Greatest Bobcat Ever

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BEST-EVER-COVER

The Charlotte Bobcats/Neo-Hornets have been to the post-season twice, being swept both times by a Florida team. They’ve had a single All-Star representative in their 10 years, 1 All-Defensive 1st Team member, 1 Rookie of the Year, 1 All-Rookie 1st Team member, and 5 All-Rookie 3rd Team members. That’s not many accolades for a team that just celebrated its 10th year of existence with a complete rebrand. Reflecting on 10 years of consistently not good basketball naturally leads to debating who has had the best season in that 10 years.

The majority of players that have worn the orange and blue (and the other blue, then the next blue) can be ignored. Tamar Slay (props if you didn’t have to look him up) didn’t exactly set the NBA on fire. The list can be trimmed pretty quickly. A quick Family Feud survey on who the best players in team history are and will return some mix of Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace, Kemba Walker, and Al Jefferson. Jason Richardson’s name will rightfully show up with 1 or 2 votes. If Stephen Jackson showed up, just no. He might make love to pressure, but that stat doesn’t seem to exist anywhere.

The goal is to identify who had the best individual season, regardless of overall team performance. Impact on the team as a whole does matter, just not the final win/loss record. Players won’t be penalized for unluckily ending up on one of the many bad Bobcats rosters or reward Stephen Jackson for being on one of two playoff teams. Individual seasons can be compared using composite ratings such as PER and points per 100 possessions, plus-minus information, tempo adjusted performance rates, and individual play type performance. All stats come from ESPN.com, NBA.com/stats, basketball-reference.com, 82games.com, and mysynergysports.com.

During the research process, it became apparent that it wasn’t fair to single out one season as the best. Too many good and often underrated performances would go unnoticed and since the Bobcats no longer exist (or won’t soon? It seems nobody knows the timetable on this)* they deserve some recognition. Apologies to any that have been missed.

Honorable Mentions

Charlotte Bobcats, 2004-2005

In honor of the re-brand, the entire team gets some space. Brevin Knight led the team with an 18.2 PER, followed by Jason Hart at 16.91. Yes, Jason Hart was an above average NBA player by PER on this team. Jason Kapono shot 41% from deep. Emeka Okafor began his career with an impressive 16.39 PER and Rookie of the Year award. Aside from gaining cult status over time overshadowed by only Walter Hermann’s hair, Primo Brezec had the best career of his season with a 16.19 PER while averaging a career high 31.6 minutes and 13 points per game. Melvin Ely was on the team. Apparently Steve Smith was too, shooting 42% on three and 87% from the line then calling it quits because NBATV money is better than wearing yourself out on an expansion team. Eddie House posted a 15.88 PER while averaging 11.1 points and shooting 41.4% from downtown (this team sure had a lot of shooting… that must have been nice). Jahidi White had a 17.5% usage rate for some reason, along with an 18.2% turnover rate. Bernard Robinson scored 18 points in Madison Square Garden, the ultimate King Maker Arena. Gerald Wallace began his ascension, posting a 14.12 PER in more than triple the minutes from his previous season. Tamar Slay finished his final NBA season with a 1.49 PER which may be the lowest in team history if it was worth looking up. And orange jerseys. Because just look at them.

okafor-profileEmeka Okafor, 2008-2009 Season

The adjective for Okafor’s tenure in Charlotte is solid. Never spectacular, never terrible, just consistently solid. That being the case, it’s tough to single out an individual season as the stand-out but, as the onlyRookie of the Year amongst a plethora of failed lottery picks, he deserves to be recognized. Forced to p
ick just one, 2008-2009 comes the closest to a marquee Okafor season. Posting an 18.01 PER, the second highest of his Charlotte tenure, and an offensive rating of 102.2, his highest over that same time period, with a .581 true shooting percentage and a .561 effective field goal percentage, this was his best offensive season. Defensively he was solid as ever with the Bobcats being 4.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. While he pales in comparison to Dwight Howard who was drafted just before him, Okafor was a solid rim protector and a decent offensive option, something Charlotte could definitely use behind Al Jefferson right now.

