Nerlens Noel: High and Low

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Nerlens Noel illustration by Mike S.
Baseliners A.S. Chin and Ben Weinrib debate the merits of Kid n’ Play cosplayer/Kentucky freshmen center, Nerlens Noel.

The Nerlens Noel Pre-Draft Debate

ASCHIN: Noel has been 2013’s projected top overall pick from the moment the 2012 Draft was over. Between the length, athleticism and instincts around the basket at both ends, it’s easy to understand why. But here we are, just days before the Draft and there’s talk that the 19-year old Kentucky center may drop out of the top spot. How is this possible? Has the hate gone too far or have the scouts and doctors just had enough time to properly evaluate Noel as a prospect?

BEN: Could there be a better scenario for the Bobcats than drafting Noel? He’s the guy everyone would have expected Charlotte to take had they won the lottery because of his enormous upside and interior presence. Not all great teams have a rim protector, but almost every team with a great rim protector is very good (Indiana, Chicago, San Antonio, Memphis, and even LA). Furthermore, it’s puts Charlotte in prime Wiggins/Parker/Randle position for next summer. What’s not to love with this pick? The dude was a beast at UK and even blew out his knee chasing down and blocking a guard on a fast break.

ASCHIN: I take it that you haven’t listened to the Bill Simmons Father’s Day podcast with Ryen Russillo. Turns out Noel has some world class “bad dudes” running his show from behind the scenes that make Lebron’s entourage look like a MENSA summit by comparison. Nerlens apparently blew off a dozen of the league’s top agents for months before signing with Andy Miller last Friday. Combine that with Noel’s slight frame (tough to add bulk to narrow shoulders), ACL injury, growth plate surgery, raw-as-Biyombo offensive game and you have potentially the WORST Bobcats 2013 Draft candidate. Frankly, Charlotte can’t afford to draft back-to-back-to-back defense-only projects and even if they could, would you really want to invest a Top 5 pick around “the next Theo Ratliff“?

BEN: I actually don’t see the weight issue as such a big deal. Dr. James Andrews recommended Noel drop weight to expedite the recovery, and Noel said he was 228 pounds before the injury. That means he put on 13 pounds in a half year at Kentucky, so he’s shown he can put on weight. But the Bobcats just need to add talent at this point, and he’s the most talented guy on the board. Sure, he may miss two months, but that’s a small sacrifice to make in an otherwise non-competitive season to land the most talented player down the board. He may be Theo Ratliff at the very worst but who is Alex Len if he doesn’t develop an offensive game? Timofey Mozgov? Noel offers the best interior defense in the draft – something the Bobcats desperately need – and he would give them a high-upside 7-footer, something the team has never had. As for the offense, Memphis seems to be doing just fine with about two offensive options, and one of those is Mike Conley. Mike Conley!

ASCHIN: 228lbs?! That’s losing 15% of his body weight in three months – if this were Sean May we were talking about maybe I’d buy it, but a beanpole like Noel? Sounds fishy. Regardless of his physical or mental makeup, I think all this Nerlens talk is doing a severe disservice to the team’s incumbent young rim protector, Bismack Biyombo. Am I crazy for expecting big things from the STILL ONLY 20 YEAR OLD former Lottery pick? Biz really improved his fundamentals this year even if it didn’t show up in the stat sheet and he’s becoming a better on-ball defender game by the game. Also: Biyombo weighs in at a chiseled 245 and still sometimes struggles with uber-bigs like Roy Hibbert (listed at 280). I can only imagine what Hibbert would do to a sub-225 pound bamboo shoot like Noel. #biznation

Bismack Biyombo Illustration by Mike S.

Bismack Biyombo | #biznation

 

BEN: I’m a huge Biyombo apologist! Serge Ibaka didn’t break out until age 21 or 22, so I’m not totally concerned he’s having trouble catching the basketball just yet. But imagine how tough it would be to score down low with Biyombo and Noel awaiting. Charlotte could finally stop guards who thrive off penetrating, which has been one of the teams biggest issues. Imagine the two growing together under the tutelage of Steve Clifford–who has a great reputation of developing big men–and Patrick Ewing. Even newly hired Mark Price may help their embryonic offensive games. The only concerns I’m hearing are that Noel won’t play for part of this season (oh no, they won’t win a championship next year!) and his defense is way ahead of his offense. Given that he’s a year younger than Alex Len, don’t you think Noel will be better than where Len is right now in a year? Len has put up back-to-back pedestrian season, including nearly identical offensive numbers to Noel, despite getting much more praise. Len’s line was 12-8-1-2-0 on 53.4% shooting versus 11-10-2-4-2 on 59.0% shooting for Noel. Age matters, too.

