Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: The Charlotte Bobcats

We turn now to our preview of the Carolina Cougars Charlotte Hornets Bobcats. If ever there was a franchise hanging by a ledge, it's the Cats. And yet, we have a strange affection for them. For their bizarre name, for their uniforms, for the power forward that's a center and the small forward that's a power forward, and now, the coach who's coaching career began in Carolina. Your opening guide is Rob Mahoney.

Projected Record: 38-44 (3rd in the Southeast, 9th in the East)

Bobcats, how do I love thee? Oh, let me count the ways! Gerald Wallace, racking up the dunks, steals, blocks, and concussions! J-Rich, scoring at will and generally having his talents ignored! Ray Felton, shooting from outside his range time and time again! Okafor blocking and boarding to his heart’s content but still living in Dwight’s inescapable shadow! What’s not to love, really? Or the better question: why aren’t the Cats “America’s team” yet? Your guess is as good as mine.

But I suppose it could have something to with the fact that no one really likes expansion teams. Or maybe it’s because their management refused to spend any money at all until recently, when they only became moderately tight with the cash. Or maybe it’s that they’ve never put together a winning season or a playoff berth (which, as the East proves time and time again, doesn’t require a winning season). Still, love ‘em or hate ‘em (or the more likely third option: indifference), there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season for the Bobcats.

The Bobcats’ biggest weaknesses last year were (in no particular order): depth, players playing out of position, the fact that Jeff McInnis was getting meaningful minutes, and coaching. The problems with depth were largely injury-related -- former lottery picks Stache Morrison and Sean May were sidelined for the season, or artificial – Walter Hermann and Derek Anderson inexplicably fell out of the rotation. Say what you will about Morrison because his rookie season was nothing short of disastrous, but his injury did hurt. While no one this side of Adam Morrison’s mom thinks he’s going to be a star in the league, I can’t see a reason why he can’t be a solid rotation player. Usually you don’t use a third overall pick on a rotation player, but hey, that’s kind of what you have to deal with when you hire MJ to run your team.

Sean may (see what I did there?) have been an even bigger loss, especially since he’s been effective when he’s seen the floor. The teensy weensy problem with May is that in three seasons he’s played a total of 58 games. Most players would be labeled injury-prone if they played that many games in just one season. Sad as it seems, the Bobcats’ playoff hopes may reside in Sean May’s fat-fingered injury-prone hands: as the best reasonable big man coming off the pine, the road to the post-season will require May playing some serious ball. No more ankle sprains, back troubles, knee pains, or DNP – didn’t-feel-like-running-today’s. This team needs Sean May if they want to take a shot at this thing, and it’s about time that he delivers.

But perhaps more important than both of these is that D.J. Augustin will replace Jeff McInnis and Earl Boykins in the rotation. I’m going to leave McInnis be for now, but let’s just say that at face value right now, Augustin is much better than McInnis despite never having played an NBA game. He’s got the range to stretch the defense and a willingness to pass the ball (which might be even more important than the ever-coveted court vision), but even more important than that is the fact that he’s not Jeff McInnis. I know I’m beating a dead horse repeatedly with some very blunt object, but I don’t think this can be reinforced enough.

The offensive execution, particularly in the half-court, was a bit problematic. Part of the reason for this was due to the fact that He Who Shall Not Be Named manning the point. The implications of this are twofold a million-fold: Felton moves to the two where he shoots more threes than he should; J-Rich moves to the three which is okay; Wallace moves to the four which is bad for his game/general health and ultimately culminates in him shooting more threes (which is not a good thing); and Okafor moves to the five which may or may not be a bad thing. But on top of all this, the offense is less efficient due to some generally poor set-up. Crash is best served as a slasher, but it’s difficult to slash efficiently when the passes aren’t timely. This problem (and all of these problems, really) are magnified by the lack of consistent interior scoring. Okafor is better than a lot of people think, but go-to post scorer he is not. Apparently being a great position rebounder and a killer shot blocker just isn’t good enough anymore.

Oh wait, there’s more! All of this position play going on wouldn’t have anything to do with the Bobcats being subpar on defense and on the boards, would it? Why don’t you tell me? Does playing Gerald Wallace at power forward impact your rebounding? Does playing Raymond Felton at shooting guard affect your team’s ability to guard some of the league’s premier scorers or to carom the misses?

(Umm, yeah.)

Depending on who you talk to, Sam Vincent may have been Charlotte’s biggest “weakness.” Not really a fair thing to say, but coming from a guy who just called Sean May fat-fingered and Jeff McInnis the biggest loser for ever stepping on a basketball court, it means almost nothing. Still, there may have been serious flaws in Vincent’s overall game plan or issues in the way the players were responding to him.

I’ve never been sold on Larry Brown’s reputation as OMG THE BESTEST COACH EVARRRRR, but one thing is certain: his majesty precedes him. I doubt Felton or Wallace will be jacking up ill-advised threes with Brown lurking on the sidelines. There should be a bit more much-needed defensive discipline. And I get the vibe that Augustin is genuinely terrified of playing for Larry Brown, or at least he should be. Brown knows more about basketball than I ever will, but he also inevitably manages to alienate his players. In the short-term, however, the Bobcats may be reaping all the benefits of a commitment to defense and a structured offense under a dominant coach with a track record for successful honeymoons (not in the literal sense…I don’t and never want to know anything about Coach Brown’s personal life).