Jason Richardson Illustration by Mike SJason Richardson, 2007-2008

Richardson’s tenure in Charlotte was (too) short, but merits a mention. With a PER of 18.6 and an offensive rating of 103, he was one of the best offensive players the Bobcats have seen. He got torched on defense, but a player that shoots 40.6% from 3 has been a rarity in the Queen City over the past 10 years. It would have been interesting to see that team develop with a decent coach. Instead J-Rich got shipped out to Phoenix for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw and the rest is painful, eye gouging, Larry Brown hating history.

Adam Morrison, 2006-2007

Haha. Just kidding.

kemba-sketch-01

Kemba Walker, 2013-2014

Kemba is a key piece of the Charlotte Hornets moving forward and has been worthy of the 9th pick in the 2011 draft. It would be easy to select 2012-2013 as his best season as he improved his shot selection and had easily his best shooting percentages in his (extremely) short career thus far. It’s hard to disentangle Kemba’s performance from Al Jefferson’s in 2013-2014, but that’s the beauty of what he’s done this past season. Walker has been the number one option on every team he’s played. He’s been expected to create shots for himself first and involve his teammates second. This is delving into “intangibles,” but Kemba’s ability to change his mindset and learn to play with a post player was impressive. While his shooting percentages regressed, his assist ratio improved and turnover rate dropped. Defensively he had his best season with a 99.1 rating and 3.3 defensive win shares, continuing to block shots and get steals with his quickness and athleticism and rebounding well for a small guard. His biggest defensive concern is his size, yet in isolation plays the opposing player scored .73 points per possession on 31.6% shooting. He’s doing just fine. Plus/Minus stats aren’t particularly helpful here because Luke Ridnour was the backup for 1/3 of the season and Ramon Sessions is a known terrible defender. Kemba’s future is bright as he had arguably his best season yet even if it wasn’t a massive statistical improvement on his 2nd season.

Al Jefferson illustration by Mike S.3. Al Jefferson, 2013-2014

Jefferson came to Charlotte and made an immediate impact, leading the team to the playoffs and even receiving MVP votes. This speaks to the dearth of centers in the league and the massive improvement in the Bobcats record from 2012 to 2013, more than doubling wins. This is not to diminish his accomplishments. Jefferson is a low post savant that found a way to be competent on defense in a way he hadn’t been at any other point in his career. Jefferson posted the highest PER in team history at 22.7. He was the focus of the offense and the main focus of defenses every night, allowing other guys to find their spots. Despite all that attention, his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage were the 3rd best of his career at 53.2% and 51%, respectively. Jefferson had the highest assist percentage in his 10 years at 12.8%, a welcome improvement in his game. All of this while posting his highest usage percentage ever at 29.3%. He also had his best defensive rebounding percentage at 28.2%, an important part of finishing defensive possessions. Defensively he was solid, helping hold opposing players to less than 1 point per possession in all significant play types (play types run more than 40 times). He struggled with stretch 5’s like Chris Bosh as they shot 40.7% on 3’s in spot up situations, but that’s a concession that has to be made given Al’s physical limitations defensively. All in all, Al Jefferson had an excellent season relative to both his career and the Bobcats history, with defense being a particular bright spot considering his reputation.

2. Gerald Wallace, 2009-2010

The 2009-2010 season was the year of Crash. He earned the Bobcats first and only All-Star appearance (including a lackluster, at best, appearance in the dunk contest) while earning All-Defensive 1st Team honors and finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He also lead the Bobcats to their first ever playoffs appearance. He had no chance at an All-NBA team due to the glut of quality wing players in the league, but that shouldn’t take away from a great season. Based on accolades, this was easily Wallace’s best season and the best individual Bobcats season. He was a defensive beast, averaging 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 10 rebounds per game with a defensive rating of 100. Overall, Charlotte was a great defensive team and with Wallace on the court they were 1 point per 100 possessions better than when he rested. Offensively, Wallace was solid. He averaged 18.2 points per game, the highest of his career, while shooting 37% from three, a major outlier in his career, and 48.4% overall to go with 10 rebounds and 2 assists. All of this playing a career high 41 minutes per game, often at power forward (not his preference). In the team context, Wallace was a net positive on both offense and defense, though not significantly so. The team was .7 points per 100 possessions better on offense and 1 point better defensively, as noted previously. Why is this not the best season in Bobcats history?

