if. Larry Brown has nearly turned the entire roster over in his three seasons and we know he’ll kvetch until he can’ts kvetch no more in order to work fresh blood into the lineup.

I can see the next few months going in one of two ways:

PATH I:

D.J. is actually good.

In this scenario, D.J. proves that his Preseason numbers are for real (14ppg, 4apg, 55%FG, 63%3ptFG in 28 minutes per) and successfully leads the team as a score-first, defense-extending long range threat. Shaun Livingston comes back from the knee injury aggravation and gives the team another look for twenty minutes a night. Larry deems the PG situation as being acceptable and decides to stay put until a favorable deal for a starting center comes along.

PATH II:

D.J. is actually not good.

In this scenario, Augustin either struggles with his confidence (or his shot) during the Real Season and/or stagnates the offense with his lack of playmaking ability. Coach Brown decides that the team needs a veteran playmaker and starts working the phones. There are a few guys out there who could be had. I’ll let DR. E take the first stab. Who are your PG candidates?

DR. E-

Well, first let me say that I think a third scenario is more likely. I think DJ will be OK — not really good or really bad. I think the Bobcats could struggle a bit out of the gate (as Larry Brown teams usually do) and we’ll be debating how much of the blame can be laid on DJ. The result of this scenario is the same as your latter scenario, though. Larry’s eyes will start wandering.

So let’s just get the biggest, most ridiculous possibility out of the way first. Gilbert Arenas.

Arenas has the undisputed worst contract in the league at this point (4 more years, around $80 million total). No one is sure whether his knees are going to allow him to play at a high level any more. He continues to behave very irresponsibly. He’s positively radioactive at this point and the Wizards know it.

Yet, I refuse to rule him out. I’m still intrigued. What if he keeps his mouth shut (except for the harmless, kinda entertaining stuff), looks healthy and plays well to start off the season?

ASCHIN-

I agree that they’ll struggle early – Brown has a tendency to do that as he sacrifices wins in order to figure out his team during the first month. I just hope that they don’t dig themselves into last year’s massive hole again.

As for Arenas, you know me, I’ve been writing about this for months. I just don’t buy the fact that Orlando would take on Gilbert’s $80 million and only send Vince Carter’s expiring contract back in return (as it’s being reported). The Arenas contract is a HUGE risk and the only way the Bobcats do the trade is if they send a bunch of dead weight (Diop, Najera, Carroll) back. Agent Zero would take a great deal of the offensive load off of Captian Jack and extend the defense in a way the Bobcats have never seen before. I don’t absolutely love the move but if you could drop dead weight contracts, then do it.

Let me throw something else at you that I’ve yet to see mentioned anywhere. Derrick Brown has looked very, very good this preseason and in Summer League. Is there a chance that the Bobcats trade Gerald Wallace at some point during the season or next summer to hand the SF spot over to the youngster?

DR. E -

Whoa! Slow down there, turbo. We haven’t even resolved the PG issue and you’re talking about trading the cornerstone of the franchise. We’ve heard in the past that the Trailblazers covet(ed) Gerald Wallace, and this offseason, CBSsports.com’s Ken Berger has repeatedly mentioned that Wallace is on the Nuggets short list of players they’d like to fill their SF spot should they trade Carmelo away.

But we’ve also heard that the Bobcats have no interest in doing so. Presumably because goal #1 for the Cats again this year is to make the playoffs. So the only way I could see Gerald being traded is if the Bobcats start the season so badly that the playoffs are out of the question and the team starts looking ahead to the post-Larry Brown future. Maybe that would dovetail with the Nuggets getting around to trading Carmelo and the Cats would get involved in multi-team trade talks again.

In that case, the Cats would be looking for what all teams look for when they trade away a star and look to the future: a mix of cap relief, young talent and draft picks. So in short, I don’t think the Cats would be able to trade Wallace and retool on the fly/stay in playoff contention. It would be an admission that the season is a wash, Larry Brown is checked out, and we’re looking to rebuild. It would also be devastating for what fanbase the Bobcats do have.

ASCHIN-

Perhaps I’m approaching this from more of a NFL GM’s point of view but if at some point the Bobcats could get similar production from a guy who is making $4 or $5 million a year (after his extension) and get back either a prospect at a position of need or a high pick, wouldn’t you at least consider it?

DR. E-

Yes, that would be very Belichickian, and yes, the thought would cross my mind if Derrick Brown came on like a house afire this year. But (/begin bleeding heart fan rant) Gerald Wallace means a lot more to the Bobcats than just his statistics at this point. Not only would the fragile relationship this franchise has with its fans be severely damaged, the team would also lose its quiet, steady locker room leader.

