The Charlotte Bobcats did not have a very good or deep team headed into 2008-2009. They started off poorly, as their young group had to adjust to head coach Larry Brown. As the season went on, though, they improved, much thanks to the Brown-endorsed personnel changes that added veterans to the line-up. Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and Vladimir Radmanovic immediately helped the team, playing significant roles. Diaw was particularly instrumental, as he handled the ball a lot more than he had in Phoenix for the last few years and relished in his larger role. This all added up to a scrappy, unselfish team that was surprisingly fun to watch as they made an inspired but unsuccessful playoff push before finishing with a franchise-best 35 wins.
It’s nice that they improved throughout the season, sure, but I have to ask Charlotte fans this: What was the point? Yep, they played hard and almost made the playoffs. They missed out on their chance to get swept by Cleveland. Now, playoff games are a lot of fun. I’ve had the good fortune to have been able to attend a few playoff games in Toronto in the Vince Carter area. The home playoff games generate some extra money for the franchise, too. This is great. Does that mean it’s worth it to max out as an 8th seed, though? I say no. I am essentially saying that it was fun to watch this group play last season, but in the big picture it doesn’t matter and wasn’t smart.
At the end of the season, I had a look at the Bobcats’ salary picture. They had Emeka Okafor locked up until 2014, Gerald Wallace and DeSagana Diop until 2013, Diaw until 2012, and Nazr Mohammed until 2011. The majority (but not all) of those guys are good players ,but these are the type of guys that will lead them to a lot of 35-45 win seasons. These guys are tied up for a long time and some of them have hard-to-trade contracts. For a fan dreaming of playoff success in Charlotte, this stinks.
Since the season has ended, the Bobcats have made two off-season moves worth mentioning. The first is the selection of Gerald Henderson with the 12th overall selection in the draft. He might be a solid pick; a lot of people think he’ll be able to help right away. He’s another in a long line of college standouts from successful programs taken by Charlotte. He’s not the type of guy that’s going to turn the team into contenders, though. That’s what happens when you have the 12th pick, especially in a weak draft.
The second move was just completed a couple of days ago. The Bobcats traded center Emeka Okafor to the New Orleans Hornets for center Tyson Chandler. I’m sorry Bobcats fans, but I just can’t defend this one. Sure, Okafor isn’t perfect. He’s got bad hands and isn’t good on the pick and roll. He’s not a natural on offense and is slightly undersized for a center. He is a good player, though – he’s 26 years old, about to enter his prime, and has now played two straight seasons injury-free. The incoming Chandler is another defensive-minded player that isn’t a huge threat on the offensive end. Before his injuries, you could probably justify this move. Sure, Okafor was still a better scorer, but Chandler was great on the defensive end of the court. Now, though, even the most optimistic Bobcats fan can’t imagine Chandler bouncing all the way back to his former self. Even though he is the same age as Okafor, he has three more years of NBA wear and tear, as he came out of high school. He has had significant injuries recently, the kind of injuries you don’t easily come back from. Back problems, turf toe? This is never, ever what fans want to see when it concerns a starting center making 12 million dollars a year, especially when that player relies so heavily on his athleticism. Last year, Chandler never played anywhere near the level NBA followers were used to seeing. He didn’t have his quickness and didn’t have his hops. He’s not the type of guy that can make up for this with his wits and veteran know-how, at least not yet. I certainly don’t expect him to duplicate his atrocious 2009 playoff performances next year, but I’d be shocked if he played the full season at a high level.
Make no mistake about it, this trade was about cash. It’s never good when a non-playoff team has a high payroll. The trade took place because Chandler has a shorter contract than Okafor – the team will now get some cap relief two years from now. I kind of understand it, for the franchise, but I hate it as a basketball fan. Is this really what they had to do, trading a good player for a not-quite expiring contract? How about not going after Radmanovic, Diaw, and Bell in the first place? How about not giving Matt Carroll and Jason Richardson big money in the summer of 2007? This is a band-aid move that is the result of a few years of bad moves and it must leave the fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. This team and ownership group is so starving for financial flexibility that their only hope is hoping to get some cap relief two seasons from now.
The Bobcats are an example of a franchise stuck in 40-win hell (even though the team has yet to win 40 games in a season). If a few things go their way this year, they could make the playoffs. If not, they’ll be on the outside looking in again, likely just a bit too good to get a real difference-maker in the draft. I don’t envy this situation. If I was in charge, I’d be trying to kick-start the rebuilding process yet again, as fast as possible. This means trading anyone not named Augustin, Henderson, and Wallace. Hell, I’d listen to offers for Wallace. I think they need to get some young guys and give the fans some hope for the future, no matter how Larry Brown feels about the moves in the short-term. Some major changes are needed here, as the outlook is looking pretty bleak right now.