BEST-EVER

1. Gerald Wallace, 2008-2009

While the awards came in the 2009-2010 season, Wallace’s reputation in the league was established in the prior season. That season he had the second highest PER of his career at 18.64. His offensive rating was 101.7, better than his All-Star season.  While his raw stats aren’t as impressive as that season, he played 3.4 minutes less per game, averaging 37.6 minutes. Efficiency is what sets this season apart from that season. Per 36 minutes his scoring average was almost identical at 15.9 in ‘08-‘09 and 16.0 in ‘09-‘10. Despite the unexpected 3 point efficiency the next year, his overall shooting efficiency was also close with true shooting percentages of 58.5% and 58.6% and effective field goal percentages of 50.4% and 51.1% (this is where the 3 point shooting shows itself). He was able to make up for the 3 point shooting by being better at the free throw line, 80.4% to 77.6%, and better from 2 point range, 51.5% to 50.3%. Wallace also had a 12.4% assist rate in ‘08-‘09 but only 9% in ‘09-‘10, all to go with a better turnover rate in the prior season at 12.8% vs 13.1%. All of this offense came at a slightly higher usage rate, going from 20.5% to 20.3%. If these minor differences seem like splitting hairs, it’s because that is exactly what differentiating these 2 seasons is.

The defensive side of the ball is the real clincher.  In that season the team was 7.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court. While individual defensive efficiency can be noisy, that difference is enough to have merit. The defense was anchored by Emeka Okafor who posted a solid 102.3 defensive rating with a defensive +/- of -4.3, but the effect Wallace had from a wing position is extremely impressive. On the court, the Bobcats had the 7th most efficient defense in the league. With him off the court, they had what would have amounted to the 29th best defense. Wallace posted a better steal rate (2.5% to 2.0%) and equivalent block rate (2.1% to 2.2%) in ’08-’09. This was a significantly worse defensive team overall, ranking 14th overall as compared to 1st the following year, but Wallace certainly wasn’t the problem. While the ’08-’09 and ’09-’10 seasons could essentially be combined in regards to defensive and offensive performance, 2008-2009 wins out by virtue of the “doing more with less” axiom. This all comes down to a matter of opinion. You can’t go wrong with either season. Just know that Gerald Wallace is the King of the Queen City. All hail Crash.

*Sadly this joke died as the Charlotte organization has announced the name change will take place on May 20th.

-Bradford Coombs

 


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Charlotte Bobcats Draft Retrospective | Part Two

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Editor’s Note: In Honor of the June 13, 2014 Charlotte Hornets re-organization news, the Baseline presents an updated, re-published account of the entire Rod Higgins era.

Part One | Part Three

Part Two: ’07-’09 The Friends of Michael Era

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.

Jason Richardson Illustration by Mike S

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.

GRADE: F—————


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.

GRADE: B


Rock Bottom

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!

- AS Chin

Read More:  Charlotte Bobcats Draft Retrospective | Part One


POLL : Best Bobcats Draft Pick

  • Emeka Okafor (9%, 27 Votes)
  • Kemba Walker (62%, 188 Votes)
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11%, 32 Votes)
  • Raymond Felton (4%, 13 Votes)
  • Gerald Henderson (14%, 41 Votes)

Total Voters: 301

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End of the Gana Diop Era

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Gana Diop Illustration

As NBA enthusiasts across the globe get ready for the exciting action and intense competition of the Playoffs, Charlotte Bobcats fans should take pause to reflect on the end of an era – The DeSagana Diop Era. It’s not often that a team says goodbye to one of its Big Three (salary bandits). So, this is a great opportunity to survey the impact that the giant’s departure will have for the club.

