Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The Life and Times (So Far) of the Charlotte Bobcats
While college basketball talk has run rampant on this blog for the past several months, I haven't touched on the NBA in quite some time. Other than my favoritism to college ball, part of the reason is that I am still becoming reacquainted with the NBA after pretty much abandoning it throughout most of the past decade (though honestly the era between the Jordan's second retirement from the Bulls up to the past couple years is one of the more forgettable eras in NBA history) As such I'm not familiar enough with all of the players to give insightful input on all the trades that went down around the deadline. Instead I figured now would be a good time to share my thoughts on the Charlotte Bobcats, who are fighting to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Like many Charlotteans I was a big fan of the Hornets in the 90's and felt like the franchise was stolen from the city and moved to New Orleans. I think much of Charlotte viewed the Bobcats the same way a kid whose parent's had divorced would view his mother's new fiancee. It didn't help that the city decided to build a new arena despite the fact that its construction had been voted against by the citizens of Charlotte. The Bobcats seemed like impostors, trading a team named after a cool part of the city's history (see my post from this summer for more on stupid team names) for a team arguably named after the CEO of BET. In comparison to the Hornets, who in the 90's were among the best teams in the NBA in fan attendance, the Bobcats had a harder time selling tickets than Miley Cyrus at Ozzfest. However, there were certainly some redeeming qualities to the team. The ownership made a point to avoid the character issues that marred the Hornets late in their Charlotte existence as several players and more notably owner George Shinn ran into off the court issues. Additionally, Time Warner Cable Arena turned out to be one of the nicest venues in the NBA, even if it is never sold out.
The team itself got off to a semi-promising start despite a bad record in the inaugural season, as draft pick Emeka Okafor won the Rookie of the Year award and expansion draft pick Gerald Wallace emerged as one of the better players on an understandably weak roster. The next three years however were marred by a lack of significant improvement, poor decisions in the NBA draft. Michael Jordan, who became an partial owner (and now is bidding to buy the team from Bob Johnson) was accused of making team decisions on the golf course, the worst of which was drafting Adam Morrison over Brandon Roy in the 2006 draft. By the end of the 2007-2008 season, my apathy toward the franchise was at an all-time high.
Then in 2008, the Bobcats made what may have been their first step toward NBA relevance by hiring Larry Brown. Brown took no time in living up to his reputation as one of the most trigger happy coaches in NBA history when it comes to trades and quickly acquired Boris Diaw and Raja Bell in exchange for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley. The team still lacked overall talent but finished the season strong and ended up with a franchise high 35 wins. My own interest in the team was trending upwards for the first time as the playoffs seemed like a legitimate possibility. Heck the team even altered the uniforms (2005 vs. 2009) which ditched a lot of the orange and now resemble the original Hornets Uniforms even more than the current New Orleans Hornets uniforms.
With an early trade that shipped away Raja Bell and Vlad Radmanovic for Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats finally added another legitimate scoring threat to pair with Wallace, who became the first player in the franchise's short history to make the NBA All Star Game. Sure, Jackson has a bit of a shady past and occasional attitude problems but Larry Brown is experienced enough to deal with Captain Jack. The Bobcats came on strong in December and January and are now making their first serious push at not only a spot in the playoffs but also a winning record. Before the trade deadline the team acquired Tyrus Thomas in exchange for Acie Law and Flip Murray. Regardless of whether you agreed with the deal the team has gotten undeniably more talented since Brown arrived. Just compare these two depth charts:
SF: Wallace/ Dudley
2009 (as of Feb 23)
The team has upgraded at every position with the exception of center, where Chandler has been injured (though everyone knew the real value of the trade was avoiding Okafor's huge cap number for next season). The PF spot has been severely upgraded with the additions of Diaw and Thomas. Thomas has All-Star talent who can really make an impact on the defensive end and take some of the rebounding load off Wallace. Diaw has been a solid player who played better last season but over the past few games has stepped his play up, perhaps due to the acquisition of Thomas. Charlotte now has the potential to go small by putting Thomas at center and Diaw at power forward, which could cause matchup problems for a lot of teams. The loss of Flip Murray hurts, since he provided scoring and depth at guard. Going forward the Bobcats need D.J. Augustin who has been somewhat of a disappointment this season to step up his play. They also can't afford many bad nights from Stephen Jackson who had his worst game as a Bobcat in last night's loss to the Clippers.
A playoffs appearance would go a long way in getting the people of Charlotte invested in the team but as of today the team sits in 9th place (Milwaukee currently holding the tiebreaker against them). The Bobcats are in a four way race with the Bulls, Bucks, and Heat for the final three playoff spots in the east. The team will need to get tougher mentally and start winning more on the road if they hope to make the playoffs. Last Friday's win over the Cavs (which made the Bobcats the only team in the east to win the season series against LeBron and Co.) shows that finally the team has the talent to be a playoff contender. If they can sneak into the playoffs there will be a lot of teams hoping they don't have to match up with the Bobcats. And even more importantly it will be the first time in a long time the city of Charlotte can get legitimately excited about professional basketball.