The Incompetent–and Unlucky–Draft History of the Charlotte Bobcats

To win a championship, an organization has to be two things: smart and lucky.
 
No team has ever stood in their locker room, soaked with champagne, screaming blithely into the air hugging an inanimate piece of metal without intelligent management at the helm and lady luck in their loins. It’s just never been done.
 
So what happens when a franchise doesn’t have…either? What happens when a multi-million dollar sports organization employs poor decision-makers at the head, only to have their incompetence exacerbated by circumstances outside anyone’s control? What happens when draft picks bust, trades go AWOL and injuries take their heavy tolls? What happens when everything goes wrong, year after year?
 
The Charlotte Bobcats happen.

Last week, Zach Lowe wrote a superb article (is there any other kind?) on what could cause anyone to potentially watch the most moribund teams in the NBA for the last twenty games of the season. I took special note that the Bobcats, after a shocking 7-5 start, had recorded a record of 7-47 since last December. The ‘Cats are now 14-52, good for worst in the NBA by a decent margin over the Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic. If their .149 winning percentage since December is to continue, should finish a pathetic  16-66, leaving them with the second worst record in their tortured history and just a couple ticks above their 2012 total, which ended with the worst winning percentage in NBA history.

Co-worker and friend of the blog El Mariachi was confounded when I informed him of Charlotte’s post-revival record, looking over their schedule in horror as I he had just seen a Hedo Turkoglu sex tape or Yao Ming’s foot. “How” he asked, “have the Bobcats always been this bad? How is this possible?”

After a matter of worktime-production killing internet research, I came back with a detailed answer in a manner with far too much interest for anything involving the city of Charlotte or its Bobcats.

Every team has bad breaks. The ‘Cats, unlike the Thunder or Hornets, weren’t born of relocation, but rather the dreaded “E” word: expansion. The team was built from the ground up with spare parts that the other 29 teams along the team didn’t feel good enough about to protect through a special expansion draft. Not exactly a solid foundation to build upon—the Heat and Timberwolves were impotently awful for half a decade before they even came close to relevance. Even then, a handful of foolish general managers have made worthless trades one after the other, leaving Charlotte with costly salary cap ballast like Tyrus Thomas and Desagana Diop. Still, all the awful deals in the world couldn’t cause such a putrid smell emanating from the pores of a franchise gone belly-up.

The main problem is that the Bobcats have had the most unfortunate drafts in the NBA ever since their inception. General ineptitude has knocked them to their knees, while incredible hard luck has bolted them to the ground. Add this all together, and you have an organization with one season over .500, zero playoff game wins and a lifetime .345 winning percentage. Shockingly, the Bobcats have eclipsed the Clippers as the NBA’s worst run franchise. As a Laker fan, I just poured out a little 16-time championship bubbly for our dearly departed punchline.

First and foremost, the Bobcats haven’t taken advantage of their annual excursion to the NBA’s draft lottery. To get the full portrait of uselessness, let’s lay out the players Charlotte’s selected over their nine year history:

7 top-10 picks: Emeka Okafor (2nd pick, 2004), Raymond Felton (5th pick, 2005), Adam Morrison (3rd pick, 2006), Brandan Wright (8th pick, 2007), D.J. Augustin (9th pick, 2008), Kemba Walker (9th pick, 2011), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2nd pick, 2012)

11 top-20 picks: Sean May (13th pick, 2005), Alexis Ajinca (20th pick, 2008), Gerald Henderson (12th picks, 2009), Tobias Harris (19th pick, 2011),

12 overall first-round picks: Jared Dudley (22nd, 2007)

Emeka Okafor: The former NCAA Tournament MOP has had a star-crossed NBA career, known more for his massive contract and strangely shiny skin than anything else. The number 2 pick in 2004 with the plastic epidermis has won the franchise’s only postseason honor as Rookie of the Year, but has actually regressed since his career-best rookie season.

Best choice?: In hindsight, Luol Deng (7th) or Andre Iguodala (9th) would have been more solid selections, but seeing as both players have three dubious All-Star selections between them, it’s not a major oversight.

Raymond Felton: Fat or skinny, Felton has emerged as one of the best Bobcats draft choice, which right then and there, should inform you of the direction this post is going. After 5 seasons in Charlotte, Felton made stops in New York, Denver and Portland, remaining a steady starter while his weight was anything besides that.