Oh, how time and paychecks fly by. It seems like it was just yesterday that the Bobcats were pressured by Larry Brown and duped by the Dallas Mavericks into swallowing Diop’s ridiculous contract in exchange for Matt Carroll and Ryan Hollins. Since then, ‘Gana has eaten up over 11% of the team’s salary cap with few contributions to justify it. Acquiring the Senegalese seven-footer immediately hamstrung the ‘Cats efforts to retain their much better Center, Tyson Chandler in the 2010 off-season. Regrettably, Charlotte had to take back Matt Carroll, Eduardo Najera, and Erick Dampier’s contract in a financially-driven trade, delivering Chandler to the Mavs where he went on to win the championship. Oh, and then Tyson picked up the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2012. But, those wiry ol’ Bobcats still had Diop on their bench! Another fun fact – Ryan Hollins is a contributor off the bench for the Playoff-bound LA Clippers and played over three-times as many minutes as ‘Gana did this season.

Gana Diop Era Highlights

Okay, let’s take a moment to look at some Gana Diop highlights:

Next Step for Diop

It’s highly likely that Diop will step away from the NBA, and walk off into the sunset (after he collects the last of his $7,372,200.00 from the Bobcats this month). Despite the pain that he’s caused Michael Jordan’s wallet, it looks like the guy has actually done some pretty good things off the court with the NBA Cares program.

Nevertheless, ‘Gana is gonna leave a big hole on this team’s payroll. It’s fair that fans have concerns about how the team will use their salary cap numbers to improve this summer. But, when the time comes to announce the next signing, Charlotte’s front office needs to measure their offer and ask, “Is that guy worth Gana Diop money?”

-Mike

It’s Time to Hit the Turbo Button

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Nine bungling seasons and countless blowouts later, the Charlotte Bobcats have done nearly everything in their power to incite and enrage the few remaining loyal fans who’ve stuck with the team. Each regime has gotten their punches in – from Bob Johnson to Michael Jordan to Sam Vincent to Larry Brown – each blow more punishing than the last. The franchise’s sole purpose seems to – like some misanthropic Starship Enterprise – perpetually explore the boundaries of that infinite space called “rock bottom”.
I’m starting to wonder if it has ever occurred to anyone in the Bobcats’ front office that the very PURPOSE of professional sports is ENTERTAINMENT, which is an admittedly fuzzy concept to define, but thanks to a near decade of Bobcats ineptitude I sure as hell can tell you what entertainment IS NOT.

It Isn’t Cho’s Fault But It Is His Responsibility

Rich Cho knew he was walking into an ugly situation when he took the GM job two years ago. Larry Brown had strip-mined the team bare of assets in exchange for the franchise’s lone Playoff appearance – a four game beatdown at the hands of the Orlando Magic – after which the team was capped out with ZERO star prospects and low on draft picks: AKA an unmitigated disaster. Like any other progressive-minded GM, Cho’s first move was to break out the analytics playbook, understanding that in order to re-acquire precious assets like picks and prospects, he’d have to pull out the sledgehammer and start swinging. Nearly two years and over a hundred losses later, the roster, the brand and the fan-base have been successfully beaten to a pulp.
I won’t argue against the strategy, it was the only card left in the deck. Consider this: In a DEVESTATING fourteen month stretch from June of ’08 to July of ’09 an MJ-enabled Larry Brown traded a future first rounder for Alexis Ajinca, forced the team to take D.J. Augustin over All-Star Center Brook Lopez, traded cap space for Gana Diop and tossed another future first round pick to Chicago for free-agent-to-be Tyrus Thomas. After re-signing Thomas to a $40 million contract the following July, the capped out Cats had to salary dump future Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler and former number five overall pick Raymond Felton. Today’s putrid, blowout-addicted squad was sown from these very seeds.

Still, Cho knew what he was getting into when he took the job and now after a truly EMBARRASSING, SOUL-CRUSHING stretch of bad basketball, it is his responsibility to turn it around.

