The Bobcats face the Warriors at 10:30 tonight, so it's as appropriate a time as any to go into some detail about why the Cats' roster construction is taking us down a path that ultimately leads to heartbreak. Consider the following premise:
...championships are won by star players supported by solid teammates; they're not won by overwhelming depth in spite of a lack of peak performers.
This decade's Pistons buck the trend. Every other championship team in the NBA's modern era has been led by at least one superstar. Ideally, Charlotte would be championship contenders year in and year out, but short of that, I think the goal is to have sustained success year in and year out, with real title shots here and there. In other words, if we can't be like the Spurs, it'd be fantastic to be like the Mavs or Suns.
Below that threshold, there isn't much difference between teams, as far as how much hope for a championship they have. Selling out everything for the next four years in order to lock up the six seed is utterly ridiculous. Six seeds don't win titles. The Rockets won in '95 as a six seed, but they were the defending champions, and Olajuwon had missed ten games and Drexler only arrived halfway through the season. The Spurs won in '07 as a four seed, after the top-seeded Mavs were knocked out by the Warriors, and with a little help from the league office, who felt they had to suspend Suns players for taking steps off their bench. That's as low in the seeding as modern champions go.
What I dread happening to the Bobcats is what we see happening to the Warriors now. If we make the playoffs, it'll be fun, no doubt about it. It'll be exciting to have a revved up atmosphere, a full house, and national television exposure. Maybe the Bobcats will win a home playoff game, and we can all have a group hug on Trade and Davidson.
The thing is, there's a sort of fatalism that comes with selling out the future for a shot at the playoffs without putting thought and care into growing sustained success. The Warriors are nearly a zero threat to compete for a title for the foreseeable future. They'll be a pesky opponent, a true challenge for at least half the league, but the primary hope their fan base holds is for Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins to develop into All Star caliber players. If either fails to get better and help elevate the team into the Western Conference title picture, they're stuck until at least the 2012 offseason, because Maggette and Stephen Jackson will be untradeable, they won't get equal value for Ellis or Biedrins, and if the cap shrinks, they'll be hard-pressed to find cheap free agent additions to the roster.
They made the playoffs. It was a glorious run. Everyone was on board the Warriors bandwagon. And then they lost to a superior Jazz team. They missed the playoffs last year. They decided to let Baron walk. Without Ellis, lost to injury, they were utterly terrible. With Ellis, they've bounced back, but they're still probably just a playoffs bubble team.
Is making the playoffs just once so important to you, as a fan, that you'd trade virtually all hope of winning a title until at least 2013 for one playoff series this year? Of course you wouldn't take that awful trade. As a fan, you want to know that your team is progressing toward a title, even if they're awful at the moment. Given a choice, you would be much much much happier about your team if you were following the New Jersey Nets, because even though the records are similar, and neither team is a championship contender, the Nets have multiple promising young guys and a star point guard in Devin Harris.
I'm not a fan of the current direction because the Bobcats have locked themselves out of the title conversation for several years, at least, by taking on so many poorly-conceived contracts. Acquiring new, better, players will be that much more difficult because of those deals we took on. The Warriors have their foot jammed in the door, forcing it to stay open, hoping for a savior, but it looks like they're locked out of the title hunt, too, until their salary situation changes dramatically.
We know the game will be uptempo and generally a run and gun affair. Golden State won't have Jamal Crawford or Monta Ellis, so look for CJ Watson, Anthony Morrow, and Marco Belinelli to get plenty of burn. There's a chance the Warriors will also be without Corey Maggette or Ronny Turiaf. They can do without Maggette, because they're loaded with swingmen and can play with three or four guards, thanks to Stephen Jackson's versatility. Turiaf, on the other hand, is a valuable backup to Biedrins. If he's out, we're looking at Anthony Randolph, Rob Kurz(!), or Brandan Wright in the middle for stretches. Good times.
I love Bright Side of the Sun's notion about basketball and frequencies, which will absolutely apply to this game:
Every team, like every contraption, has [a resonant and natural frequency]. In the case of a crappy car, the car vibrates ridiculously at 30 mph, at 40 mph, at 50 and so on. However, at 80 mph, the car inexplicably stops rattling like the death trap it is and starts humming like a Lotus. Run the same car at 90 and you are back to rattling so hard you think the bolts are going to shoot off. If you change the parts, you end up with a different natural frequency. In the same way, teams have their own natural frequency, or a natural speed at which they play their best.
The Bobcats seem to play best at a little below league average pace. They grind on many of their good possessions, but when their defense is humming, they can streak down the court with DJ, Raymond, and Gerald. The thing is, to carry the car analogy further, when the Warriors hit triple digits on the dash, the Cats will have to take care that they don't try to keep up, necessarily, and instead hit the brakes and take it easy, trying to impose their natural frequency upon the game.
That would not be a natural act. For various reasons, the faster pace seems extremely enticing to opponents, and the Bobcats would be wise to resist it and attempt to keep the game within their comfort zone instead of gunning the motor and trying to keep up with the Warriors. Like I said, it'd look and feel outright weird to see the Warriors' controlled fury rolling down the floor, followed by a methodical, probing style on every alternating possession, because teams tend to find a game rhythm and stick to it on both sides of the ball.