What Does the Charlotte Bobcats' Future Look Like?
In a word, "bleak."
Sure, they have a lot of cap space three years from now. But so does your local little league team. Just because Charlotte has the capacity for paying talent does not mean that talent wants to play in Charlotte. In Los Angeles, cap space can be wielded as a weapon. In Charlotte, it's an empty threat, a resource that either goes unused or to the overpaid.
The Bobcats just have to hope that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist becomes a star, and that they stink badly enough to nab a few more stars in the draft. This is the "Thunder model," the new way general managers excuse mediocrity.
Oh, we're losing a lot? Don't worry, it's all part of the plan—a plan that totally doesn't revolve around "tanking."
The problem with the "Thunder model" is that it doesn't work for most teams. As ESPN's Beckley Mason put it in his piece entitled "The Oklahoma City Unicorns":
Getting lucky for three straight years in the draft is only a part of the Thunder story. The reality is teams that draft in the lottery for six straight years are more likely to resemble the Kings than become the Thunder. To a perpetually bad franchise pursuing 'the Thunder model,' my advice is the same as it would be for someone hunting a unicorn: good luck, and don't be upset if all you find are horses.
If Charlotte pursues the lottery approach, chances are that they'll come up with, well, more lottery seasons. The Bobcats have yet to demonstrate an ability to make players better, to groom young talent in the way Oklahoma City has done. They could certainly improve in this field, but there is no evidence to suggest that such an improvement is imminent.
Last year's team was one of the worst in NBA history. This is no hyperbole, as Charlotte had the second-worst point differential ever.
While the roster clearly underperformed, it was hard to see how such a collection of talent could do even moderately better. This year is much the same. There's a hope and a prayer that MKG becomes great instantly and Kemba Walker suddenly appears much better than he did last season.
Speaking of Walker, he's a perfect indicator of just how lowly the Bobcats are. They again picked a famous college star, only to be disappointed by his production. But, as disappointing as Kemba's .366 field-goal percentage during his rookie season was, he may well have been Charlotte's best player. I repeat: A rookie underwhelmed expectations, and outperformed the rest of his team.
There is also some hope that Bismack Biyombo conjures some of that Nike Hoop Summit magic.
To be fair, Bismack did have his moments, blocking 1.8 shots per contest in only 23 minutes of play.
The other aspects of his game are raw. Biyombo shot only 46 percent from the field last year, despite being a big man who rarely shoots a jumper. His highlights often outshined mediocre-across-the-board production.
Still, Cats fans have to be excited about that one Orlando Magic game.
Jeffery Taylor is their other 2012 draft pick, and I have low expectations for a 23-year-old rookie. At least he shot well in college, hitting 49 percent from the field and 42 percent on threes. You could certainly do worse at the end of the first round.
As for veterans, the Bobcats are again trusting Ben Gordon and the increasingly emaciated Tyrus Thomas to lead them to the promised land. If the land of promise is another lottery and another pick, this is a good strategy.
For now, in Charlotte, it appears to be the only strategy.
Perhaps the best player on next year's team will be hometown hero (and Laker scapegoat) Ramon Sessions. Ramon has his flaws, but at least he chose to be in Charlotte over Los Angeles. He also excels in the pick-and-roll attack.
L.A.'s Kobe and Pau show did not gel with what Sessions is capable of. Expect him to add a few wins to next year's total, perhaps enough victories to bump Charlotte up from "worst" to "second worst."
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