The Turbo Button Is Not The Panic Button

First, let’s define “turning it around” as simply being competitive. Quantitatively, let’s say over 30 wins and a -3 point differential or better. That puts you in nearly every game. And yes, I know this goes against the “worst place to be is in the Not-tery” theory (©2011, me) but this is a special situation; call it franchise triage. The Bobcats should aim to have a winning home record next season and minimize blowouts (20 point losses or more) to less than eight.
The fans should feel as if EVERY TIME they attend a game at TWC or tune in via FOX Sports/League Pass the team has a LEGITIMATE SHOT at winning. Every single game. The organization owes this to the people who hand over their hard earned money and valuable time.
Entering the summer, Cho will have a small stash of first round picks, an attractive expiring contract and up to $20 million in cap space to play with: the equivalent of a full nitrous boost in Need for Speed or pocket Aces in Texas Hold ‘em. It’s what you’ve been waiting for: HIT THE FREAKIN’ TURBO BUTTON.
Is there a chance Danny Ainge would trade Rajon Rondo for Kemba Walker, cap space and a Top 3 pick? HIT THE FREAKIN’ TURBO BUTTON. Convinced that free agents Tyreke Evans or Al Jefferson are All-Stars? HIT THE FREAKIN’ TURBO BUTTON. Do the Bulls want to salary dump Carlos Boozer or Luol Deng? As long as you can send back Ben Gordon, HIT THE FREAKIN’ TURBO BUTTON.
Will any of these guys get you a Championship? Outside of Rondo, probably not, but the Bobcats are so far from the Playoffs right now that the NBA Finals may as well take place in Middle Earth or Hogwarts. Remaining competitive while building a winner has worked for Houston and Indiana, there is no reason the same strategy can’t work for Charlotte.
I won’t go into my usual roster-bation manuevers until we get closer to the offseason. In the meantime, I can’t express enough how important it is for the franchise to regain a semblance of dignity. To be a joke is one thing but to be a stain on the city and the league? That may take decades to wash off if ever at all.
-ASChin

The Trouble with D.J.

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Sources tell me the Bobcats have an opportunity to sign a starting PG capable of averaging 15ppg with a stellar 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. He shoots better than 33% from downtown, nails 90% of his freebies and has a true shooting percentage of 54%. Excited yet? Well good news Bobcats fans, they do and his name is D.J. Augustin. You probably remember him from his previous stint with Charlotte, y’know, just a few months ago. While his name may not have the allure of “Jerryd Bayless” or “Goran Dragic“, it’s through not fault of his own. Just as in our personal relationships, things can go stale as they become overly familiar and the story of Darryl Gerard is no different.

2010-2011. The only season that matters.

It was November 2010, the Bobcats had just come off of their inaugural Playoff berth. How did they celebrate? By cleaning house of course. You see, Michael Jordan, Larry Brown and Rod Higgins had received a secret memo from the league office detailing a mysterious concept referred to as a “Salary Cap”. Turns out you can’t keep taking on other team’s heinous contracts forever. Yes readers, the organization was shoved into a corner financially, forcing them to let 2005 Lottery point guard Raymond Felton walk without any compensation and salary-dumping future Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler to the soon to be NBA Champ Dallas Mavericks in what might be the WORST trade in Charlotte Pro Sports history.

The one positive to come from all of this pre-Rich Cho nonsense was that third year prospect D.J. Augustin was finally given a chance to lead the team. For those of you who don’t remember, I’ll sum it up: He did great. Not Derrick Rose great mind you but Charlotte Bobcat Lottery Pick great. D.J. scored, dished, stretched the court, amassing the stats referred to above. He did this during a year of turmoil which saw his coach fired, his team’s only “star” traded, a season in which Kwame Brown started 50 games--that in and of itself should be enough to earn a lucrative contract extension.

But here it is July 9th, 2012 and D.J. doesn’t have a contract; not even a rumoured one. He’s technically a free agent and any team in the league may sign him to an offer sheet yet no one has. Last season didn’t help. Augustin missed twenty starts due to injury and had yet another Bobcat Lottery point guard waiting in the wings. “What more must I do?” he must have asked. “Two coaches, two point guard controversies in four years, a completely gutted roster and now they want to low-ball me in free agency after practically destroying my market value.” Extreme? Maybe. I would rest my case on the one year in which the team fully committed to D.J. Augustin, he delivered.

