The Charlotte Bobcats and the term atrocious have been synonymous for all but one of the nine seasons the franchise has been in existence. Changing the losing environment isn't impossible to accomplish, though. Certain pieces are in place, and all that's needed is a well-drawn blueprint.
After making history—and not the kind to be proud of—by recording the worst winning percentage ever (.106), the 2012-13 season hasn't exactly been a major step in the right direction.
Most teams go through a rebuilding process, but for the Bobcats, it seems to be a process that's never ending. It's hard not to question some of the decisions that management—spearheaded by owner and basketball legend Michael Jordan—has made.
Charlotte is a great basketball city, and the Bobcats do have talent on their roster. But to capitalize on those things, direction is needed.
Finding an Identity
Setting out on the road to success is difficult enough. Trying to do so without an identity is nearly impossible.
Are the Bobcats a team in full rebuilding mode? Or, are they trying to compete immediately?
Regardless of the answer, neither is working.
If they're rebuilding, trading an overpaid 33-year-old Corey Maggette for an overpaid 29-year-old Ben Gordon doesn't seem to make a ton of sense, despite receiving a first-round pick in the process.
At season's end, Gordon will have made $12.4 million and has a player option of $13.2 million for 2013-14. Trading him is certainly the best bet, but with that kind of option, it might be difficult to find a taker.
What makes Gordon's contract noticeably worse is the fact that he's playing just 21.5 minutes per game. Along with that, his sense of maturity seems to be nonexistent.
As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported last month, the Bobcats were more eager to trade Gordon after an incident that occurred between him and head coach Mike Dunlap:
After a bout of disruptive behavior from Ben Gordon targeted at Charlotte Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap, the franchise's desire to trade the guard has deepened, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
As Dunlap led the Bobcats in a morning shootaround on Monday before a victory over the Celtics, Gordon refused Dunlap's request to stop bouncing a ball as the coach spoke, sources said. Before long, Gordon began baiting Dunlap, telling him that he needed to "humble himself," sources said.
Gordan refused to give the ball to Dunlap, and eventually tossed it toward a ball rack, sources said.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, a trade never transpired.
Bringing egos—like Gordon—into a losing environment is asking for a disastrous outcome. A franchise not used to winning needs to be selective and bring in players with a positive, pure attitude. As success is achieved, more risks can be taken.
And that's why management needs to choose a direction.
It's not hard to see that a full rebuilding project is necessary. The Bobcats need to develop their young players, make smart draft picks and carefully bring in free agents.
Making smart decisions in the draft is one thing that can make or break a team trying to rebuild.
It's highly likely that the Bobcats will have two lottery picks this summer—a luxury the Bobcats must take advantage of, even in a draft considered to be a bit on the weak side.
A recent mock draft conducted by HOOPSWORLD had the Bobcats selecting Ben McLemore of Kansas with the No. 1 pick and Duke's Mason Plumlee at No. 13.
If they do obtain the top pick, McLemore is the obvious selection.
Averaging 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2 assists per game, the 20-year-old shooting guard has been tremendous for the Jayhawks this season. More impressive, though, is how efficiently McLemore has been scoring.
Shooting 50.7 percent from the field, 43.7 percent from three-point range and 86.7 percent from the free-throw line, McLemore has proven he can score in a variety of ways and with great efficiency.
It's no secret that Charlotte has issues putting the ball in the hoop. They rank last in field goal percentage, 26th in three-point percentage and, at 92.8 points per game, 27th in scoring. McLemore would immediately help improve those areas.
Pairing him with Kemba Walker in the backcourt would make for a formidable offensive duo that could be potent for years to come.
With their second lottery pick, Plumlee probably isn't the right answer. Instead, the Bobcats should take a look at Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk.
At 7'0", 238 pounds, Olynyk has the size to step right in and compete at the next level. And while it's possible his 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game could be inflated due to playing in the West Coast Conference, he's experienced and has a well-rounded offensive game.