Sean May: Like Okafor, May was drafted by the ‘Cats shortly after he was named NCAA Tournament MOP in 2005 while a part of the Tarheels. Sadly, Sean’s career went with his weight—ballooning into obscurity (does the UNC cafeteria just wreck guys for life or what?). May had always been a big dude, but it never hindered his game outright. Just two years after becoming a multi-millionaire, he was habitually benched by coach Larry Brown who demanded that his athletes look like athletes, and not like members of the Duck Dynasty cast. May soon ate his way out of the league and was never heard from again. Oh, he’s not dead. Just out of the NBA. Sorry.

Best choice?: The ‘Cats took these two over Andrew Bynum (10th), Danny Granger (17th) and David Lee (30th). Seeing as Felton has turned into a solid NBA player, it’s not a terrible call in his case, but choosing May over two former All-Star (no matter how injury prone), as well as solid role players like Nate Robinson (21st) and Jarret Jack (22nd). In the end, awful mistake with May, excusable with Felton.

Adam Morrison: Oh, A-Mo. Once the most feared scorer in Division I ball, Morrison was a lackluster NBA rook. He hit under 40% FG on the year, showed poor shot selection and zero defensive chops, but in reality, looked like he had plenty of room to improve as a prospective 20 point scorer. All of that potential went out the window when on the eve of his sophomore season Morrison tore every ligament in his knee. From there, Morrison looked as if he had never played organized basketball before while he lumbered around the court and his fabled jump shot left him. He’s no longer in the NBA and remains onf the league’s saddest injury stories. Still, he’s the most accomplished of all the Bobcats draft choices with two championship rings as a suit-wearing inactive member of the 2009 and 2010 Lakers.

Best choice?: Considering Morrison got regular playing time for only one year and looked pretty awful in doing so? I’d say any body was a better choice. Brandon Roy (6th), Rudy Gay (8th), J.J. Redick (11th), Thabo Sefolosha (13th) and Rajon freakin’ Rondo (21st) were all picked after Morrison.  A catastrophically terrible pick.

Brandan Wright: Never suited up in the orange and blue, being shipped off on draft night to Golden State for Jason Richardson. Wright is currently in the rotation for the Dallas Mavericks, but hasn’t lived up to any of his billing as a jump shooting tough rebounder.

Best choice?: Well, had Charlotte kept the pick, they could have drafted Joakim Noah directly after Wright. Or they could have picked Spencer Hawes (10th), Thaddeus Young (12th) or Wilson Chandler (23rd). Richardson gave them a couple decent seasons, but Noah or a young swingman? Terrible pick.

D.J. Augustin: Like every diminutive UT point guard before him (R.I.P. T.J. Ford), Augustin has struggled with injuries his whole career. He’s currently a substitute for the Indiana Pacers, but with his small stature and uneven shooting will struggle to stay in the NBA sooner than later.

Best choice?: In a draft loaded with big men, they took the smallest man possible, literally. Augustin was drafted right before All-Star Brook Lopez (10th) and also Roy Hibbert (17th). A bonehead selection.

Alexis Ajinca: The French seven-footer’s career highlights include being traded with Tyson Chandler to the future 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. Otherwise, Ajinca hasn’t had a significant NBA moment. He currently plays in France, somewhere.

Best choice?: Nope. A guy named Alexis doesn’t deserve more words than that.

Jared Dudley:  Even though his Bobcats career didn’t last long, Dudley will feel safe knowing that when his playing days are over, he’ll most likely be the greatest pro in Boston College basketball history. I don’t know what that says about BC’s basketball program, but it says that it absolutely sucks. Dudley has remade himself from a doughy, streak shooting non-athlete into a very good small forward with a reliable outside touch and solid defense. Too bad he’s done all of that in Phoenix. As a sun.

Best choice?: Absolutely. Dealing him as a throw-in to PHX? No.

Gerald Henderson:  In the mold of Raymond Felton, Henderson has turned into a solid pro, but nothing more than a rotation player and perhaps a starter on a team with much better players surrounding him. He might have the longest NBA career out of any Bobcats draftee based simply on his shooting.

Best choice?: Considering All-Star Jrue Holiday (17th), Ty Lawson (18th) and Jeff Teague (19th) were all taken later, I’d say no.