You can also count on some improvement from within the roster. Emeka Okafor has done a great job of adding to his game in the off-season; that improvement has just been masked by injury. Count on Raymond Felton to man the point a little better this year: the stats won’t wow you, but he’ll be taking better care of the ball, taking better shots, and taking it inside more. Gerald Wallace won’t be playing power forward. No more “oh, we’ll never do that again” before Crash slides into the four the next week. And another interesting piece poised for improvement: Jared Dudley. The Bobcats simply played better when he was on the floor last year, and he was only a rookie. Think about that.

In the NBA, improvement is based on motivation, rectifying your weaknesses, or magnifying your strengths to the point that they overpower your weaknesses. They didn’t make any big trades or noticeable signings, but the Bobcats are going to see themselves with a shot at the playoffs from internal improvement, a coaching change, and some good health. You can only make lottery picks for so long before you inevitably stumble into late April, and this year the Bobcats may have the distinction of being stomped by the Celtics in the first round.

IMAGE NATION by Rob Mahoney


At the top of this list has for me is Emeka Okafor. After his storybook college career, he's been a guy I've always followed even when he disappoints me, time after time after time. (Hey, I'm a loyal girl.) All Warrior fans can root for Jason Richardson, who will always remind me of the Dunk Contest and how he was robbed of his title. Through the legs and he doesn't take home the trophy? I still don't get it.

Felton is a guy I just want to have a great year, and of course watching Larry Brown return to the sidelines is going to be a must see. Gerald Wallace and his stupid inability to stay healthy/absolutely amazing athleticism gives another reason to tune in to the Cats. Rookie DJ Augustin is sure to be a success you don't want to miss, and then there is Adam Morrison, who I have perhaps unfairly judged in the past. It's time to see what he has in store for the L. Additionally, Micheal's team is always one that I root for, even when he is just the guy upstairs.

Last year the Bobcats had some stretches where their toughness and focus won out. It's going to be fun to see if they can build on that, and learn how to sustain their emotion and energy in the middle of long road trips and throughout the grind of the season. When you meet diehard Bobcats fans, you can't help but want success for them because you know how tough it is when your own team goes a few years without a championship. Charlotte is a team for those who don't mind being disappointed and who love being surprised. When they are able to string together some wins and play to their potential, it is wildly exciting for fans. The rest of the time can be maddening, but some fans almost enjoy the pain.


Damn you, Jeff McInnis. Why did you have to get kicked off the team? Your inexcusable inclusion on an NBA roster would have made it so much easier to write this piece. However, the Bobcats are still in possession of one of my least favorite people of all time. Can you guess who? Nope, not Larry Brown. No, not Alexis Anjinca. No way, not even Nazr Mohammed. Come on, Silly, it's MJ.

Yes, I am that NBA fan that
hates Jordan, always has and always will. And I'm not alone. For all the fame and fortune he brought the Bulls, he has effectively killed the Bobcats and (without Agent Zero flipping that quarter in favor of the Clippers back in 2003) the Wizards. Of all the arrogance and entitlement schlepping around NBA front offices right now, Jordan is its most horrible personification. He is a man who has proven he's unqualified, feels as if he can do no wrong and doesn't respond when he clearly fails. You know why? He's got 6 rings. Feel better, Bobcats fans? Until this Tar-Heel-manic state gets rid of Mike and the like, the Bobcats will continue to stink, much like the cigar Jordan keeps puffing way at like he is freakin' J.P. Morgan.

If you like MJ as a player, fine, I can deal with that. But to put up with his EPIC FAIL as a GM and keep instilling confidence in him is about as cool as waiting on child support from Shawn Kemp. (And btw, there is another GM who is gonna get it worse than this. I'm just warming up.)


There you go. A traditional Jew rapping a song called "
Youth" set to the Teletubbies. That's pretty much as close to the Bobcats as I can get. It's kind of cool, while also being kind of disturbing, and you don't really understand what's going on.


PLAYER TO WATCH: Sean May. Crash is the engine, but you have to wonder how much he's got in him after last year's disaster. But this team needs a difference maker, and Sean May needs to be the guy. Okafor is going to do what he does, but May still has the potential to make the jump. If they can have balance offensively, they might be able to use Larry Brown's defensive emphasis to gain some ground.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: Gerald Wallace. Yeah, Jason Richardson is going to get his. But Wallace is the spark plug. If the Cats can really keep him at the three and he can work on his perimeter game, this could be a special year. If it feels like we've said that before, it's because we have. A lot.

WORST PLAYER: Adam Morrison. If ever there was a player whose game didn't translate, it's Morrison's. And facial hair should never be the most important thing about a player.

OVER/UNDER: 30 wins, take the over, but barely.

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