Aran Smith of NBADraft.net notes Olynyk's ability to operate in the post effectively, while not being afraid of stepping out and taking a mid-range jump shot. For that reason, he seems to have a bit more upside than Plumlee.
If Anthony Bennett of UNLV or Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky end up being available when the Bobcats are on the clock for a second time, they should also be considered.
Trading that second pick is always an option as well, but with many scouts not being overly excited about the talent in this draft, the return on such a trade may be diminished.
Whichever route they decide to take, this summer's draft will impact how quickly the Bobcats turn the corner and start competing.
Heading into the offseason, the Bobcats are actually in a decent position to sign a free agent or two. And while they're not going to attract—and would be wise to stay way from—a guy like Josh Smith, there are other names out there who make sense.
If the Bobcats bring everyone back next season, they'll owe $48.6 million in salary. Trading Gordon this summer would free up $13.2 million and give the team some major room to work.
In addition, Gerald Henderson and Byron Mullens both are restricted free agents and potentially could see more money thrown their way by other teams.
Henderson has a qualifying offer of $4.2 million, while Mullens has one of $3.2 million. If they receive other offers and the Bobcats decide not to match, that's yet more cap space.
The best-case scenario would be trading Gordon and hoping that Mullens and Henderson get better offers elsewhere. The money gained from their departures could be used to bring in several solid players who won't cost a fortune.
One name that comes to mind is J.J. Hickson.
On a Portland Trail Blazers team that has numerous offensive options before him, Hickson is posting great numbers in his 29.6 minutes of playing time. To go along with 13.3 points, Hickson leads the team with 10.7 rebounds per game, and his field-goal percentage of 56.6 is also tops on the roster.
With those kinds of numbers, the $4 million he's making this season is an incredible bargain for the Trail Blazers. However, his emergence likely means he'll be cashing in this summer.
But even if he sees a bigger payday, Hickson still comes at a more reasonable rate than Smith.
In January, Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported on Smith's own belief of being a max player. But with career numbers of 15.3 points and eight rebounds per game, while shooting only 46.4 percent from the field, it's hard to see the logic behind giving Smith such a deal.
And while Hickson hasn't done it on a consistent enough basis yet, he's also never been one of the focal points of any offense he's been in. He gets most of his points from the great effort he exerts on the offensive boards.
It's also worth noting that Hickson played one season of college basketball at North Carolina State, so it's not out of the question to believe that playing in Charlotte might be in his interest.
Outside of Hickson, the Bobcats should still have money to bring in some solid role players and strengthen a bench that has been weak outside of Gordon and Ramon Sessions.
Mike Dunlap is the fifth coach to lead the Bobcats in their nine seasons of existence.
Constant coaching changes prevent the growth of talent and hinder a team's success on a year-to-year basis.
New coaches often bring new philosophies with them. Veteran players are usually more adaptable and, therefore, can adjust to changes more fluidly. But young, inexperienced players, trying to get a grasp of the NBA game, suffer more often than not when constant change in leadership occurs.
Is Mike Dunlap the right guy for the job?
In this his first season, Dunlap is currently 14-52. Under his command, the Bobcats have suffered an 18- and a 10-game losing streak.
Putting all of the blame on Dunlap isn't fair, but he certainly holds some of the responsibility for the magnitude of those streaks.
It's fine if the Bobcats' front office believes Dunlap is the right guy for the job. But if that's the belief, management must commit to him for more than one or two seasons.
Management needs to understand that rebuilding is not an overnight fix, and that it takes time to mold a group of young players used to losing into winners. If it can comprehend that and allow Dunlap to do the things for which he was brought him, the Bobcats will be on the right track.
It might seem hopeless in Charlotte, but with a few tweaks and some patience on the part of the front office, things can begin to change for the better.
Oh, and getting the Hornets name back wouldn't be bad either.