ASCHIN: Well, I’m only a little younger than Tim Duncan so by that rationale, I should be drop-stepping Chris Bosh sometime before I hit 40. At some point you realize guys either have elite offensive instincts or they don’t and Noel clearly doesn’t. As well as Serge Ibaka has developed, he’s still very limited offensively. When’s the last time you saw Serge put it on the floor for a straight line drive? High posts? He sticks with his bread & butter 15-20 foot jumpers and finishes around the rim – both firmly in his wheelhouse. I think both Biz and Noel have that type of potential going forward but it would be damn near impossible to play them together without some world-class offensive phenoms surrounding them (see Ibaka & Perk in OKC). I’m not the biggest Cody Zeller fan in the world but I at least understand the philosophy behind considering him as the pick. You’d love to pair Bismack or Noel with a highly skilled floor spacer – especially with a short-range player like MKG at the other forward spot. So it’s gotta be either Biz OR Noel. And I’ll take Biyombo’s work ethic, attitude and physical size over Nerlens any day. #biznation

Also, Noel wouldn’t be able to suit up for the team until at least the All-Star break. I know that you are firmly in the pro-Tank ’13 camp but don’t you think it’s a tad bit disrespectful to ask thousands of fans to spend their hard-earned money on a team BUILT TO LOSE for a THIRD CONSECUTIVE YEAR?

BEN: I don’t believe for a second you’d rather take Zeller over Noel because he’s a “better fit”. I’d rather find fits for elite talent than fit together lesser talent. Just look at when Minnesota drafted Wes Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins because they needed a wing player. As for the last question, I think you can lower ticket prices as a good will offer if you’re really worried about fans, since winning will ultimately draw in the most money. That’s why I’d rather take the best talent (that also allows the team to capitalize on its likely three draft selections next year). Sure, Andrew Wiggins is far from assured, but from the looks of it, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, and Marcus Smart will be very good, too. A top-five choice if you draft Noel? That’s almost assured. Nearly every NBA superstar was taken near the top of the lottery, so why not go all-in on the best talent in this draft and the most hyped draft in 11 years?

ASCHIN: You lost me at “elite talent”. Chad Ford has Noel grouped with a half dozen other prospects in his 3rd Tier – that usually means starter not superstar. I just think Biz and Noel are the same player with similar upside. Nerlens has the edge in finishing instincts around the bucket while Biyombo has the will and physical size that will allow him to defend the league’s elite centers. As for the ’14 Draft, Marcus Smart was projected to be selected behind Noel all season long before he decided to return to OSU. And don’t forget, this time last year Shabazz Muhammed was everyone’s favorite savior. Remember all those “2012: The Greatest Draft Ever” articles? Didn’t exactly turn out that way.

When you combine the Lottery’s odds with perpetual Draft class uncertainty and the Bobcats’ less than stellar Draft record (Cho has been better but far from perfect), you are basically playing the PowerBall with your fans’ time and money. It’s irresponsible and short-sighted. Case in point: during the Hornets’ heyday, NOT ONCE did the team’s fans have championship aspirations. Not once. All the sell-outs, all of the love from the Muggsy to Divac to Mashburn and B-Diddy eras was earned from simply being competitive and hard-working. That’s really all the city ever asked from ’88-’98 – before the lockout and all the Shinn nonsense. Charlotte isn’t Vegas, it isn’t a win-or-gome home town. It only wants you to compete, play hard and not embarrass anyone. That’s pretty much the opposite of tanking.

BEN: Looks like we just differ in philosophies, and that’s okay. However, judging by Cho’s history and reported philosophy, I’m guessing he’s firmly in the Noel camp. Sure, he’s warted, but everyone else in the draft is warted, too. The one point I keep coming back to is that the potential three draft picks next year are among Charlotte’s biggest assets. You make a good point about overrating drafts, but no prep player recently has received the hype of Wiggins or even Parker. They can’t afford to squander having multiple high draft picks in such a highly-touted class, an opportunity that won’t come around for years. Since they already owe Chicago a first-rounder, they have no choice but to go all-in on the 2014 draft. And Nerlens Noel represents the chance to land the best talent in both drafts combined.