ASCHIN-

Enough about trading away the face of the franchise, back to the PG issue. I believe one of the main reasons Larry hasn’t pulled the trigger on a deal yet is that there simply aren’t a lot of players in 2010 that can do what LB wants in his point guard. Coach wants a high percentage shooting, smart passing, strong defending team leader who knows how to manage the clock and who prevents his team from settling for bad shots. There just aren’t many players in the Association built like that these days. One guy who WE KNOW fits the criteria is Chauncey Billups and I have to think that once Carmelo is dealt the Nuggs will move towards getting younger and cheaper. If Ty Lawson comes out of the gate as strong as he did in his rookie season, I could see Denver working the phones at some point. Question is, what do the Bobcats give up for him?

DR. E-

I guess it depends on what Denver would be able to get first in a Carmelo trade, so it’s hard to say. It would also depend on what they were wanting to do; i.e. blow it up completely by taking back expirings and draft picks, or rebuild on the fly to maintain some competitiveness. At the very least, they’d probably want a PG back (Livingston or Augustin?) and an expiring (Mohammed?) as part of the deal.

Another question is whether Chauncey would accept such a trade. Remember, he’s a Denver native and was probably hoping to end his career there. He’s implied recently that if Denver rebuilds post-Carmelo, he’d have a hard time not “playing for something.” So would reuniting with Larry Brown and coming to Charlotte to play for the 7th or 8th seed in the East be enough to play for? And would having Chauncey convince Larry Brown to stick around in Charlotte a little longer?

ASCHIN-

Guess we’ll have to wait and see how this thing plays out. Jordan has just gone on record with Rick Bonnell about the roster churn, saying that it’s “less likely to continue” this season. As an experience gambler, MJ continues to put on a good poker face. Expect something to happen soon.

THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS: Jordan’s Approach to Building a Winning Team in Charlotte

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misfits

THE PLAYERS (AKA THE MISFITS):

It starts with the city itself.  Once a shining example of the NBA’s ever-growing popularity in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Charlotte finds itself today as a middle aged divorcee six years into a rebound marriage, unsure if it was ever cut out for this pro basketball city thing to begin with.*

The team’s first All-Star and only remaining original member was a bargain bin castoff selected in the expansion draft.  Young Gerald Wallace was worth less to the Sacramento Kings than shedding $1 million from their bloated payroll.

Even though he is only one of a dozen or so current NBA players who can score twenty points a night while preventing his opponent from doing the same, Stephen Jackson was exiled from Golden State for what amounted to a $5 million expiring contract and a poor shooting, non-rebounding Eastern European caveman.

Once universally revered, hall of fame head coach Larry Brown arrived in Charlotte a tarnished brand.  In a League where head coaching vacancies are filled annually by the same retread Temp Agency, Brown had to practically reach out to an old friend in order to secure a job and begin rebuilding his reputation.

And finally there’s Jordan.  A man who could do no wrong on the court is now the man who can barely do anything right off of it.  Joining the names Ehlo and Russell in the MJ ethos are new ones like Kwame and Morrison.  For the first time in nearly 30 years, Michael Jordan has something to prove in the game of basketball.

A BRIEF, PAINFUL RECAP

Successful small market teams (OKC, San Antonio, Portland, Utah, Orlando) use the same formula and we all know it: BUILD THROUGH THE DRAFT.  Draft stars to cheap rookie deals, treat ‘em well, sign ‘em to big contracts before they hit free agency and keep drafting young talent and signing mid-level free agents to pair with them.  Rinse and repeat.

The Bobcats are currently the worst drafting franchise in the NBA.  It’s not even up for debate.  In six plus years of existence, not once has one of their draft picks sniffed an All-Star game – and the ‘Cats have had more lottery selections than anyone else in that span.  Indulge me for another brief and painful recap:

2004: Emeka Okafor.  GRADE: a solid double. Could have had more picks and taken Big Al or Iggy if Bob Johnson had a clue about running a business, “hmm, buy a pick from Phoenix for $2 million to draft Jefferson, Deng or Iguodala or build a brand new cable sports network from scratch?  What’s the main draw you ask?  Charlotte Bobcats basketball of course!  Brevin Knight every night!”

