Charlotte Bobcats: Don't Write Them Off, But Don't Get too Excited Yet
They improved in a major way this offseason, addressing both of the major areas of need by picking Cody Zeller fourth overall to start at power forward, and re-signing last season's key trade pick-up Josh McRoberts, the do-everything 6'10" power forward to back up Zeller. They also signed Al Jefferson, one of the best centers in the NBA, to a three-year, $40.5 million contract.
Impressive improvement? Absolutely. Time to expect a team that is capable of making a run to the playoffs? Absolutely not.
I loved the additions of Zeller and Jefferson, and even wrote about them here on Bleacher Report. I also raved about the hiring of Steve Clifford as Charlotte's new head coach and Patrick Ewing as his chief assistant.
But the simple matter of the fact is that Charlotte is still a season away from becoming a playoff team.
It appeared that many teams (especially in the Eastern Conference) were going to go into full-on tank mode to try to claim one of the top five players in what is easily the best draft since 2003. Teams losing key stars like Atlanta and Milwaukee could easily have tanked, as well as the Detroit Pistons.
Instead, Atlanta added a solid power forward in Paul Millsap to replace Josh Smith at the 4, and it seems that the Hawks are still active in free agency and the trade market, so it doesn't appear they're going to tank. It actually appears they're going to be pretty good again.
The Pistons added Josh Smith to play small forward (despite being a strong 6'9"), to go along with Andre Drummond at center and Greg Monroe at power forward, creating what could potentially be the best frontcourt in the NBA. They also have Brandon Knight, and they added Kentavious Caldwell-Pope eighth in the draft to solidify the wing.
Detroit suddenly looks like a team that should challenge for the playoffs.
The Milwaukee Bucks have lost Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick at shooting guard, but by hopefully retaining Brandon Jennings, they will essentially keep their young core together. They also added a solid off-guard with O.J. Mayo, who posted solid numbers at shooting guard with the Dallas Mavericks last year. He won't be able to match Ellis' scoring or passing abilities, but he will be efficient and a solid go-to scorer for Jennings.
The Bucks also still bringing in pieces like Zaza Pachulia and Carlos Delfino to help bolster the starting rotation, moves that could keep them in the hunt for the playoffs.
So who are the Bobcats better than?
Well, after the massive disaster that landed Andrew Bynum, who never played a single game in Philadelphia, the 76ers don't appear to have learned their lesson, as they traded All-Star Jrue Holiday and a second-rounder to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for the big man with a bad knee in Nerlens Noel (as well as a 2014 first-round pick).
Philadelphia's roster wasn't particularly deep to begin with, and now it's almost completely devoid of talent unless they start making some serious moves in free agency. At this point, I consider them to be the worst team in the NBA.
The Orlando Magic and the Phoenix Suns are also in total rebuilding states after losing their stars in years past, but both teams have solid young cores to help them crawl out of the hole. The Orlando Magic can also get a valuable asset by trading Arron Afflalo, who was made redundant by the addition of Victor Oladipo in this year's draft. A trade involving Afflalo would likely net a few solid assets.
Also worth watching in the tank race will be the Boston Celtics.
They traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets for ostensibly a pair of shoes and a high-five. Boston's greatest asset at this point is Rajon Rondo, and even he might be traded before the offseason ends. They also traded head coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a couple of draft picks.
Their roster has some good young talent, but make no mistake: With the departures of Ray Allen, Pierce and Garnett over the past two seasons, the Celtics are entering a rebuilding period.
Bottom line: The Charlotte Bobcats, despite adding a great coaching staff and two great frontcourt pieces, are still going to be one of the four or five worst teams in the NBA. Defense will likely be a problem since, unlike his offense, Jefferson's defense is not as polished.
The Bobcats need one more year to develop their talent, and adding Jefferson is going to aid in that advancement. Now the Bobcats have a great team-guy in the locker room who came here under his own volition, knowing that he was entering a project.
But that's not a bad thing. It means they're still going to receive a high pick in an absolutely loaded draft, along with two other likely picks from the Detroit Pistons and the Portland Trail Blazers.
The NBA-level starting talent projected to be in next year's draft extends all the way to the second round, and the Bobcats will likely have a very high pick of their own, along with two picks owed via trade and a pick in the second round.
It means that they're still in the running for franchise-changing players like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle.
Jefferson and Zeller are going to be great together. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is going to improve. Kemba Walker and (assuming he's re-signed) Gerald Henderson are going to become one of the most formidable backcourts in the NBA.
We will start to see the pieces fall into place during the Bobcats swan song in 2013-14.
We will see the full picture when they evolve into the Hornets in 2014-15.
The Charlotte Bobcats are going to be an exciting team to watch this season, and the growth will be noticeable by season's end. The team may only have around 25 wins, but critics and fans alike will see that it's a healthy 25 wins, and that the team is growing in the right direction.
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