2010-11 Bobcats Season Preview: Front and Center

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Bobcats Grizzlies Basketball

Will the Bobcats’ center-by-committee approach work again?

The Charlotte Bobcats have a number of pressing issues/weaknesses to deal with as the regular season looms.  Chief among them is probably the point guard dilemma, but close behind is the five spot.

Despite projected starter Tyson Chandler’s disappointing and injury-riddled campaign last year, the Cats actually got decent play from the spot.  Out of necessity, Larry Brown went with a center-by-committee approach and it worked.

Out of necessity, he’ll do the same this season.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that we’ll be as pleasantly surprised by the results.

Nasty Naz

When Chandler was ineffective at the start of last season, Nazr Mohammed saw increased minutes and impressed.  When Chandler had to completely shut it down for a big hunk of the middle of the season, Nazr assumed the starting role.  Fortunately, he was in great shape and had an exquisite, veteran’s understanding of Larry Brown’s system.

Mohammed turned in a career-best 19.64 PER, largely due to hitting the boards hard and hitting a high percentage of his shots (55.3%).  The league average for PER is 15, and Dwight Howard notched a 24.07 last year, so that gives you an idea of how good Mohammed was last season.

Mohammed enters the season as the projected starter, and will probably be called on to play more minutes than the 17 per game he averaged last year.  Great, right?

Probably not.  As ESPN.com’s PER-father John Hollinger has explained, players who suddenly have a big jump in their productivity/efficiency late in their careers rarely sustain it in subsequent years.  He calls it the “fluke rule” and the 33-year-old Mohammed certainly qualifies for it.

Hollinger’s statistics suggest there is over a 90% chance that Mohammed’s play will regress by about 3 PER points.  This would put Mohammed back around his career PER average, so if it indeed happens, it would serve as a regression to a personal mean as well as an example of Hollinger’s fluke rule.  To conclude, statistics imply that Mohammed will return to being a slightly-above-average player this season.

Don’t buy dorky statistical arguments?  How about the simple age/health argument?  Not evident amongst last year’s sparkling PERs and percentages is that Mohammed did eventually break down.  After a particularly strong 5-game stretch to begin last February in which he averaged over 31 minutes a game, Mohammed began suffering back spasms.  He gutted out a few more games, but ultimately sat out about two months.  He returned late in the season looking nothing like the guy who had started 29 games earlier in the season.

Now as anyone who follows Naz on Twitter knows, the guy is serious about keeping himself in shape in the offseason, so we can hope for the best.  But at 33 years old and with a history of back issues, logic dictates that it is unlikely that Mohammed will be able to offer more than 15-20 minutes per game and/or more than 60-65 games this season — which brings us to our next subject.

Theo Ratliff vs. Gana Diop

Due to a combination of foul trouble, injury concerns, and general ineffectiveness, Tyson Chandler wasn’t able to provide more than 20-25 minutes per game even when he was available.  So when Nazr’s back went out, Larry Brown was faced with the possibility of giving Gana Diop big minutes.  The horror.

Fortunately, Brown’s buddy Gregg Popovich had Theo Ratliff collecting dust on the end of his bench in San Antonio.  Essentially given to the Cats for free at the trade deadline, Ratliff was key to the Bobcats stretch run as they held on to a playoff spot.  The ageless wonder/freak of nature stepped in and competently manned the middle.  Ratliff was thus rewarded with a guaranteed $1.3 million dollar one-year contract with the Lakers for the upcoming season, his 16th in the league.

Which leaves Larry Brown again facing the possibility of giving Gana Diop significant minutes.  The horror.

Gana Diop is unspeakably bad on the offensive end.  I’ll spare you the statistical analysis because I think we can all agree that it’s like playing 4-on-5 when the Cats have the ball.  Diop may be an above average shot-blocker and decent rebounder on the defensive side, but it doesn’t make up for the brutality of his offensive game.

