There is much optimism in the Queen City on the eve of the Bobcats' fifth season in the NBA—and for good reason.
Larry Brown was brought in to be the teacher. While he may have some baggage, he has a proven track record of turning teams just like the Bobcats into winners.
More specifically, he has a track record of helping young guards with talent play like poised veterans. He turned Allen Iverson into an MVP, and he transformed Chauncey Billups from a journeyman into an NBA Finals MVP.
Stephon Marbury couldn't be helped because—well, "Starbury" isn't coachable. Look for Brown to work his magic this year, and turn Raymond Felton into a top-ten point guard.
If that wasn't reason enough to be optimistic, the team also has Adam Morrison and Sean May returning after both missed all of last season with injuries. Morrison had a disappointing rookie campaign two years ago, but he did average 12 points a game while having to create shots for himself way too often.
It's not a stretch to say Morrison could become a Mike Miller-type of player coming off the bench behind Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace. Few teams in the Eastern Conference have a trio of swingmen of equal caliber.
Another source of excitement has been the addition of rookie point guard D.J. Augustin. He should see quality minutes behind Felton, and should be a high-energy guy off the bench, with his ability to get by his defender and into the paint.
And while there is a lot to be excited about, there are still questions. One big question on the minds of the Bobcat faithful is "Who will be the fifth starter?" Emeka Okafor was re-signed to a mega deal over the summer—but who will start alongside him in the low post?
None of the options seem ideal. There is May, who couldn't be counted on to play a full college season, let alone 82 games in the NBA. Then there is Nazr Mohammed, who has played on more NBA teams than anyone this side of Tony Massenburg.
There is also super-raw Euro Alexis Ajinca, who only averaged five points a game in the French League. He was taken with the 20th pick in the draft, and at this point he can't be considered anything more than a project.
Personally, I would have liked to see the team sign Nenad Krstic for mid-level money, but that's neither here nor there because now he plays for the Moscow Whatevers.
Another option that has been bandied about is to go small and start Okafor at center, Wallace at power forward, and Morrison at small forward. What's intriguing about that lineup is that it would allow second-year forward Jared Dudley to play significant minutes off the bench.
Last season, Dudley impressed fans and management alike while filling in for the injured Morrison, and Brown should find minutes for him
Despite these questions, the overwhelming consensus among Bobcats fans is that this year can be the year that the team makes the playoffs for the first time. Even analysts who are not biased towards the team admit that making the playoffs in the mediocre Eastern Conference is a possibility.
Whether they do or not, the team should be greatly improved under Brown's leadership. Remember, Brown has something to prove after the Knicks debacle. He doesn't want one year with Isiah to be how he's remembered—and if he succeeds in Charlotte, his failure in New York will be largely attributed to the impossible situation that Isiah created before Brown ever got there.
In contrast, Michael Jordan—and Bernie Bickerstaff before him—have assembled a roster in Charlotte that is full of guys who are hungry to win, very coachable, and model citizens off the court. Look for Charlotte to host its first playoff game since George Shinn took the Hornets and bolted for New Orleans.