2005: Ray Felton/Crab Bread May.  GRADE: a sacrifice bunt. Felton a below average starter for a few years, May on his way to hosting Man vs. Food: EXTREME CARBS!
2006: Adam Morrison.  GRADE: whiff.
Not only a whiff but a McGwire Whiff.  The kind where the guy is on ‘roids and whiffs so hard that he blows out both knees in the process.  Embarrassing.
2007: Jason Richardson/Jared Dudley.  GRADE: RBI single. Could have been worse.  At least realized that they didn’t know how to draft and received a couple non-bust assets in return.

2008: Augustin/Ajinca.  GRADE: whiff. Not as bad as the Morrison knee blowout but a close second.  Passed on Brook Lopez and threw away a future first rounder in order to select Freedom Fries.  Jordan was on record as saying that the team sat out the 2010 draft because “Tyrus Thomas was our first round pick.”  No, Michael.  Alexis Ajinca is your 2010 first round pick.  Ugh.
2009: Henderson/Brown.  GRADE: promising single right up the gap.
Henderson looked good in some late season action and is at least athletic enough to belong in the League–although his complete lack of an outside shot scares me.  Derrick Brown has the Gerald Wallace “I’m not intellectually capable enough to realize I shouldn’t be any good” gene – and this is no insult to Crash, look at how the book-smarts have hampered Okatron 2000’s career.  Higher grade for this draft if LB actually plays them next year.
2010: Ajinca by proxy.  GRADE: Freedom whiff.

So there you go folks, somehow with all of this draft day carnage in their immediate past, the Charlotte Bobcats attained a winning record in 2009-2010 and stole the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.  So how in the hell did they do it?

GIVE US YOUR UNDER-PERFORMING & YOUR OVER-PAID

Nazr Mohammed, Tyson Chandler, Gana Diop, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw.  What’s the single thread that ties these players together?  Why, it’s the fact that their former teams handed them massive contracts and then immediately realized that they’d made a mistake.  “Oh crap, we just signed Joel Pryzbilla to a nine year $80 million contract.  Quick, get Jordan on the phone!”

So in a silly season which saw half of the League’s teams trade away wins for cap space, the Bobcats “philosophy” of taking on bad contracts to win now was just wacky enough to propel them into the postseason.  While other GMs plotted for future dynasties, Jordan mortgaged the farm on the more modest and attainable goal of simply making the Playoffs.  It worked.  The ‘Cats finished the season as one of the Association’s top 15 teams.

Could it be that MJ and crony Rod Higgins are sharking their peers by making fiscally questionable deals to upgrade the team’s talent pool?  Have the ‘Cats created a new “Freakonomics” meets “Moneyball” model that challenges the importance of the amateur draft and free agency?  Is Michael Jordan stealthily playing checkers while the rest of the League plays chess?  Or will all of these questionable contracts and draft day screw-ups eventually cripple the team, making future trades difficult and free agent additions impossible?**

If Jordan and Higgins are intent on foregoing the tried and true paradigm for small market success and continue with their merry spending ways, then I present to you, without further ado…

THE SUMMER OF 2010’s MISFIT TOY CANDIDATES:

What makes a Misfit Toy candidate?  Simple: you have to be way overpaid and way underperforming.  If you fit this description then I hope you like pulled pork BBQ ‘cause your probably coming to Carolina!

Ben Gordon 4 yrs: $47 million

Y’think Joey Dumars is just a tad bit regretful for signing a 6’3” sixth man shooting guard to a $60 million deal?  Gordon is way overpaid for his production but could be exactly what the doctor ordered on a team like the Bobcats: Electric bench and fourth quarter scoring.  The ‘Cats are desperate for it.  That said, Dumars is notoriously tough to trade with.  Wonder if a combination of Boris Diaw and Gerald Henderson might get this done.

Monta Ellis 4 yrs: $44 million

We’ve been speculating on this one for years.  Ellis hogs the ball and jacks up shots at an unprecedented rate.  Not good on a team with lots of offensive options like Golden State but could be an absolute godsend for the Bobcats, who spent the vast majority of last season spastically passing the ball around on offense like it was a live hand grenade.  Again, wonder if Diaw and Henderson or Chandler’s expiring could get this done.  The W’s are a mess in the front office right now, Higgins could potentially steal something else in return (pick, prospect).

Baron Davis 3yrs: $41 million

A blast from the past, a former home grown product entering the end of his career.  Still has the size and offensive firepower to occasionally dominate a game.  Couldn’t be any worse than Felton and is so overpaid that the ‘Cats could conceivably unload Diop’s longer deal in exchange.

