Andrew Wiggins may be the NBA’s next young superstar, but he’s not guaranteed to be a Charlotte Bobcat next season. As much as Bobcats fans would salivate at Wiggins, Jabari Parker or another of next year’s draft prospects bringing prominence back to Charlotte, it’s not a plan—it’s hope.
“Tanking” has become a fixation among fanbases of rebuilding franchises. It’s seen as the easiest way to acquire a young, controllable superstar talent without overpaying in assets.
After losing 120 of their last 148 games, Bobcats fans know better than any fanbase that losses don’t guarantee a brighter future. The Bobcats had the best odds of winning the first pick in 2011 to select Anthony Davis, but lost out to the New Orleans Pelicans.
They had the second highest odds of getting this year’s No.1 and wound up with the fourth pick.
The Boston Celtics can testify. They’ve been accused of tanking in 1997 and 2007, drafts that held Tim Duncan and Greg Oden respectively as the grand prize. The Celtics lost out in both years, though they were able move their pick in 2007 for Ray Allen, which eventually led to a championship.
With Rich Cho as general manager, Bobcats fans are quick to point to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a model for the franchise.
They never tanked.
The Thunder went through the growing pains of a young, upstart team and showed improvement each season. Without winning the draft lottery, they walked away with Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden in consecutive drafts. Sure, draft position played a role, but not as much as the scouting, player development and revived culture the Thunder leaned on.
Wiggins or no Wiggins, the Bobcats can have a successful rebuild.
Fans can’t let draft prospects become a roadblock for team improvement. Al Jefferson would address one of the Bobcats reoccuring concerns: frontcourt scoring. Jefferson averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds last season. The Bobcats ranked last in points there last season (43.0) and Bismack Biyombo averaged five points in 65 starts at center.
Low-post scoring is a premium skill and Jefferson is one of the league’s best at it. The Bobcats struggled last season finding quality shots in half-court sets. Jefferson would give the Bobcats an option to draw double teams, unclog driving lanes and create space for three-point shooters.
Whether or not the Bobcats can obtain him on a reasonable deal is another matter. Jefferson will be in Charlotte Wednesday to visit with the team and numbers could be discussed.
The Bobcats can’t afford having a bloated contract restrict future moves without justified production. Jefferson is 28 and has played over 19,000 minutes in nine seasons, which raises skepticism about how long he’ll continue to play at a high level. Historically, non-superstar big men start to trail off sometime in their early 30′s. Jefferson suffered a knee injury early in his career, but has been fairly durable with the Utah Jazz.
Jefferson isn’t the most effective defender. For his career, he’s been solid at contesting and blocking shots, but is a liability at times with slow feet.
Given that players aren’t exactly enamored with the idea of playing in Charlotte, getting a player like Jefferson now would be logical. He isn’t likely to turn the Bobcats into an immediate playoff contender, but would certainly be useful in a lot of areas.
It’s also worth considering that next year’s Hornets rebrand could be hurt by another non-competitive season. The name is changing, but if the team isn’t, why should fans or future free agents expect anything different? The Bobcats are hoping that the name change will attract old and new fans, and the Hornets will be a nationally-recognized team, as they were in the 90′s. On the court, they’re hoping to establish a culture that stops the team from being a daily punchline.
On paper, Jefferson makes the team better now and going forward when the Bobcats should be ready to compete for a playoff spot. They’ve had eight losing seasons in nine years as a franchise and don’t have a No.1 pick to show for it.
It’s time for them to improve the talent, rather than the amount of ping pong balls they’ll possess next year.