As it stands now, neither side is close to “winning” this game- Cho’s rebuilding project has decimated the roster and players like Augustin aren’t built to carry the entire load. Thus his value is negated and can’t be showcased properly for potential suitors. He’s like the complex film plot that can’t be sold in a thirty second trailer. Put D.J. on a decent team and he’s probably at worst in the Kyle Lowry zone.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, are at risk of losing yet another asset without compensation. Signing him to play for the qualifying offer won’t help either - “Wait, so you’re forcing me to play another season for less than market value, lose a ton of games and probably play behind a guy not yet quite as good as me? AND some other rookie wants to wear my number? SOUNDS GREAT!”

Best case scenario for both Augustin and the organization is either a sign & trade for another decent prospect or draft pick. If that type of offer isn’t on the table, I’d prefer the team to sign him to a reasonable $5-$6million per year deal and let the two PGs battle it out for supremacy. Augustin will turn 25 during next season and has shown marked improvement during his development. If he plays lights out, trade him in the summer or entertain offers for Kemba Walker. Either way both sides have something to show for the tumultous journey that they’ve traveled together.

-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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Gerald Wallace Is Gone, Who’s To Blame?

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Three months into my self-imposed NBA exile and the Bobcats had to go and blow up the team. I just couldn’t resist. It’s time for a State of the Roster.

PART 1 – WHO’S TO BLAME?

To say that fan sentiment over the trade has skewed negative would be an understatement. Gerald Wallace, the player we all watched grow from an expansion draft castoff to best-kept-NBA-secret to All-Star has been gifted to Portland for what amounts to cap space and a couple of mid first round picks. On the surface this seems both cheap and defeatist. The Bobcats currently sit just a few games outside of the Eastern Conference’s top eight while resting comfortably below the League’s luxury tax line.

So who’s to blame for this sudden and seemingly irrational transaction?

THE SUSPECTS:

1. Larry Brown.

The former coach and (by his estimates) de facto GM kvetched incessantly until ownership added millions in dead weight veteran contracts then griped again when he couldn’t add any more. The moves overwhelmed a cash strapped organization as they found themselves well over the luxury tax line last summer. Owner Michael Jordan isn’t stupid, he looked at the past few seasons and came away with the conclusion that he’d most likely traded five plus years of fielding competitive teams for a one and done with the Orlando Magic.

2. Gana Diop & Matt Carroll.

No, these two weren’t involved in a clandestine operation to overthrow the co-captain; at least not directly. Jordan made a major mistake when he signed Carroll to a then six-year $27 million deal. MJ immediately realized the folly so decided to compound the problem by trading Carroll for Gana Diop’s $31 million albatross contract in a Larry Brown inspired transaction back in ’08.

In an ironic twist, the trade ended up handcuffing the team to the point where they had to take back Carroll’s contract from Dallas simply to get under the luxury tax this summer (see Dampier, Ericka). The two player’s salaries combined make up what the Bobcats would have owed Wallace over the next two seasons at around $10 million per. Ouch.

3. Stephen Jackson

Pretty simple here. The Bobcats’ two best guys played the same position. JAX isn’t getting any younger and the whipper-snappers playing NBA two guard these days aren’t getting any less athletic.

Less obvious is this Dirty Secret: Jackson is the better player, or at least the more indispensable one. More on this later.

4. Draft Picks

During the Larry Brown era, the Bobcats gave away first rounders like they were T-Wolves tickets. The team didn’t have a pick in last June’s draft and won’t have a first round selection in a potentially loaded 2012 class. By getting New Orleans’ first rounder in 2011 and Portland’s number one in 2013, the Bobcats will have four picks in the next three first rounds. Given that MJ hasn’t made a turrible pick since ’06, we can at least expect a few solid rotational players to come out of this stash.