Al Jefferson 3yrs: $42 million

Not sure exactly why Big Al is being shopped so fiercely this summer.  Who knows what goes on in the mind of David Kahn.  If the rest of League’s GMs are playing chess to MJ’s checkers, then Kahn is playing badminton.  Al would be a huge upgrade at the PF spot for the ‘Cats but not quite sure what the T’Wolves would want in exchange.  I’m praying that Kahn would ok a deal that would send out Jefferson and Ramon Sessions (Andre Miller: The Next Generation) for Tyson and Nazr’s expirings (plus a future first rounder).

Emeka Okafor: 4yrs, $52 million

Tied with two others on this list (see below) for the worst contract in the League.  Obviously, it was the Bobcats who signed him to it.  Was such a poor fit in New Orleans that Charlotte actually won the trade by taking back 6ppg/6rpg, semi-crippled Tyson Chandler in exchange.  Hate the contract but could live with ‘Mek’s 16 + 10 if the Hornets threw in Darren Collison.  Diop/Mohammed/Augustin for Okafor/Collison anybody?

Rashard Lewis: 3yrs, $65 million

Sole possession of 2nd Worst Contract in the League.  He’s paid over $20 million a year over the next three.  Yeah, you read that right.  Rashard should gift half his salary to Dwight Howard every season.  Without D-Ho backing him up in the lane, Lewis’s skinny frame and lack of defensive skills would make him an absolute liability.  Don’t think the Magic would trade him (they’re firmly in “go for broke” mode) but his offensive skills and outside shooting would fill a need for the ‘Cats.

Elton Brand: 3yrs, $51 million

Here we go, a good old fashioned back to the basket All-Star power forward.  Only problem is that Elton hasn’t been the same since an achilles injury derailed his career a few seasons ago.  He’s a round peg in a square hole with fast paced Philly but could regain dominance in Larry Brown’s grind it out half-court offense in Charlotte.  Would Diaw/Mohammed (expiring) be enough to get it done?

Hedu Turkoglu: 4yrs, $43 million

We’ve been hearing this rumor for a solid month now.  Hedu and Jack to Charlotte for Boris, Diop and D.J.  Doesn’t make a lot of sense mainly because Hedu can only play small forward, doesn’t defend or rebound well and is essentially not very good.  He’s basically Boris with a worse contract and poorer defense.  Jack and Ray Felton may as well be the same player.  Dud.  Oh and Hedu is one of the other “Worst Contract in the League”ers.  The other one?

Gilbert Arenas: 4yrs, $60 million

I’ve already written about this in length so I won’t rehash it here.  If MJ could swing a deal featuring Diop, Diaw and Mohammed for Gilbert and an asset (prospect or pick) then do it.  It’d be the biggest gamble in MJ’s tenure but he’s shown that he’s most definitely the gambling type.  An Arenas/JAX/CRASH/Tyrus/Chandler core could win 50 games this year as long as everybody stays relatively healthy.  The team would also retain the young talent on the roster and pick up either a pick or a young player like Javale McGee or Blatche from the Wiz for their troubles.

Allen Iverson: free agent.

We couldn’t leave out good old AI.  He’s a free agent and has declared himself ready take on the League again.  The dude has hit rock bottom.  If you’re gonna take a flyer on him then now is the time to do it.  If he would accept a smaller (possibly bench) role and play nice with his new teammates then I can’t think of a better way for him to end his career than with his old coach in the Queen City.  He’d also come cheap.  Think: Flip Murray Advanced.

IN CONCLUSION

Don’t be surprised if Jordan pulls off a deal for one of these misfits sometime between now and the end of next month.  MJ sat out the draft and one gets the sense that both he and Trader Larry are chomping at the bit to make yet another move for an overpriced toy in need of a new home.

Until then, Enjoy the Offseason Bobcats fans…

-ASChin

*I find it ironic that throughout Charlotte’s twenty plus years of NBA basketball history the vast majority of the city’s successful players have come via trade or as castaways: Monster Mash, Eddie Jones, Mase, Vlade Two Packs, Easy E Campbell, P-Whipped Rice, Curry 1.0, Don’t Tell Me No Bogues, Crash and JAX.  Doesn’t that sort of represent how the city’s success was built as well?  Sure, there are some shining examples of homegrown talent but the vast majority of the Queen City’s brain pool came here from somewhere else looking for a new start.  Buffalo, Rochester, Jersey, Pittsburgh, WV, Ohio, represent BABY BABY!  UH!

**The good news is that the team drafts so poorly that they’ll never have to worry about re-signing their own talent on the open market.  “What’s that?  Raymond is an unrestricted free agent?  He might sign with another team?  Huh.  Anyways, so you’re telling me that a poached egg is actually boiled?  I always wondered how they did that…”