Nonetheless, I expect that in the upcoming season, Diop will easily top the 262 total minutes he played last season, if only because he’s one of only two true centers on the roster.  There has been a little noise during training camp about Diop being in better shape, maybe even showing some improvement on the court.  But if Diop has to regularly average more than 8-10 minutes per game, the Cats are in huge trouble.  I figure he may be able manage about 5 minutes per game, depending on the matchups.

So who do the rest of the minutes at the five go to?

Going small with Boris & Tyrus

No surprise here.  The Cats frequently ended games last season with a smallball lineup featuring Boris or Tyrus effectively playing center.  Though he is one of the least athletic players on the roster, Boris is one of the better on-ball defenders.  He’s big, smart and patient, and can handle many of the other centers in the league.  Tyrus, on the other hand, is one of the most athletic players on the roster.  He’s not a great on-ball defender at this point; instead his specialty is coming from the weak side to block and disrupt shots in the paint.

My guess is that Larry Brown will usually end games this year with a lineup of DJ (or Livingston?), Jack, Crash, Boris and Tyrus.  And the difference is, this year I would expect to see Boris and Tyrus as the only bigs for stretches in the first half as well.  Maybe Dominic McGuire as well.

Boris was mentioned in a couple different trade rumors this offseason.  There were several reasons those trades didn’t go down, but one that was whispered a few times was that Brown was reticent to give Diaw up.  Boris is one of the top five talents on the roster, but that’s not reason alone to be so particularly averse to trading him; you have to give to get in a trade.  No, the reason is that, due to the Bobcats lack of a true, 30-35-minute-a-game, #1 center, Boris is going to be playing a lot of minutes at the five this season.

So there you go.  The Bobcats are thin at the five.  Larry Brown will again try to cobble decent play at the spot out of the available talent, but there’s even less there than last year.  Our playoff aspirations rely upon Mohammed replicating his 2009-10 season while staying even healthier than he did, and the Cats being able to play smallball for around 15-20 minutes per game.

-Dr. E

Bobcats Schedule Released : Season Prediction

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The Bobcats 2010-2011 Game Schedule Is Out!

The Charlotte Bobcats have released their calendar for the upcoming NBA season, and now we have just short of 3 months to mull it over. Whenever the league rolls out the run-down of games, fans can use their team’s schedule as a rough sketch for expectations.

View the Bobcats new schedule

Last year, I browsed over Charlotte’s schedule and considered the state of the team versus each competitor to make a loose prediction that they’d win about 36 games or so. I’m happy that my pessimism was overcome by Rod Higgins’ efforts to snag Captain Jack from the Warriors and Larry Brown’s friendly deal with the Spurs for Theo Ratliff.  The Bobcats far exceeded my expectations last season.

After taking an estimated guess with some “analysis” of next season’s schedule, I’m betting that the Bobcats are on the path for another 40-45 win season. This should keep them around the 7th or 8th spot of in the Eastern Conference. So, it looks like more Playoff basketball in Charlotte next April.

How could the Bobcats improve their record from last season?

Michael Jordan and the management crew have an appetite for mid-season upgrades. Will they be able to clear some cap space, to take advantage of another club’s troubles next year? This type of move could bring a Point Guard, if DJ Augustin look to be in too far over his head at the start of the season.

Can fans still hold out hope that the Cats have a masterpiece of deal lined up involving Erick(a) Dampier? Or, can we expect Dampier to stick with the team after they waive him?

Links:

Schedule PDF
Schedule Analysis PDF



POLL : How Many Wins Next Season?

  • 50+ wins
    (3%, 2 Votes)
  • 40 – 50 wins
    (73%, 48 Votes)
  • 30 – 40 wins
    (23%, 15 Votes)
  • -30 wins (1%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 66

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Weekend Links: Chris Paul Madness Edition

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Chris Paul with Black Shoe

Chris Paul trade news/rumors continue to dominate the NBA news-and-blog-o-sphere as we head into the weekend.  But there’s still some other interesting stuff going on, including Gerald Wallace making a push to be included on Team USA’s final roster this summer.  Here’s your required reading for the weekend.