5. Shawn Marion, Richard Jefferson & Josh Howard

What do these guys have to do with any of this? All three were All-Star small forwards who rode their elite athleticism to big stats and massive contracts. The cautionary tale of course is that once these guys crept closer to the big three-oh, their games took a major downturn for the worse. Marion is the oldest and most relevant of the bunch at 32 but hasn’t played like “The Matrix” since “The Matrix” was a cool nickname to have. He’s now a role player on a veteran team.

Jordan must have looked at Gerald Wallace’s declining production, his age, the number of major injuries and the $22 million due and decided to gamble before it was too late to get anything of significance in return.

6. Bruce Bowen & Ray Allen

Defensive ace Bruce Bowen was ostensibly finished as an NBA player at age 36. Sharpshooting Ray Allen turns the same age in June yet played in last weekend’s All-Star game. Guys who make their name on defense (unless you’re a nimble 7-footer like Dikembe or Theo Ratliff) just don’t last as long which pretty much negates the whole “The Nuggs got way more for Carmelo” argument. As little as I care for Melo’s game or his trade demands, his skill set is much more suited for the long haul.

This brings us back to Suspect #3. Efficient, dependable scoring is worth its weight in gold in today’s NBA. Stephen Jackson, despite his flaws, is the only Bobcat currently worth scheming for on either side of the ball. He’s going for around twenty every night in a variety of ways and may even drop 40 on you if he gets hot. Last I checked, the team that scores the most points still wins games and that has never been more true than it is today.

7. Gerald Henderson

It’s only been a month but Henderson has shown enough in his short time as a rotation player to warrant an expansion of the experiment. The other Gerald has looked spectacular at times. His defense against Kobe, Allen and Derrick Rose allowed the Bobcats to notch some wins over the League’s elite. His jump shot has started to fall consistently and by putting up 18, 22 and 15 going into the All-Star Break, Henderson gave management enough confidence to move Wallace while making a sincere run at the postseason.

It’s not a bad gamble. Henderson is on a great rookie deal and looks to be at worst a quality starting two guard.

PART 2 – THE LONG RUN

FISCAL SANITY

If we look at the trade from a cap perspective, we can see that the Bobcats set themselves up for some incredible leverage going in to the offseason.

By shaving nearly $10 million from the payroll next year and the year after, Charlotte can now be a major player in free agency or in landing a star player via trade. The team will be around ten million under the cap come June and potentially in the mix for a max guy if they can find a team willing to absorb Boris Diaw’s expiring deal.

If MJ strikes out this summer, he’d still be in position the following summer of 2012 to try again.

STATE OF THE ROSTER

With the trade of Gerald Wallace, the Bobcats have made their philosophy public:

  • A. They feel that they have enough talent currently in place to challenge Philly, Indy and Milwaukee for one of the East’s bottom seeds.
  • B. At the same time, they are setting themselves up for a potential long-term jump into the top four.
  • C. That they have at least partially learned their lesson when it comes to throwing away future picks and cap space for a few extra wins in the present.

Moving forward, it’s best to look at the roster in the following tiers:

TIER I: PROTO-NUCLEUS

Tyrus Thomas, Gerald Henderson, D.J. Augustin

TIER II: PRODUCTIVE VETERAN TRADE CHIPS

Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw

TIER III: INTRIGUING PIECES

Shaun Livingston, Dante Cunningham, D.J. White

TIER IV: EVERYBODY ELSE

The Expiring and the Overpaid

WHAT TO EXPECT

Look for the ‘Cats to continue their run under Silas. If Tyrus Thomas returns on schedule and can get in game shape fast, then the Playoff odds go up. Same goes for Gerald Henderson. If he blossoms with the increased playing time and if the ‘Cats can get something out of either Cunningham or White then maybe they sneak into the postseason.

Realistically we can only measure the success of this trade once we see what Jordan & Rod Higgins are able to do with the picks and cap flexibility over the next couple of summers. Losing Wallace hurts now but we may look back and see that it’s the best deal MJ ever made.

Until Next Time…

Enjoy the Change Bobcats Fans.

-ASChin