Kemba Walker: As of this writing, there’s little doubt that Walker is going to have the greatest career out of any of these 20 first rounders. Walker was a borderline All-Star in his first season, which is an accomplishment that towers over anyone else on this list. He’s a bonafide 20 point a night scorer with a deadly handle and jump shot to match. If Charlotte hadn’t been one of the league’s five worst teams this season, Kemba would certainly have made the All-Star squad.

Tobias Harris: Never playing for the Bobcats, Harriswas immediately shipped off to the Milwaukee Bucks, banished to the bench and rarely played in The Good Land. However, after being traded to the Orlando Magic in a deal centered around J.J. Redick, Harris has blossomed and shown promise as a possible NBA starting small forward.

Best choice?: Absolutely in Kemba’s case. Klay Thompson (11th), Kawhi Leonard (15th), Nikola Vucevic (16th), Iman Shumpert (17th) and Kenneth Faried (22nd) are solid pros, but Walker’s potential trumps any of theirs. For those that are counting, that’s two absolute draft wins the Bobcats have taken in over 7 years. And one of them was Jared Dudley. Go Eagles.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: The jury’s still out on the rookie, seeing as he’s played in 60 games in his pro career so far. He’s had a very uneven first-year campaign with a jump shot as broken as reported, but all the athleticism and drive he showed in Kentucky. At this point, he could be a five-time All-Star or a Luke Jackson-like bust.

Unbelievably, none of Charlotte’s 7 top-10 selections has resulted any All-Star berths or All-NBA teams. By my count, out of all the Bobcats first round selections, they’ve churned out 1 potential All-Star (Walker), 4 rotation players and whatever Kidd-Gilchrist turns into. That is an abominable return for 12 first round picks, especially when 7 of them have been in the top-10.

But as I mentioned earlier, no franchise becomes terrible by just awful decision-making alone—you’ve also got to be incredibly unlucky.

Charlotte has a terrible habit of getting the 2nd pick in a 1 man draft. No matter what their positioning, it seems that the future great players are always just out of their reach. Let’s examine:

2004: The Bobcats miss Dwight Howard by one pick, having the number two selection as mandated via expansion rules. If it’s any consolation, I have zero doubt he’d be a Laker this year even if he were drafted by the ‘Cats.

2005: Raymond Felton was theirs with the 5th pick, but if they had any of the top four, Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams or Chris Paul could have been in North Carolina. That one really hurts.

2006: Adam Morrison was a bust obviously at number three, but at number two, LaMarcus Aldridge has been an All-Star and one of the league’s 20 best players. Womp womp.

2008: The Bobcats were rewarded for playing hard all season long with the 9th pick in the draft. Taken ahead of D.J. Augustin were Eric Gordon (7th), Danilo Gallinari (6th)—it’s about to get worse—Kevin Love (5th), Russell Westbrook! (4th) and Derrick Rose (1st), who went to the Bulls. Chicago that year, by the way, went 33-49. One game better than the Bobcats.

2009: Charlotte was again rewarded for its best season to that point with 35 wins by missing out on five solid to excellent guards, including Brandon Jennings (10th), DeMar DeRozan (9th), Stephen Curry (7th), Ricky Rubio (5th) and James Harden (3rd). Even when the ‘Cats try, they can’t do it right.

2012: MKG might turn out to be a great player, but will he be better than Anthony Davis, who went number 1? Charlotte finished 2012 with the worst winning percentage in NBA history and were rewarded with the 2nd overall pick due to the bounce of a couple ping pong balls. It’s early, but this could turn out to be devastating for the Bobcats.

Just to total everything up, the Bobcats have missed out on Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Deron Williams and Chris Paul by figurative fingertips. As if having two awful owners and a series of inept front office personnel weren’t enough, this team is simply cursed. In fact, they might be the most unfortunate organization in sports based on how everything has seemingly gone wrong nearly almost every year of their existence. However, unlike the tortured New York Jets, LA Clippers, Chicago Cubs or Golden State Warriors, the ‘Cats are such a young franchise in a small market. No one cares about them—not even in their own state—but sooner than later, their incompetence cannot be ignore. Just look at the Kansas City Chiefs.

As the Clippers can attest, history, no matter how deep and proven, can turn around in a second. All it takes is one great number one pick (Blake Griffin, 2009) and one great trade (Chris Paul) to become a title contender. However, it seems that until this point, the Charlotte Bobcats haven’t shown the ability to do either.

 

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