Chris Paul

  • ESPN’s Chris Broussard provides an update on Paul’s wishlist, along with the reality check regarding which teams on the list could actually come up with a decent package to return to New Orleans in a trade.  Broussard does mention that the Bobcats are one of the teams with interest in pursuing Paul — first time I’ve seen a national, mainstream, traditional media member acknowledge the Bobcats being in the mix.
  • Paul will be sitting down with new Hornets coach Monty Williams and GM Dell Demps on Monday to discuss his future with the team.  Peter Finney from The Times-Picayune opines on how Williams and Demps should approach that meeting.
  • Fresh off his run of blistering pieces critical of Lebron’s “Decision”, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski warns that Chris Paul has succumbed to too much influence from Lebron/Worldwide Wes/CAA/LRMR/etc. and needs to check himself before damaging his reputation.
  • NYT’s Howard Beck reports that Paul, perhaps cognizant of the above sentiment, has not yet hired James’ LRMR marketing firm — though my guess is that this is just semantics/a formality.

Stephen Jackson/Home Invasion

  • There are no new developments in the story of the home invasion/armed robbery at Stephen Jackson’s house Wednesday morning, but here’s the link from the Observer if you never got around to reading up on the story.
  • Rick Bonnell did offer a few additional thoughts on the story on his blog.  The whole thing is a shame — just when Jackson’s image was turning the corner after the Bobcats’ success last year, here comes bad news again.  Not suggesting that being targeted like this is in any way his fault, but you have to be concerned when trouble just seems to follow some people.  Also, nice job by ‘the gates’ in his gated community.  Strong work.  Here’s hoping that Jack’s wife is OK and that the bad guys get caught.

Gerald Wallace/Team USA

  • Gerald Wallace is still out in Vegas at the Team USA camp.  When he was initially named to the squad, I thought it was a nice acknowledgement of how far he had come as a player, but didn’t think much of his chances at making the final cut to represent the US at this summer’s FIBA World Championsips in Turkey due to his marginal outside shooting ability.  But with all of the Redeem Teamers begging off, Amare Stoudemire’s crip-eye, and injuries to David Lee and Robin Lopez, it’s starting to look like Gerald has a real shot.  ESPN’s Chris Sheridan feels that Wallace has the inside track to make the squad, owing largely to his size and defensive tenacity.  On the other hand, I asked Ric Bucher about Gerald’s chances on Twitter and he DMed me back “unlikely”.
  • Bobcats.com has a bunch of Gerald/Team USA content here, including video interviews with Coach K.  I have mixed feelings about Gerald making the squad.  First, as mentioned above, I personally feel he’s kind of a long shot due to his mediocre outside shooting — you just have to be able to knock down deep and midrange shots in international ball.  But Wallace’s primary competition in making the cut is probably Andre Igoudala, who isn’t exactly a deadeye shooter himself, so we’ll see.  Second, Gerald has played a ton of minutes over the past few years, and will no doubt be relied upon for big minutes again in 2010-11 for the Cats.  His ‘balls-to-the-wall’ style of play means potential injuries loom around every pick and attempted block anyways, and extended minutes means nagging injuries continue to nag, or even worsen.
  • Team USA sang Happy Birthday to Gerald yesterday as the team prepared for tonight’s intrasquad scrimmage that will be televised live on ESPN2 at 10pm ET.

Shaq

  • Shaq is still a free agent, and has a list of preferred destinations as well.  As the Bobcats now only employ Nazr Mohammed and Gana Diop (I’m assuming Dampier is not on the roster opening night) at center, and with last year’s stopgap solution Theo Ratliff off the market, there has been some sentiment around the Bobcats blogosphere that Shaq might be an acceptable short-term pickup.  NYT’s Howard Beck updates us on the ‘dwindling’ market for Shaq, with Atlanta, Dallas and Miami having passed on the Diesel.
  • Shaq reportedly wants a two-year deal for a good bit of money and a chance to compete for a championship.  He may have to settle for one or the other, and Fanhouse’s Tim Povtak is reporting that the Celtics are at the top of O’Neal’s wish list of destinations.  Boston would be nice, if only for the eventual Shaq-Nate Robinson buddy cop comedy that would grow out of it.

-Dr. E

Chander Opts Out of Opt Out

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chandler-returningOur (not-so) long, regional nightmare is over.  Tyson Chandler has reportedly decided not to exercise the option in his contract that would have allowed him to forego the last year on his contract and become a free agent tomorrow.  Tyson is due $12.6 million in 2010-11 to finish off the contract he signed years ago with New Orleans.

