By any measure, it's been a rough year for the Charlotte Bobcats.
I feel like every Bobcats article I bring myself to write focuses yet again on the steps needed for the team to be, at the very least, competitive next season.
I came to a realization last night (April 6) while watching the Brooklyn Nets edge the Bobcats in a game that saw many lead changes and was far closer than expected. That's a moral win, I guess. Facing down the likes of stars like Deron Williams and Brook Lopez is no small task, regardless of if you're the Miami Heat or the Bobcats. The 'Cats, for their part, played fairly well.
The realization I made wasn't groundbreaking. It's nothing that hasn't been said before, and it won't mean a thing in the world of sports, where I'm a lowly writer, lucky to spread my opinion to a few people on the Internet. But it's a realization that should also be seen, realized, or already known by the powers that be in Charlotte's front office: Coaching is losing games for the Bobcats.
Priority No. 1 entering this season was player development. That is not an opinion. No one expected the Bobcats to win anywhere north of 25 games, much less contend for a playoff spot. But there is serious talent on this team, and general manager Rich Cho has done a good job of cobbling together a talented team via the draft and savvy under-the-radar trades and free-agency moves.
But Mike Dunlap, and perhaps the entire coaching staff, should be fired. It's not because of their record; it's not because of their standing in the league; it's because of poor player development, questionable rotations and a flat-out inability to coach a team during an NBA game.
Dunlap has failed on every single front.
Sure, Kemba Walker emerged as a breakout star for the team, and Gerald Henderson's late-season surge has him looking like a legitimately good shooting guard that this team can depend on in the future. Even Bismack Biyombo is starting to develop his game, cashing in a few double-doubles, playing hard defense and clogging the lanes.
But ask yourself, would you rather have Jeff Adrien or Tyrus Thomas—neither of whom are guaranteed a spot on this team next year, except possibly Adrien in a bench-player role—sucking up important minutes, or would you rather have Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, this team's second overall pick, on the court for more than 20 minutes a game?
Me? The latter. Dunlap has failed in his development of MKG. It is not fair to blame MKG for his relatively pedestrian numbers, mostly because he's not getting enough minutes to put up respectable numbers and further refine his game.
Right now he's averaging under 26 minutes per game, and in the previously mentioned game against the Nets, MKG only saw 18 minutes—18 minutes during which he put up six points, grabbed six boards and dished out an assist, not to mention the fact that he was playing some mean defense. He wasn't credited with a block or a steal, but his constant on-the-ball pressure led to a number of Nets turnovers, blocked shots, and steals.
Eighteen minutes. Are you kidding me? Dunlap, in a close game down the stretch, had basically his entire bench on the floor during the last two minutes of the game. Ben Gordon had the hot hand, so I can understand having him in, but it was just another example of a poor rotation that lost the Bobcats the game in the late minutes.
MKG is a GOOD player. His stat line (9.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.9 BPG, 0.7 SPG) is not horrifyingly awful to look at it, but it doesn't reflect what he is capable of and—if given the minutes—what he would accomplish.
Take their recent clash against the Miami Heat (April 5) as an example. Dunlap, after giving MKG only 17 minutes in his previous game two days prior, decided to throw him out there for 38 minutes. MKG racked up 18 points, 14 rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal. Again, statistically his defense was much more disruptive than it seems.
We've seen Byron Mullens regress to the point of uselessness. We've seen Ben Gordon lash out at the coach, obviously angry with his coaching flaws. We've seen mind-boggling, game-blowing rotations and a heavy reliance on zone defense that has allowed teams to pick the Bobcats apart.
Dunlap is not the man for the job. He's not an NBA coach...not yet anyway. Perhaps more time under the tutelage of guys who know what they're doing at the professional level would sufficiently prepare him to land a gig as a head coach again, but his coaching style is not working. It's just not. He's responsible for many of the Bobcats losses.
So, Michael Jordan and Cho should look at new coaching.
They should also look at their draft options.
Assuming the Bobcats acquire the No. 1 pick in this year's draft (a class which is stronger than most believe), they have a major decision to make. Nerlens Noel will be a bust, and he should not be drafted. He's only finishing his first year of college and he already has knee problems. He's hyper-talented, but his injury issues scream Greg Oden to me. Far and away the best overall prospect in the draft is Kansas' 6'5" shooting guard Ben McLemore.
But as I mentioned earlier, Henderson is exploding and clearly capable of being an All-Star-caliber player. Not only that, but Henderson, a co-captain and restricted free agent entering this offseason, wants to be part of the solution in Charlotte, and I think he's sincere. He went to Duke and has further ties in North Carolina, and I think the futility of the Bobcats hurts him as much or more than anyone else.
So do the Bobcats draft for need (size), or do they draft for pure talent (McLemore)? Or do they trade the pick for someone who really wants McLemore, who, by all accounts, is the real deal? Maybe even draft McLemore with a sign-and-trade of Henderson? That would be against Hendo's wishes, but with his value skyrocketing lately, it would be a logical choice.
This is a difficult draft, and the Bobcats have to make a tough decision once they know where they are drafting. I don't know the answer, but I know that both McLemore and Henderson are capable of great things in Charlotte.
And (almost) finally, free agency. This is likely where the Bobcats are going to be busiest this offseason, as they have a ton of money coming off the books, especially with the likely impending amnesty of Tyrus Thomas. The Bobcats will be well below cap level and would be able to give a max contract to a desperately needed big man.
Josh Smith, David West, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are all scheduled to be free agents looking for big contracts. Only a desperate team will offer them a max contract, as none of them are max-contract players. It's quite possible that the Bobcats dangle a huge contract to any of those four players, and it would immediately spur an offensively challenged Bobcats frontcourt, as well as upping the team's ability to rebound. My favorite of the four is Millsap; despite being small for the power forward (6'8"), he has the best scoring potential and plays much bigger than he is.
Landing an actual max player like Dwight Howard or even Andrew Bynum doesn't seem logical. Neither of them want to play for a rebuilding team, and there are many other better teams that will offer them more money.
It's almost certain the Bobcats will acquire a big guy this offseason. There are a ton of good frontcourt players flying under the radar who are up for grabs: J.J. Hickson, Andrei Kirilenko and Chris Kaman all come to mind. All would improve what is a horrific frontcourt.
And then there are trades. The Bobcats, aside from a possible sign-and-trade with Gerald Henderson and their high lottery pick don't have much to bargain with, and the players they could trade are cornerstones for the foundation of this team's future, like Kemba Walker and MKG. You could see Ramon Sessions traded for a big man, especially with the current team's backcourt depth, but don't expect them to be too active on the trading front.
And finally. Yes, for real, finally. We all know the word that's fluttering around. With the New Orleans Hornets ditching that name in favor of the New Orleans Pelicans, the Hornets name is now up for grabs.
Renaming this team will not bring more wins. But it will reignite the basketball culture in Charlotte, and it will be a rebranding that players on this team would be proud of, and could possibly play harder for. The approximate numerical cost of rebranding would be around $3 million, but with an owner who makes that much money by waking up in the morning, that shouldn't even remotely be a problem.
Rebranding and reacquiring the Hornets name is imperative. Charlotte leadership must begin to publicly act in favor of getting the name back. More seats filled, more merchandise sold and more pride, even if the team is still bad.
Basically, they need a new name, a new coach, a new frontcourt (Bismack Biyombo notwithstanding) and more time for MKG.
Five games left in the season for this version of the Charlotte Bobcats. I expect them to look much, much different next year.