There is an air of optimism in the Charlotte area. The new banking center of the United States, and one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, is getting stronger. Jobs are being created, and people in this city and the areas surrounding it are starting to look ahead to a brighter future.
A microcosm of the city is the Charlotte Bobcats organization.
The financial disaster that began in late 2007 was tough on Charlotte as a city. The Bobcats, like the team they call home, have been going through some tough times.
While the city of Charlotte didn't crash and burn due to the financial crisis, jobs were lost, the city was stagnant and what was previously a quickly growing city began to crawl. I'm not going to pretend to be an economic expert, but I have taken my fair share of economics classes in college, and I know that Charlotte has effectively turned things around.
Construction is apparent everywhere in the city, jobs are being created everywhere and most importantly, people in this city are starting to see the optimism that looms ahead for the city.
The Charlotte Bobcats went through a disaster of their own, though theirs was not concurrent with the city's.
This is a sports site. You're probably well informed about what happened to the Bobcats last year, but just in case you're not, I'll give you a quick refresher.
The Bobcats completely restarted their team prior to the 2011/2012 season. Michael Jordan, owner of the Bobcats, controversially sent off Gerald Wallace, the centerpiece and the face of the franchise, for virtually nothing in return. He then did the same thing to Stephen Jackson not long after. Jordan made it clear that the Bobcats, somewhat like the city of Charlotte, were rebooting.
Charlotte had a young core of talent that it was planning on building around. Guys like D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson and Tyrus Thomas were going to help drive the Bobcats to at least a passable season while their two lottery picks—Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker—developed into solid centerpieces for the team to build on.
To top things off, Corey Maggette, tabbed as the veteran leader, was designated as the team's main scorer. While there were signs that he was aging, there was no way anyone could predict that he would be as ineffective as he was for the Charlotte Bobcats.
What made matters bad for the Bobcats (and for the NBA in general), the world of the NBA was thrown on it's back by a lockout due to a disagreement between the players union and the owners of the teams, and the season was temporarily put on hold. For a while it looked like there would be no season at all, but mercifully a new collective bargaining agreement was reached and a compact, 66-game season was planned.
Rookies Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo (as well as additions like Byron Mullens) were denied their summer of training and improvement. There was no summer league to begin to acclimate them to their teams and on top of it all. Biyombo was tangled in a contract dispute of his own that almost prevented him from playing in Charlotte at all.
Still, the Bobcats had to go onto the court every night and do what they could do to win. An opening night win against the Milwaukee Bucks, and a very near-win against the Miami Heat, had fans (including myself) optimistic that they were going to at least be decent.
They weren't. The veterans who weren't injured either gave up or played severely below their capabilities. Young guys like Walker and Biyombo were thrust into starting roles well before they were prepared, and while they performed admirably, the Bobcats put together a team that had no business calling itself an NBA team.
Together they were good enough to win seven games. Seven. They didn't win enough games for me to be able to type out the number with digits according to B/R's writing standards. When you get 66 chances to win and you can only pull off seven victories, things aren't going good for you.
They're going disastrously.
But that is in the past. Dead weight (like Boris Diaw, who cried his way to the San Antonio Spurs), was lost, and while the losses of D.J. Augustin and Derrick Brown might sting a little bit, as they were both decent players, the Bobcats have players who can replace them more than adequately.
Young guys like Walker and Biyombo now have the NBA style and pace under their feat. Byron Mullens looks like he wants to be a superstar, and by all accounts is a great presence in the locker room. Additions of solid veterans like Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood are going to improve the young players and provide valuable minutes.
And most importantly, the 'Cats had an excellent draft.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has everything a winner needs built into one incredibly polite, hard-working, dedicated and outrageously athletically built body. I hate to be generic and compare him to our former face Crash (Gerald Wallace), but it's an apt comparison. The main thing is that I think MKG is going to exceed what Wallace did in Charlotte. He's going to become the face of the franchise, and he's going to turn things around.
Adding to that, their first overall pick in the second round, Jeffery Taylor, is a first-round talent, and he showed glimpses of it in the summer league. Together, the two form a very solid two-deep at the small forward position, and they both come from winning teams and have great attitudes.
Kemba wants to win. Biyombo wants to win. MKG and Taylor want to win. This team wants to win.
Unfortunately for Michael Jordan and the Bobcats, the valiant efforts of Rich Cho will not be overly evident this year. After all, Rome wasn't built in one day.
The Bobcats are going to require some time to build a winning mentality. This is a team that has only ever had one winning season, and in that winning season they were crushed out of the playoffs in four games by the Orlando Magic. When the Hornets left, so did Charlotte's winning mentality in basketball.
But when you look at the Carolina Panthers, two seasons ago they were 1-15.
Cam Newton came, and they were the best worst team in football, and while they only went 6-10, it was obvious great strides were made.
The Bobcats are following in those footsteps. Don't expect the Bobcats to win more than 30 games this year, but do expect them to be exciting again. Expect them to win more than they did last year, and expect them to stay in games and be competitive.
And eventually, the genius of Rich Cho will lead the Bobcats to a winning culture.
Something that the Bobcats have never had.
Something that I absolutely can't wait to see.