Caught up in the Summer of 2010 Free Agency Frenzy, Chandler’s camp leaked word to the media a few weeks back that he was considering opting out and testing free agency.  The argument for doing so was likely two-pronged.

1) So many teams have made so much cap space this summer that one or two are likely to whiff on the big name players (coughKnickscough) and then scramble to spend their money on second (or third) tier free agents.  So in effect, yes, Tyson was eyeing Lebron’s sloppy seconds.  Additionally, he may have been hoping the Cats would simply resign him to a new long-term deal, a la what Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce are doing this summer.  And…

2) A long term contract negotiated this summer may be better than one negotiated next summer, as the NBA’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is due to be renegotiated in time for next summer and will likely limit some of the financial/contractual perks that players currently enjoy.

Chandler opting out would have been a Catch-22 for the Cats.  Basically, it’s tough to lose a starter to free-agency without compensation, especially a starting big man.  Nazr Mohammed and Theo Ratliff played center-by-committee admirably last year when Chandler was out, and we’re all hoping we can get something out of Alexis Ajinca this year, but to lose Tyson outright to free agency would have left us weakened down low.

On a positive note, it would have opened up a chunk of room under the salary cap with which to sign a free agent.  But for what?  The position that the Cats most need to upgrade at is PG, and there aren’t any decent free agent PGs out there.

So it looks like Tyson will be collecting his $12.6 million from the Cats while roaming the paint at the Cable Box next year.

Or will he?

It’s been widely rumored that the Cats are looking to deal this summer.  Makes sense, it’s the only avenue we have to upgrade/remix the roster.  And a decent, reasonably useful, legitimately-sized center on a big expiring contract is just the kind of guy that other teams would likely be willing to trade for.

Chandler for Monta Ellis + a future pick, anyone?

-Dr. E


Offseason Prescriptions for the Capped-Out Cats (Part 3)

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Chapter III: Prescription B (Not for the Faint of Heart)

capped-out-cats3

Alright.  We’ve made it this far.  First I stated the problem.  Next was an easy and elegant solution.  Now we go all in.

Quick Recap:
1.    The Bobcats are capped out before re-signing Tyrus Thomas or Raymond Felton.
2.    Team needs more consistent play from the PG position, more scoring from the low post, and more scoring in general.
3.    Team has no draft picks and few assets outside of their core players to trade in order to improve.

On the evening of June 24th, the Washington Wizards will select Kentucky PG phenom John Wall with the first overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft.  It’s a no-brainer.  After trading away stalwarts Antwan Jamison, Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler during the season, the Wizards are marching confidently along the rebuilding path.  Wall will step in and immediately be the team’s poster boy for the future.  With one timely drop of a ping pong ball, things suddenly look rosy in the District.  There’s just one small, $80 million, gun-brandishing problem.  His name: Agent Zero.

PRESCRIPTION B

arenas-cats

Step 1. Charlotte trades Boris Diaw, Nazr Mohammed and Gana Diop to Washington for Gilbert Arenas, Javale McGee and a first round draft selection (2012).

The Wiz are posturing something ridiculous about having Gilbert move to the off-guard position in anticipation of John Wall.  Uh, yeah.  Does anybody really think that Washington wants The Outlaw anywhere near their new Savior?  Sure, taking on a poo-poo platter of Diaw, Diop and Nazr while giving up a potential star in McGee and a high draft pick would suck but let’s face it, having Arenas anywhere near the Wiz bench pretty much negates any new excitement that Wall would bring to the team.  Gilbert is a 28 year old Point Guard with $80 million dollars left on his contract who was just released from a halfway house and has had three knee surgeries in the past three seasons.  If somebody is willing to take a guy like that off their hands AND save the organization $35 million in the process, you gotta make the move, right?

So why would I propose such a trade for the Bobcats?
First off, let me just say that Gilbert is a PR nightmare for certain but if Charlotte fans were willing to accept Stephen Jackson (y’know, the guy who charged into the stands and attacked fans only to later one up himself by unloading a gun at a strip club), then I think we can deal with a some of the Arenas quirkiness from time to time.

