The Charlotte Bobcats will be better next season.
It’s not welcome news to fans dreaming of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker in a Hornets uniform, as it is loyal (and I mean loyal) season ticketholders.
Did Michael Jordan stomach enough blowouts over the past two seasons to give Rich Cho the green light to spend?
The Bobcats came up short in their attempt to build around the draft lottery’s unpredictability the past two seasons. At some point Jordan got tired of the way the team was losing and yearned for a likeable culture.
Another year of double-digit losing streaks and lame duck head coaches would have silenced any “buzz” the city is bringing back in 2014.
Logically, there was no other option—now was the time to improve.
Overnight, the Bobcats went from having one of the league’s worst frontcourts to one that could be above-average at its peak. They flipped Byron Mullens, Tyrus Thomas and Gana Diop into Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller and Josh McRoberts for roughly the same amount of money.
Depending on how fond your memories of Emeka Okafor are, Jefferson is the best big man the team has ever had. The Bobcats pursued him at the start of free agency and inked him to a three-year, $41 million contract in July.
Jefferson can choose to become an unrestricted free agent after the second year of his deal. At just 28 years of age, Jefferson is the most prominent free agent signing in the Bobcats nine-year history and provides the frontcourt scoring they’ve lacked for years.
Jefferson and Zeller are the presumed starters, which will move Biyombo and McRoberts (the lineup that closed out the season) to the bench. Zeller was a questionable draft choice given the popular alternatives, but one thing is certain—he will compete and scrap every night. Zeller’s work ethic, basketball IQ and athleticism will fit in with the working culture the team wants to establish.
After re-signing Gerald Henderson, the Bobcats will return all four guards who averaged double figures in points last season. Like Jefferson, Henderson’s three-year contract contains an opt-out after 2015. With no better alternatives—it was a necessity for the Bobcats to bring back their team captain and maintain their league-leading backcourt scoring, which should be alleviated by an improved frontcourt.
No trades were made this summer, but with a little over $18 million in the expiring contracts of Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions, the Bobcats are in a good position to acquire an impact player. They also possess draft picks from the Detroit Pistons (Corey Maggette trade) and Portland Trail Blazers (Gerald Wallace trade). With the latest frontcourt additions, there’s no longer a need to risk future assets on the enigmatic DeMarcus Cousins. A young perimeter shooter (like Pelicans guard Eric Gordon or Warriors guard Klay Thompson) might be appealing.
If the Bobcats improve enough, they will forfeit this year’s first round pick to the Chicago Bulls (Top-12 protected). It’s not desirable, but it’s a worthy sacrifice for getting this team accustomed to winning games. Struggles are likely under rookie head coach Steve Clifford, as the Bobcats again carry over one of the league’s youngest rosters.
With another year of familiarity and a better coaching staff, improvement from the team’s young nucleus is attainable. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffery Taylor are both poised for increased responsibilities. The Bobcats are expecting a big jump from the former, who finished eighth in Rookie of the Year voting.
If he can keep improving his jump shot, Kemba Walker could make another leap among point guards. His improvement went unnoticed on the seldom-seen Bobcats last season, but at times Walker showed flashes of the play that led Connecticut to an NCAA Championship in 2011.
Make no mistake—games will be watchable.
Fans won’t have to tune out as often when Steve Martin and Dell Curry do water cooler NBA talk while the Bobcats limp to defeat in the fourth quarter. The front office made the necessary changes to improve the team now, while maintaining flexibility going forward. While it may not show immediately, the Bobcats quietly had a productive offseason.
Slowly, but surely the buzz is coming back to Charlotte.