From historically bad to just plain bad? Charlotte Bobcats Season Preview

Starting five: PG Kemba Walker, SG Gerald Henderson, SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, PF Cody Zeller, C Al Jefferson
Key bench players: PF/C Bismack Biyombo, SG Ben Gordon, PG Ramon Sessions, PF Josh McRoberts, C Brendan Haywood
Offseason additions: Al Jefferson (three years, $41 million), Cody Zeller (4th overall pick)
Offseason subtractions: C BJ Mullens, PF/C Tyrus Thomas, C Desagana Diop, SG Matt Carroll
FACT OR FICTION: Will the Bobcats post under 50 wins in three years combined?
FICTION. Almost every franchise goes through a rebuilding period. There’s bottoming out, slowly rebuilding with young talent, going to the fringes of playoff contention and hopefully making a jump to a legitimate championship contender.
But what if your timeline was set much lower? What if your favorite team just didn’t seem like they were working towards…well, anything, really? Year after year, the team you watched night-in and night-out was mired in mediocrity. Things never seem to get better. The back court always featured under-sized guards that either couldn’t stop chucking shots with embarrassingly inefficient selection or couldn’t get the rock out of their hands fast enough. The front court, with rare exception, always featured long-term projects rife with gangly arms, insane athleticism and less polish than a shoe in Bratislava. As a supreme sign of their eternal stink, the team experienced a 14% increase in wins last season. That only resulted in 21 victories. 21!
What if the bar your team set for itself was to go from historically terrible to run of the mill terrible to almost not a joke?
That’s what you’d be dealing with if you were a Charlotte Bobcats fan. If anyone was a Charlotte Bobcats fan.

The Bobcats, soon to be Hornets, roll into the 2013-2014 season with higher expectations from last year’s still disastrous campaign…but then again, how could they not be? Charlotte went 21-61 last season, which is still horrible even if you don’t consider they went 14-54 after a miraculous 7-6 start to the year. They had the worst defensive efficiency in the league and the 28th least efficient offense, all of which spelled the end of coach Mike Dunlap’s brief one season stay at the head coaching helm. We could keep on going through the numbers, but the only thing worse than watching the Bobcats last year is re-living their season through the whimsical magic of blogging. Suffice to say, they were absolutely awful. I mean, they had two of our Bad NBA Contract of the Week players. I think that says enough.

However, even as bad as the losses, defense and offense were, the most tragic part of the Cats season was that besides Kemba Walker, none of their young players seemed to get discernibly better. Say what you will about Orlando’s disastrous year, but as our own El Mariachi noted yesterday, guys like Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic and Mo Harkless showed budding potential to varying degrees. Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Tyrus Thomas didn’t fulfill any of their potential despite their pedigrees.

For the 2013-2014 season, the Cats are looking at three major changes that hopefully will be able to change the tide of the league’s consensus worst-run franchise: new coach Steve Clifford, fourth overall pick Cody Zeller and free agent big man Al Jefferson.

Aside from an elite player like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul, a new head coach is usually going to signify the largest day-to-day changes for better of worse. From day one, Clifford has talked about defense, defense, defense, and how that an affect an offense for a team with such young legs and athleticism. It seems that with Walker, Henderson, MKG, Biyombo and Ben Gordon as parts of the core, at least part of that scenario is right. Zeller, an inside-out player who looks to be an instant hit with a midrange jumper and hopefully a budding post game, should fit right in as a 20 year-old college blue chipper.

The real question towards making all of this work is the $41 million dollar man Al Jefferson. The Bobcats bet big on Big Al in free agency, hoping that having a steady, go-to option on offense after years of unreliable scoring parity amongst several players would be able to anchor the team on both ends of the floor. However, despite his incredible offensive acumen in the post, his inability to defend the pick and roll, effectively protect the rim and lack of speed to get back on the run may make him an odd fit for everything Clifford is spouting before training camp even starts.

Still, even if Jefferson isn’t perfect on defense or swift enough to serve as a Tyson Chandler-like finisher on the break, he’s still a dominant force in the paint that should stop long scoring droughts that the Cats have experienced over the past couple years. Defensively, young athletes like Biyombo, Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist, should be able to (with the right coaching) help alleviate a lot of letdowns from Al with their lateral movement and hopefully better defensive instincts. This is most relevant to the third year big man in Biyombo, as he’s rarely shown he’s more than just a freak athlete in his first two seasons. Moreover, there’s almost no way that Clifford can do a worse coaching job than what Charlotte experienced last season: Mike Dunlap lost his young team 14 games into the season and though their record didn’t indicate it, the Bobcats were no doubt the worst squad in the league.

To address the question, the Bobcats should be slightly improved this year, or at least enough to win 23 games and avoid winning 50 or less in three seasons combined. Clifford and Jefferson will be at the center of this, but their success mostly depends on their ability to adapt as they discover which of their young players can play and which ones are destined to be busts

Best case scenario: Steve Clifford is a huge hit, getting his young players to understand defensive schemes and harnessing Kemba Walker as a pace-destroying playmaker. MKG turns the corner that he never could as a rookie, showing potential as a Paul George-type game changer, while Cody Zeller looks like a white, dorky version of LaMarcus Aldridge in his first year. Jefferson holds up his end of the deal, scoring 20 ppg and being at least serviceable as a defender. All in all, the Bobcats surprise the entire league and win 31 games, though they could have won more if not for their lack of depth.

Absolute apocalypse: Like Mike Dunlap, there’s a reason why Clifford hadn’t gotten a head coaching job until his 50s. The team craters between the coach’s inability to get anything out of his youngsters and the plain fact that those guys just aren’t that good to begin with. MKG, Biyombo and Zeller all look like unsaleable busts. The Bobcats win just 18 games, giving them a pitiful 46 wins over 3 seasons. The best thing about this team is their name change to the Hornets in a few months time.

Expected outcome: 4th in the Southeast, 12th in the Eastern Conference

Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series:

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks
Miami Heat
Orlando Magic


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