Secondly, well, there’s quite a few positives so let me just list them:
1.    Bobcats get to unload The League’s Worst Contract a.k.a. Gana Diop a.k.a. Black Shrek.
2.    Diaw’s exit clears space for Tyrus Thomas to start.
3.    Team replaces Raymond Felton with an electric scorer (and, when motivated, an underrated defender) in Arenas.
4.    Javale McGee is one of the League’s best offensive prospects at the Center position.
5.    The draft choice that the Bobcats receive would recoup the one that the team traded away in the Tyrus Thomas trade.
6.    The trade would save the Bobcats over $3 million in cap space next season, allowing the team to add depth via free agency.

Obviously, the biggest drawback to the trade is long term money.  Gilbert will be 32 years old when his deal expires in the summer of 2014 (see chart).  He’ll be paid over $22 million for that season alone.  Ouch.  Yeah, the numbers are ugly.  The move is overly aggressive and could either propel the team deep into the Playoffs (if Arenas stays healthy and focused and McGee develops) or could cripple them for the next three seasons.  MJ is known as a gambler, I think he’d be inclined to make the move.

Step 2. Charlotte Re-Signs Tyrus Thomas.

Same as in Prescription A.  Three years, $18 million sounds about right.  A starting spot might pique his interest in returning.

Step 3. Sign a backup Power Forward.

As discussed in Prescription A, possible low-cost candidates include Drew Gooden or Kris Humphries.  I like Humphries potential.

Step 4. Fill out the bench.

Arenas’s scoring abilities sort of negates the need to bring back Flip Murray.  The team could go in another direction here and sign a veteran “pure-playmaking” PG in the mold of Eric Snow as well.  Theo Ratliff has at least another year in him and could serve as a mentor to McGee and Ajinca.

Prescription B Chart

CONCLUSION:

The move is ballsy. Could a volatile nucleus of Arenas, JAX, CRASH, Tyrus and one or two of their youngsters (most likely McGee and Henderson) be enough to propel the Bobcats into contention in the East over the next few seasons?
The risks are HUGE.  Zero could play another stupid prank or blow out his knee(s) again.  Jax could unload one of Gilbert’s guns in a public place.  Crash may wonder openly why he’s the only sane person in the locker room.  The team would be capped out until 2013.
But take a look at the depth chart going into next season:

PG: Arenas, Augustin, Murray
SG: Jackson, Henderson, Murray
SF: Wallace, Brown
PF: Thomas, Humphries, Ajinca
C: Chandler, McGee, Ratliff

If the ‘Cats can win 44 games with last year’s squad then upgrading via Arenas and McGee while having Thomas and Chandler (contract year) for an entire season could very well propel the team to 50 plus wins and home court in the first round of the Playoffs.  The team would also have enough draft picks and young prospects on the roster to make a move for a veteran during the following summer if they so choose and make a run for local favorite (and certain turnstile mover) Seth Curry after he completes his second and final year at Duke in the 2012 NBA Draft.

As for Prescription C, I’ve decided to save that one for later.  Let’s see how the Draft and the early days of free agency play out first.

-ASChin

Offseason Prescriptions for the Capped-Out Cats (Part 1)

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capped-out

Chapter I: Diagnosis

First Number of Interest: $680,000.

It’s the number you get when you take the Bobcats $69.24 million in salaries for the ’09-’10 season and subtract it from last year’s $69.92 million luxury tax threshold.  Six hundred and eighty K.  That’s approximately how close the Bobcats came to paying the luxury tax last season.  I say approximately as I’m basing the figures on Hoopshype’s excellent salary database — a database that doesn’t included Derrick Brown’s two year rookie contract.  (For the sake of this column, I’m estimating his cap figure to be equal to Milwaukee’s Jodie Meeks, drafted one spot behind Brown in last year’s second round.)

Second Number of Interest: $1.6 million.

That’s how much NBA teams are expecting to come off the cap next year.  You read that right, the Salary Cap will shrink next year and with it the luxury tax threshold.  According to ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan, the tax line will lower to around $68 million in ’10-’11 which would put the Bobcats at less than $8 million under the tax threshold before re-signing starting PG Raymond Felton (unrestricted), PF Tyrus Thomas (restricted) or valuable role players Stephen Graham and Theo Ratliff (click chart to see a larger image).

BobcatsCurrentCapSituation

Looking at next year’s salary commitments, three things are glaringly obvious:

1. THE CENTERS OF ATTENTION

The Bobcats have $27.5 million (roughly half of their cap space) committed to the center position and the last time I checked, none of those guys were named Howard, Duncan, Ming or Gasol.  Years of poor financial decision making have finally caught up: overpaying Emeka Okafor when they didn’t have to (Chandler), overpaying Matt Carroll when they didn’t have to (Diop) and bailing out Joe Dumars with the expiring contracts of Walter Herrmann and Primoz Brezec (Mohammed).
THE BAD NEWS: With the a possible lockout on the way in 2011, none of these guys are moveable unless the team is willing to take on another equally bad (if not worse) contract in return.
THE GOOD NEWS: Over $19 million will come off of the books for good in the summer of 2011 if the ‘Cats just hold tight and let Mohammed and Chandler play through their contracts.
Somebody take Larry Brown’s mobile phone privileges away pronto!

2. TYRUS THOMAS AND THE POISON PILL

The Bobcats didn’t send Chicago a future first round pick just to rent Tyrus Thomas for three months.  The intention was always to retain him for at least another season but given the Bobcats’ cap situation that might not be so simple.  As a restricted free agent, Thomas could command a salary north of the $6.2 million qualifying offer he’s due based on his rookie deal.  A team intrigued by Thomas’ potential and armed with enough cap space could offer Tyrus big money up front, signing Thomas to the dreaded “poison pill offer sheet” (see Milsap, Paul) during the summer.  Such a contract could offer Thomas $8 million in year one, $6 million in year two and only $4 million in year three.  The Bobcats would have the right to match but in doing so would essentially be “luxury-taxed-out,” unable to sign any other players (including a starting PG) without paying the dollar for dollar tax penalty — which is something Michael Jordan has repeatedly said that he will not do.  With so many teams flush with cap space this summer, the Tyrus Situation could get tricky.  Watch out for it.

3. WHO’S THE POINT?

Ray Felton is the best point guard available in a weak PG free agency class.  Again, it is entirely possible that a team flush with cap space could offer him $18 million or more over three years and in that situation the ‘Cats would have to fold.
Doubt that the team would let it’s starting point guard walk this summer?  The organization fiercely pursued a T.J. Ford trade during February’s trade deadline and weren’t even close to coming to terms on a long-term offer with Felton’s agent last summer.  If Raymond was a better shooter from outside and could finish with a little more consistency inside (not to mention stay in front of Jameer Nelson) maybe the team would go out of it’s way to sign him but I just can’t foresee it happening.  The ‘Cats will most likely have to acquire a starting PG via trade or from the free agency discount rack.

Yes, Bobcats fans, your team is in a major salary cap quagmire.

To further complicate the issue, the Bobcats can’t afford to simply allow their free-agents to walk and replace them with low-cost scrubs or cheap rookies.  The team doesn’t have any draft picks (instead they have Alexis Ajinca) and from a business perspective, the organization must improve their on-court product (or at least repeat last year’s success) in order to expand fan support and capitalize on their inaugural Playoff run.

TEAM NEEDS:

The Bobcats head into the summer with three major needs:

STARTING POINT GUARD
D.J. Augustin is clearly not ready to start and the Bobcats are too capped out to pay Raymond Felton market value.  They’ll need to make a trade or find an undervalued bargain replacement in Free Agency (see Blake, Steve).

LOW POST SCORING/REBOUNDING
Boris Diaw has a few low post moves but plays mostly on the perimeter and doesn’t concern himself very much with the art of rebounding.  Tyrus Thomas (if he’s re-signed) is a solid rebounder but has limited abilities as a post scorer.  The team will need to either trade for or sign a traditional low-post power forward to team with Thomas or Diaw.

CONSISTENT PERIMETER SCORING/SHOOTING
Larry Hughes turned out to be an inconsistent version of Flip Murray.  Sure, Hughes was a better defender but what the Bobcats really needed was offense from the bench.  Murray has said that he’d happily return to Charlotte next season.  If the ‘Cats could bring him back for a similarly low priced deal next season, they should.

THE PRESCRIPTION:

So how does a Capped-Out team retain talent and, dare I say it, even improve heading into next season?

Part II: Prescription A (Simple and Clean) — Coming Soon
Part III: Prescription B (Not for the Faint of Heart) — Coming Soon

-ASChin